Tokwe Mukosi Floods- A call to action

The 11th of February 2014 started like any other normal working day at the office. Having been on leave for most parts of January 2014 I needed to do a lot of catching up at the office. In one of the corridors at the office, I bumped into Selina Pasirayi, the ActionAid Zimbabwe Sustainable Livelihoods and Disaster Risk Reduction Manager, who jokingly said: ‘It time for real action madam. You did not travel to Thailand, Asia to do the Emergency Fast Action Support Team (EFAST) training for nothing. You are going to Masvingo today to do a rapid assessment on the Tokwe-Mukosi floods disaster.’ EFAST is managed by the ActionAid International Humanitarian Action and Resilience Team (IHART) as a roster for ActionAid staff to provide support to country offices when responding to emergencies.

Heavy rains and mudslides in late January and early February 2014 as well as the partial collapse of the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam wall resulted in flooding. Tokwe-Mukosi is in the semi-arid southern Masvingo region (Chivi District) but the area has received double (850mm) than normal rains this year. The President declared a state of disaster in Tokwe-Mukosi and the government has requested local, regional and international support. About 60,000 people are affected. Approximately 2,500 households upstream of the Tokwe- Mukosi Dam have been displaced to Chingwizi, Chisase and Masangula Relocation sites of Nuanetsi ranch in Mwenezi District (some 170 km from the dam site). Another 4,000 households downstream Tokwe-Mukosi Dam are at risk.

So off we travelled to Masvingo Province, Tsuro Bore (Child Sponsorship and Fundraising Manager), Selina and I on 11 February 2014 to meet with the Tokwe-Mukosi floods affected communities. The journey to Masvingo started off on a bumpy note as we experienced a tyre burst along the way but thank God Tsuro, who was driving, managed to control the vehicle.

The morning of 12 February saw us attending a Provincial Civil Protection Unit (PCPU) meeting coordinated by the Masvingo Provincial Administrator (PA). Although the information provided at the PCPU sounded somewhat abstract to me, the PA informed us that there were five temporary holding camps (Nyajena, Zinwa, Zunga, Zifunzi and Gunikuni in Masvingo and Chivi Districts) and three relocation sites where the affected people were living.

The PA highlighted that the major challenge facing government was getting trucks to move the affected people from the transit camps to the relocation sites and there were people who had spent close to a week living in the open, exposed to the vagaries of nature. There are fears of outbreaks of cholera and malaria as the transit camps and the relocation sites, do not have clean water and toilets. In addition, the affected communities lost their property including farming implements, cattle, goats and chickens as they ran for dear life when they were being rescued from the floods. Coupled with this, an estimated 800 primary and 500 secondary school pupils have been displaced and these children are not going to school. From the PCPU meeting, we participated in an NGO coordination meeting conducted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Masvingo. Following the NGO meeting, we visited the transit camps of Zunga, Zifunzi and the Dam wall in Chivi District where about 100 households were residing in classrooms. After visiting the transit camps and seeing some people bringing household goods to the camps, it was now starting to make sense to me how devastating the floods had been. I interviewed Otilia Madhawa (36), a widow and mother of four children at Zunga.

My three huts have all been destroyed. The rains destroyed my maize field and my biggest challenge is I have no food to give to my children. I am also nervous about going to Chigwizi, as I have heard that it will be a temporary site and I wonder if I will settle down.

Having managed to meet some people camping at the transit sites, it was important for our team, which was joined by the Masvingo Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURRA) four staffers, to visit the dam wall site and Chingwizi. MURRA is an ActionAid Zimbabwe project based partner covering Masvingo Province. The visit to the dam wall helped me to understand the situation better. I could see some of the houses’ roofs covered in the water and whose inhabitants had since left and were homeless, all of a sudden.

On 13 February 2014, we travelled to Chingwizi Camp. The people who were at Chingwizi had been sleeping in the open for three nights and had spent yet another three nights in the mountains and at Chivi and Masvingo District holding camps. School going children milled around Chingwizi while their parents, mostly women were trying to make shelter out of the tents they had received from well-wishers. The size of the tents would make an equivalent of an average room where a family of six people would crowd in. The men, were somewhere near the camp queuing for some food rations that had been received from well-wishers. As I was conducting an interview with Jennifer Madhurure (39), a mother of six children and formerly from Gunikuni area in Masvingo, it started to rain. “Don’t worry, we can continue with the interview as we are used to this,” she said.

The heavy rains resulted in our home being covered in water. We had to seek refuge in mountains. My children and I were picked by a helicopter in the mountains on 5 February leaving all my maize crops, two wheelbarrows, chickens and four of our cattle. We were moved in the absence of my husband who is a general hand in Chiredzi town. I could not even phone him to tell him what had happened as I had no money to buy airtime. I also have not yet received compensation from the government, like the others who were affected by the Tokwe-Mukosi floods, Jennifer said.

”I thought Jennifer’s case was a worst-case scenario until I interviewed Maureen Jongwe (34), a mother of four children and formerly from Gunikuni. Maureen had developed an eye infection and she could hardly see due to being exposed to the weather elements for six days. One of her children had been bitten by a scorpion and she said she wanted to take her to a clinic but she was told the clinic is far. The youngest of her children, a baby had a running stomach due to the dirty water they were drinking at Chingwizi.

As I was speaking with Maureen, the baby was clutched to his mother, not crying but so still and I wondered, if he (baby) would make it to the next day. I would like to admit, during the night of 13 February, I was thinking of that baby.

I am happy to say, however, ActionAid Zimbabwe is working on a response to help the affected families with particular attention to women and children. The ActionAid efforts are complementing other NGOs, private sector and government who are responding in the sectors of water and sanitation and shelter.

Tokwe-Mukosi Dam Project is a multi-million dollar government initiative and the dam is still under construction. The project is designed to boost agriculture through irrigation in the region that normally receives insufficient rainfall of below 600mm/year. The downside of the project however meant that people around the dam would have to be relocated. Although government planned to relocate people for over three years and compensating them, the incessant rains exacerbated the problem and it has forced the government to move the people in a short space of time. About 600 households who were compensated with money ranging from US$2 000 to $30 000 per household were relocated and allocated four hectares of land each at Chingwizi in 2013.