Rain steals their sleep Memories of yesteryear floods haunt Gweru residents

The Chronicle

Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
WHEN the Meteorological Services Department of Zimbabwe (MSD) announced that the country will have normal to above normal rainfall, farmers were excited and embarked on land preparations.

However, it wasn’t the case for residents in Gweru’s low-lying areas like Mtapa, Mambo, Ascot, Mkoba 6, 4, 9 as they are still haunted by memories of sleepless nights caused by flooding.

Flood-hit residential areas in Gweru

Residents such as Mr Xavier Mataruse of Ascot suburb fail to sleep whenever it starts raining.

“When it rains, we take turns to stand by the window watching the water levels as they rise, it’s just living in constant fear that flash floods will wreak havoc again like they have been doing in the past two rainy seasons,” he said.

Mr Mataruse’s house in old Ascot suburb has been flooded several times, first in 2019 when the drainage system got overwhelmed by heavy rains and water filled his home.

In 2020 he suffered the same challenge.

“I lost property, valuables, food and it’s a nightmare thinking of the rains. While farmers smile, we mourn because we know the challenges associated with more rainfall,” he said.

Ascot suburb experiences severe flooding on a yearly basis.

The prediction of heavy downpours to the residents in flood-prone areas is confirmation that their ugly flooding experiences will haunt them again this year.

Flooding usually results from high river levels, concentration of overland flow following heavy rainfall, limited capacity of drainage systems and blockage of waterways and drainage channels.

In 2018, the Journal of Disaster Risk Studies published a study on how flooding causes poverty in Zimbabwe.

The study revealed that flooding harms the livelihoods of people in Zimbabwe, sometimes causing people to fall into poverty or making the situation worse for those already living in poverty.

Poverty can cause people in Zimbabwe to live in low-cost, unstable housing structures, making them more vulnerable to floods.

Flooding has also been shown to have a negative impact on education.

A 2016 study on disaster risk reduction examined these impacts.

In the rural areas, most students absent themselves from school during the rainy season.

Only about 50 percent of students attend school during the rainy season.

Some students are not able to cross flooded rivers to get to school.

The study also revealed that some students drop out because of flooding.

A resident of Nkenyana Street in Mambo suburb, Mrs Louise Gumbo said while she would love to move to another area before the rains start, it was not financially possible for her.

She recalled: “Last year when it was raining, our street and house got flooded every other day.

This street is a bit low and erosion has eaten a good part of the road and despite our little efforts to keep the floods at bay, the water always finds a way to get in.”

Mrs Gumbo said residents were also to blame for blocking of culverts and drainage system as they dump refuse indiscriminately.

“We do not see the council refuse trucks and we end up dumping litter anywhere and it’s blamed for clogging the drainage systems,” she said.

“You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to get over a flood.

And I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience it.”

A report, which examined studies on flooding events in the UK from 1968 to 2016, found people affected by flooding experienced anxiety during heavy rains even years after experiencing flooding.

Symptoms included stress, sleeping problems, panic attacks, nightmares, anger, mood swings and increased use of alcohol, prescription drugs or antidepressants.

Gweru City Council acting town clerk Mr Vakayi Douglas Chikwekwe said they hired at least 80 casual workers to clear the culverts and drainage system in town and flood prone areas.

He said the local authority had been running awareness campaigns to urge residents not to dump refuse in drainages and culverts as that causes flooding.

“You find pampers, pieces of clothing and blankets in drainages.

These are attributed to clogging water ways thereby causing flooding.

We have hired 80 people to clear the storm drains, the culverts and all waterways as we work on mitigating against flooding of homes,” said Mr Chikwekwe.

While residents play a part in blocking water ways, there is an elephant in the room in the form of climate change that has seen the change in rainfall patterns and the surge in flooding.

Climate experts have long predicted that greenhouse gas emissions would cause more floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms and other forms of extreme weather, but the latest spikes have surpassed many expectations.

Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) states that “Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity today”, and this has seen many parts of the world already experiencing environmental degradation, water shortages, poverty, hunger and inequality.

However, many citizens, activists, scientists and policy makers hope that if collective action is taken the challenge of climate change could at least be mitigated.

Climate change is the long-term change in the earth’s climate caused by the release of greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide [CO2] and methane [CH4]) – which trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the planet to become hotter (global warming).

Greenhouse gases are released by human activities such as use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) as well as by large-scale commercial agriculture and deforestation.

The average atmospheric and ocean temperatures across the earth have been rising due to climate change.

This has caused widespread melting of snow and ice at the poles.

The extra water from this melting will cause sea levels to rise and weather patterns to change across the planet.

Extreme events, including storms, droughts and floods will be more frequent.

Everyone will be affected especially people in developing countries due to their economic status and the burdens which they already bare including hunger, poverty and disease.

In Zimbabwe, climate change is predicted to cause average temperatures to rise by about 3°C before the end of this century.

Rainfall will become more variable.

There will be an increase in droughts, floods and storms.

This will affect Zimbabwe’s food security, health, energy supply and the economy.

Normal weather hazards experienced in Zimbabwe include tropical cyclones causing intense rainfall (more than 100 mm in 24 hours) and thunderstorms sometimes leading to hailstorms, floods and flash flooding.

A shop owner, who identified herself as Blessing Kudzai from new stands called KuGomba in Ascot said:

“Council and land developers are very greedy. Once they see one small space, they will construct shops on it, in most cases blocking the water channels.

Ascot shopping center and Mkoba 6 shopping center, are wetlands and water ways that were blocked after people were sold stands.

Major water channels have all but been blocked.

So, anytime rain falls, the water has nowhere to go,” he said.

The residents said council should make sure that the drainage systems were cleared of garbage before every rainy season.

Minister of National Housing and Social Amenities Daniel Garwe, during a tour of irregular settlements in Gweru after flooding, urged the city council and land developers to regularise operations by putting in place roads, culverts, bridges and good drainage systems to curb flooding of people’s homes.

Some property developers like River Valley Properties and Zimbuild have been working with the local authority in putting drainage systems in areas such as Tinshel and Woodlands to curb flooding.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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