Zimbabwe: Flood emergency declared

JOHANNESBURG, 25 February (IRIN) - Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency as a result of torrential rains and flooding this week which have affected an estimated 250,000 people in four of the country's eight provinces.
A tropical depression as a result of cyclone Eline which ravaged neighbouring Mozambique, deluged southern and eastern Zimbabwe with rain and high winds on Monday and Tuesday. Sibusisiwe Ndhlovu, the deputy director of Zimbabwe's Civil Protection Unit told IRIN on Friday the effects were "the worst we have seen" and the damage to infrastructure could "run into billions" of Zimbabwe dollars. She said Zimbabwe was preparing an international appeal over the disaster.

Ndhlovu said the main problem at the moment was accessibility to people marooned by flood waters. "We are trying to rescue and provide shelter to a number of communities. There is a problem of foodstuffs, logistics, and telephones are down." The official 'Herald' newspaper reported on Friday that at least 12 people have died.

Districts in Manicaland, Masvingo and Midlands have been affected, and all of Matabeleland South. The border post with South Africa at Beitbridge, Africa's busiest, was closed on Friday after the Limpopo river burst its banks on Thursday night. "The rest of the country has sporadic areas of problems," Ndhlovu said.

Zimbabwe Air Force helicopters and police fixed wing planes are being used for evacuations and surveillance, but high winds have limited their operations. Trucks have also been used to move people to higher ground. Ndhlovu said that based on preliminary observations, 15,000 to 20,000 have been displaced. "In most cases people have to fend for themselves, but we are trying to make sure that those we can reach receive food stuffs and shelter," she added.

"Flooding on this scale is very difficult to cope with, but the Civil Protection Unit are doing the best they can within their resource constraints," Dennis Nkala, UNDP-Zimbabwe Officer-in-Charge, told IRIN.

This week's heavy rains caused dams to overflow, and forced the opening of flood gates which inundated communities downstream, washing away homes, roads and bridges. The country's largest rivers have burst their banks, "and we are expecting more rain," Ndhlovu warned.

She said the international appeal for Zimbabwe's short-term needs would be made next week after reports from the Civil Protection Unit's rapid assessment teams have been compiled. Nkala said that UNDP is assisting in the preparation of the appeal document.


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