It’s almost two years since Cyclone Idai killed over a thousand Zimbabweans in the Eastern Highlands. You would think that the government would have a better plan this time around but after listening to a spokesperson for the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) during the 6:00 AM news bulletin today I was shocked. Apart from some very vague pronouncements people are being essentially left to their own devices again. If Cyclone Chalane strikes with force people will probably die again. Crops, livestock and homes will be lost again.

The govenrment’s vague plan

The last time a cyclone decimated this region the government had a brilliant cheap plan. They would send SMS messages to people in affected region telling them to seek higher ground. Most people in these rural parts don’t really take SMS messages seriously. A lot have their phones off half the time. Radio programs did not go far enough when it comes to broadcasting the necessary emergency messages. The result was that at least 1 297 people died, a lot of them could be saved.

So what is the plan this time around:

  • The spokesperson said something along the lines of: We are telling them to identify centres that can be used as shelters
  • He also said they were talking to ZUPCO so they can evacuate people if this looks like they are in danger
  • People are again being told to seek higher ground

He sounded so relaxed like this was a great plan. For the record it’s a stupid plan. The CPU needs to do better. The spokesperson is probably not even on the ground so why should he be anxious? He is probably far away from the threat, right here in Harare.

What the government should have done and ought to do

Why is the CPU identifying shelter centres now when there is a threat looming. Danger is a few days away and we are already experiencing heavy rains in these regions. Last night there were bucket loads of rain falling in the affected areas already. So people are supposed to brave this rain to go scouting for possible rescue shelters? Why didn’t the CPU do this a year ago after thousands died during Idai. They should have already have a list of suitable centres for people in certain areas to go to instead of them looking now they should have looked back before summer struck.

We are living in the climate change age. Weather patterns here and in other parts of the world point to increased risk of cyclones/typhoons/hurricanes. The Antlantic has seen an upsurge in Cat 5 hurricanes battering US cities and counties. We can expect more cyclones to reach Zimbabwe too. The people at the CPU know this and their plan sucks. If there are no suitable centres they should build some. Isn’t that what Mthuli Ncube said the 2% tax was for?

Instead of sounding relaxed, the CPU should be screeching messages on radio and TV telling people in the region to be vigilant as a matter of urgency. They should sound anxious. In my opinion, not enough updates are being given on radio and TV which are the two mediums that the people in these regions take seriously enough. The government should also have run drills with people when it was dry so that they know what they are supposed to do when disaster strikes.

And ZUPCO buses seriously? Who came up with this dumb idea? Anyone who has lived through a cyclone in these areas know that the first things to go are the roads and bridges. Rockfalls and mudslides are also a risk. At best the buses become useless and stuck. At worst they become metals coffins in which hapless villagers will be buried. Most bridges are flooded if they don’t get washed away. Using buses to rescue people can only be done days in advance and even then in the Eastern Highlands roads are hard to navigate in dry seasons. In the incessant that come before cyclones they are almost always unavigable.

What you need are helicopters when disaster is not so far away like now. There should be teams ready to go in and rescue. But our beloved leaders wait for deaths before scurrying into action. Perhaps makes them look like heroes with all that footage of them helping marooned villagers. Personally I would prefer that there be no marooned villagers to rescue in the first place-they should already be in centres.

I pray the CPU and those in charge take heed and learn lessons from the not so distant past. Otherwise the price will be measured in human lives. Possibly lots of human lives.