Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, pictured, believes that government could have prevented the loss of lives in Manicaland and Masvingo if it had evacuated people well before these areas were hit by Tropical Cyclone Idai.
More than 300 people are feared dead after winds of up to 170 kilometres per hour — accompanied by heavy rains — swept buildings in Chipinge and Chimanimani, triggering landslides and causing floods. Roads and bridges were swept away by the powerful cyclone which did not spare people’s homes.
On Tuesday, Chamisa — leader of the MDC — said since it was clear that a natural disaster was on its way, government should have acted much-much earlier to save lives. The 40-year-old lawyer said what did not help matters was that help took long to reach victims of the cyclone due to the country’s poor infrastructure and unplanned settlements, especially in rural areas.
“The response of the people was better than the response of the State which came like an afterthought when cyclones are a scientific phenomenon whose formation and trajectory can be detected and forecast. Although we all saw the cyclone coming, the State did little to warn and remove people from harm’s way.
“With the advent of climate change, cyclones have become regular in our part of the world. Citizens would have thought by now the State has learnt something about how to save lives and to protect the people during these deadly cyclones.
The sad reality is that the disaster preparedness of the entire infrastructure of the State is itself a disaster. Indeed, devastation caused by Idai, especially the tragic loss of life, has exposed the clear and present danger that the State itself is a disaster,” said Chamisa.
Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri early this week admitted that government’s response in the face of the cyclone that has left a trail of destruction in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, was slow.
“We had heard that floods were coming and a cyclone, but we had not moved or done anything to help ourselves.
I think we as people of Manicaland (province) have learnt a lesson and next time we will protect lives and urge people to move knowing what will happen, and we move into camps together with the government’s help,” she said after visiting victims of the floods.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who toured the area on Tuesday, has declared the devastating cyclone a national disaster.
On Tuesday, deputy minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Energy Mutodi said government has done everything it can to contain the natural disaster that has left over a 1 000 people homeless and destroyed food stocks.
“…Mnangagwa has done what a reasonable Head of State and government would do in the face of Cyclone Idai. He cut short his United Arab Emirates trip, set up a Cabinet team to assess the damage, deployed the army to rescue survivors and will today (Tuesday) tour the affected areas,” Mutodi said on Tuesday.
But Chamisa said the problem is not about the current response but rather the state of the country’s roads and other infrastructural facilities that are in a state of disrepair and a nascent danger to users. “Most of our road infrastructure and bridges are substandard and of poor workmanship.
What we want here is a national infrastructure plan for the whole country spanning into 20 to 50 years that speaks to national focus on … roads and rail networks, bridges and bullet trains,” said the MDC leader. Chamisa described the haphazard settlements in the countryside as a ticking time bomb, calling for an integrated national settlement plan for rural areas.
“We must put in place effective disaster preparedness and early warning systems to be put in place through a revamp of the current inadequate mechanisms.
“We need an accelerated industrialisation and urbanisation upon an integrated upgrade of rural facilities to state-of-the-art level in health, energy, communication and housing,” said Chamisa.