- A road construction project will help connect 5,000 people to schools, health centers, and markets. The motorable road will help communities boost their agricultural productivity.
- Using a community-based approach, all households in the area are represented in the labor force.
- An ethos of building back better means the design of infrastructure involves climate-proof techniques to improve its resistance to extreme weather.
“Unreachable” is the term that had become synonymous with Ruwedza in south-eastern Zimbabwe, where access by road had been hampered since 2019, when Cyclone Idai caused widespread destruction in the area. In its aftermath, local communities could not receive assistance or services speedily. Up to today, the nearest places for them to find a market and health center are 36km (22 miles) away, while other social and government services are in Chimanimani district’s business center, 49km (30 miles) away. Students were affected as they needed to use roads to reach their secondary (high) school.
Aware of the urgency of this, the $72 million Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP) is undertaking the reconstruction of the eight-kilometer road in Ruwedza to connect three remote, rural villages—Munyebvu, Matsekete, and Muyererwa. Prior to the cyclone, the road they used was already prone to landslides and flooding, as well as rock fall during the rainy season.
Nestled behind a mountain, the 158-household community came together to support the project. Using a community-based approach, all households in the area are represented in a labor force comprising 58 men and 100 women. So important is inclusion that the community allocated “proxies” for child-headed households to ensure that no one is left behind.
The road construction project will help connect 5,000 people to schools, health centers, and markets. And, as the communities engage in farming, a motorable road will help it boost their agricultural productivity.
Engendering the rehabilitation works
A cash-for-work model has provided members of this community opportunities for earning temporary income and learning skills, participants get paid for their labor in the road construction. Its gender lens has made the full participation of women possible, in part by establishing childcare facilities and making sure menstrual-friendly ablutions are available on site. Shifts of two-weeks at a time mean workers can keep up with their other income-generating activities.
Most workers work shifts but, in response to a special community request, one worker is taking on longer hours to be able to raise more money to support her child, who has special needs.
The community has been consulted and involved in constructing the roads, and these elements—of skills transfer and ownership—mean there’s a chance the roads will be locally sustainable when the project ends. The project’s guidelines are to train communities in operations and maintenance. There is also strong project engagement with local leaders in and outside of the Rural District Council.
An ethos of building back better means the design of the infrastructure involves climate-proof techniques to improve its resistance to extreme weather. The scope of works on the road combine contracted mechanized works and community labor. Side drains are being built along the length of the road, gabions and splash drains are being put in place, and vetiver grass will be planted to minimize erosion on slopes.
ZIRP, which is being implemented by the United Nations Office for Projects and Services (UNOPS), is set to conclude in 2023 and at project closure, nine roads totaling 90 km (56 miles) will have been rehabilitated. Some 15,000 people have been able to use the community infrastructure rehabilitated so far.
Early warning systems
Risk reduction initiatives are part of the project, which has supported the founding of two community radios, one in Chimanimani and the other in Chipinge, to assist in sending out early warning information. Early warning systems can give communities time to prepare for extreme weather and are therefore an effective way to reduce the loss of lives and property.
By receiving frequent data and alerts from Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Department, the radio stations will be able to send out timely, accurate warnings in the face of changes in the weather. Their integration into community information structures—formal and informal—means they can provide a reliable source of information for proactive flood and drought early warning communications and messaging.
Thus, the radios (Chimanimani FM and Chipinge FM) will help sustain community resilience long-term. They are also seen as a multi-purpose springboard for content creation and information sharing on things other than roads, such as health, agriculture, education, hygiene and sanitation, gender-based-violence, and other socio-economic issues.