EDITORIAL COMMENT: Above average rains are a blessing

The prolonged and often heavy rains now falling are causing those who see doom in every Zimbabwean event to proclaim a disaster as serious as last season’s severe drought. They are wrong. And they are wrong by several orders of magnitude. Above average rains do cause flooding and severe problems for some, but we are talking about thousands or even tens of thousands. A bad drought causes problems for the whole country, all 14 plus million of us.

The exceptionally severe drought not only hammered a majority of rural areas but is the largest single cause of many of our present financial problems. The National Budget was broken by the need to feed millions. Our import bill rocketed because we need to import over half our food, while exports dropped significantly because we grew hardly any cotton and even tobacco was less than wonderful.

Urban people were badly affected. Bulawayo, with the best and fairest water rationing, was moving from supplying households with a few hours every other day to a burst of water every three days and was making plans to bring in an essential minimum from the Nyamandlovu boreholes. Harare was warning that supplies could halve as Lake Chivero came close to sinking below the input of the modern tower and the city would have to rely on the older and smaller tower. Masvingo was desperately worried that Lake Mutirikwe, the largest internal dam, would dry up. Those fears have vanished.

The bad side in urban areas is trivial. Blocked and overgrown drains in Harare’s Msasa caused minor flooding, and a stream running past a new section of Budiriro should have had its bed widened and deepened, as almost all urban rivers and streams have already been partly canalised in the past.

Neither problem is permanent. A couple of earth moving machines or even a gang with shovels can fix both quickly. Both problems are, in effect, a side-effect of Harare City Council inefficiency rather than heavy rain.

Some rural communities have been cut off for days at a time when low level bridges are covered by rising rivers. These communities know this happens, act sensibly and plan properly. The problem is an irritation, not a danger. That famous video of a pick-up driven by visiting journalists being washed off a bridge was, after all, taken by a local resident who knew better and who would personally have waited a few days for the river to subside.

There are those fewer communities who are flooded out in every average or better than average season. But these people number in the thousands and risk flooding every now and then as the price to pay for a short walk the rest of the time to their fields and pastures. They know the Government will not let them drown. That problem needs creative solutions, but it is a problem at district level, not a national disaster.

And heavy prolonged rain does mean that many farmers will need a little more fertiliser than planned and will have some heavy workdays ahead when they can get into their fields to weed. But all prefer a bit too much rain to even a bit too little.

The biggest regret over the heavy rain will be watching a lot of water flow over our borders in larger rivers. The extremes of drought and heavy rain highlight the need for more bigger and expensive dams that can impound the floodwaters and release these gradually over a number of years. We have a lot of smaller cheaper dams that fill in a season and are emptied in a year. We need more of those that catch the extra water of the above average seasons for storage until the next drought.

The costs are not trivial but are dwarfed by the sums we spend on importing a million tonnes of maize, feeding farmers whose harvest failed and wondering whether we need to close Bulawayo’s industries.

So let us accept decent rains as a blessing, keep problems in perspective and start long-range plans to harvest the next above-average season.

Article Source: The Herald