"The water came in the afternoon," said Lilian Kumbula, one of more than 1200 people displaced by flooding in the village of Chiso in Manicaland. "We closed up our houses so that water wouldn't wash away our things. When we came back, our food was gone, our animals were gone, our homes were gone. Everything is gone."
With an estimated 96,000 people displaced in Zimbabwe in the wake of tropical storm Eline, Catholic Relief Services was quick to respond to the disaster. Working through the Catholic Development Commission (CADEC), Catholic Relief Services' local partner agency in the affected region, CRS contributed $10,000 immediately, followed quickly by another $200,000 for short term and long term recovery.
The greatest damage in Zimbabwe occurred in four of the country's easternmost provinces, an area bordering Mozambique to the east and sandwiched between the Save River to the north and the Limpopo River to the south. Tropical storm Eline brought with it massive rainfall, with some areas receiving more rain in one week than would normally fall in an entire year. Beneath such an onslaught, both rivers and their tributaries quickly overran their banks, destroying crops and homes along the river and washing away roads, bridges and causeways. An estimated 125 people were killed.
In response to the need, Catholic Relief Services concentrated its efforts in Manicaland, one of the four provinces hit hardest by the flooding and home to an estimated 30,000 people directly affected by the storm. With many having lost their homes, and with large stocks of government food available throughout the country, Catholic Relief Services focused on distributing non-food items, including blankets, soap shelter material and cooking utensils.
Yet despite the arrival of international aid, many of those in the wake of the storm still face difficulties. Many roads and bridges in the provinces have been destroyed, hampering relief efforts. To compound the difficulties, a critical fuel shortage has nearly crippled Zimbabwe - the result of mismanagement of state-controlled fuel company.
"Most of our problems stem from damaged infrastructure," explained the District Administrator for the Chimanimani District. "The biggest problem right now though is the shortage of diesel and petrol. We have not been able to reach all of the affected areas because we don't have enough fuel."
The receding waters have also given rise to other problems as well. Stagnant water has created vast breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and the incidence of malaria has already risen dramatically. Additionally, unclean drinking water brings with it the added threat of a cholera outbreak.
"We were seeing about 50 malaria cases a month before the floods. Now we are seeing more than 30 a day," said Stephen Robertson, Superintendent of the Maparatze Clinic in Chimanimani. "Since most of the wells have been contaminated, a cholera outbreak seems likely as well." While some medicine is now available, it will soon run out, Robertson explained.
While Catholic Relief Services continues with short term emergency distribution, the agency has turned its long term efforts towards securing ample food and clean water for those affected by the flooding. "We want to do some water and sanitation work," said Backson Muchini, Project Officer for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe. "We're also looking at sustainable agriculture, irrigation, and latrines."
Regardless of such efforts, however, the flooding in Zimbabwe has left many with neither food nor seeds for the next planting season, a situation which will leave many dependent on humanitarian relief. Those most affected by the floods, staff members explain, will require assistance for at least a year until the next harvest can be gathered.
This is a story from Catholic Relief Services Quarterly Newsletter.