President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government — widely condemned for its slow response to Cyclone Idai — said yesterday it had reacted swiftly to the disaster and was on ground to coordinate rescue efforts, with security agencies busy trying to open access routes and save the marooned.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services deputy minister Energy Mutodi said State media had given plenty of advance warning of the cyclone, which left 89 dead over 100 missing and thousands of others destitute.
He said government did not have the capacity to evacuate everyone.
“Warnings were issued to people through the meteorological services department and those residing in affected areas were supposed to seek shelter in safer zones, but you know people normally do not want to leave their homes. Government did not have enough to vacate everyone,” Mutodi said.
The government public defence came after three days of criticism of its relief effort, including a rebuke from the main opposition who said hundreds died because government had been slow to act.
Civil society, parliamentarians and foreign aid groups have criticised the government’s handling of the crisis as slow and unresponsive, a view echoed by many bitter cyclone survivors in the hardest-hit Manicaland area.
But government said it had held an emergency meeting and dispatched ministers including Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister July Moyo. Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement minister and acting Defence minister Perrance Shiri, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Sekai Nzenza and Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Joel Biggie Matiza to oversee the relief effort after the cyclone.
Days after one of Zimbabwe’s biggest cyclone disasters, some people affected by the cyclone are yet to receive help from the government, or international or local aid groups.
Damage to bridges and roads was said to be hampering delivery of aid, with little or no relief reaching isolated areas.
The main opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa, who visited the disaster-hit-areas of Chipinge and Chimanimani yesterday, accused the Mnangagwa government of being “deaf and dumb” to pleas to prepare for the cyclone.
Chamisa, through his spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda, said the disaster should not have claimed so many lives considering that warnings about the cyclone were issued well in advance.
“A disaster that you are warned about 48 hours in advance should have killed far fewer people, given its magnitude. There should not have been a rescue effort. There should have been an evacuation exercise,” he said, adding he will “also assist some of those in need of food and blankets.”
“We must pray for our country,” he said.
The opposition party has appealed to all Zimbabweans to use all means necessary to help the victims.
Independent Norton legislator Temba Mliswa has also questioned the Civil Protection Unit(CPU)’s response to natural disasters, suggesting that more should have been done besides warnings given.
CPU issued a statement and sent people messages advising them to take precaution, citing increased risk of flooding and damage to homes and infrastructure.
“If CPU is failing to be effective in the midst of the current disaster despite the warnings, what is the point? What measures did they take to predict, prepare for and reduce the effects of cyclone Idai? If they’re under resourced have they presented a budget to fiscus for funds?” Mliswa said.
Election Resource Centre (ERC) boss Tawanda Chimhini said after similar disasters that the country has experienced, government should have put in place measures to ensure that lives are not lost where avoidable.
“A lot of these disasters that we have faced are disasters that could be managed if proper efforts are made. The current situation that Zimbabweans are going through is really unfortunate and we don’t want to politicise the whole process but I think being fully prepared for future disasters such as these should be a priority.
“It is only essential for government to say in the event of this happening again, we have put certain measures in place. A lot of us knew that the cyclone was coming but what did we do? That should underline the principle for accountability,” Chimhini said.