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Climate change is not a game; if we continue being unprepared, Cyclone Chalane will hit us harder than Idai

Compiled by Byron Zamasiya, Michelle Matsvaire and Rodrick Moyo- Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

“On the side-lines of the Davos meeting, Honorable Mthuli Ncube was asked by a CNN reporter Richard Quest about Zimbabwe’s health system preparedness to COVID 19. The Honorable Minister answered that the country has a powerful health system and is well prepared for the pandemic. Richard Quest was stunned by the Minister’s response. However, when the pandemic struck the country in early March 2020, everybody knows how poorly prepared the country was. Zimbabwe’s health and social protection systems were dangerously exposed. History usually repeats itself! Just as Cyclone Idai, COVID -19 and any other disaster which usually catches up with us unaware without proper actions to mitigate against the effects on affected communities. If we are not careful, #CyloneChalane will catch us in a deep slumber and claim hundreds of victims.” When are we ever going to be prepared?

Zimbabwe is increasingly becoming vulnerable to cyclones, especially those from the Indian Ocean, and its landfall in Mozambique. Although the country has experienced other cyclones over the years, Cyclone Idai will be remembered as the worst environmental disaster ever to hit the country. The cyclone made its landfall near Beira City on the night of 14-15th March 2019. It proceeded to South-Eastern Zimbabwe on the night of the 16th of March 2019[1]. Idai’s arrival in Zimbabwe was signalled by powerful and fast-moving winds and torrential downpours that flooded rivers and planes in a short while. As the tropical storm raged, homes were destroyed, human lives were lost, and livestock wealth was lost. In his Ministerial Statement Update on Cyclone Idai Disaster to the Senate, 26th March 2019 the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing  Hon.J.Moyo further highlighted the impacts,“The damage to infrastructure has been extensive but the damage that has occurred to individuals, families, children, adults and women has been very intense[2]’The tropical storm left nothing short of gloomy picture.Reports further note that Cyclone Idai left a trail of destruction that includes the death of over 1000 people, nearly 2 million in need of food aid[3][4] in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

In Zimbabwe, over 40 000 people were left food insecure, and more than 7 000 people had their homes destroyed in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts. These two areas experienced the wrath of the tropical cyclone in Zimbabwe[5]. Although the cyclone has come and gone, memories of its devasting effects are still alive. The World Bank estimates that Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi will need over $2 billion to recover[6]. Zimbabwe appealed for aid amounting to $613 million from local and foreign donors to cover food imports and help with the humanitarian crisis. The country assisted Mozambique by sending pathologists to assist in identifying the dead. South Africa sent her defence forces and helicopters to assist hundreds of victims on rooftops and marooned on high land[7]. Given the publicity granted to the warning on Cyclone Idai, one wonders why Zimbabwe was caught unaware. The cyclone engraved essential lessons for us to ponder as we prepare for Cyclone Chalane.

Various media platforms scream with headlines that Cyclone Chalane, originating from the Indian Ocean is on its way to devastate Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Although analysts indicate that the cyclone might have weakened when it hits Zimbabwe after its landfall in Mozambique, there is every reason for the country to worry given its limited capacity to disaster preparedness. International institutions have erected free websites for tracking such storms such as https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/422321/indian-ocean-tropical-depression-chalane-tracking-over-western-madagascar-as-of-dec-27-update-5; https://reliefweb.int/report/madagascar/southern-africa-flash-update-no3-tropical-storm-chalane-28-december-2020. Surely, the handwriting is on the wall, and the perceived danger from Cyclone Chalane requires no interpretation. The Government has convened meetings with the Civil Protection Unit to plan and prepare for this environmental disaster. Although Zimbabwe may not be aware of the cyclone’s intensity, past lessons from Cyclone Idai indicate that there are no marks for bravery. Zimbabwe should have advanced plans to activate its disaster preparedness structures at a local level as provided in the National Climate Change Response Strategy and the National Climate Policy. Moreover, the country in 2015 along with the rest of the international community adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015 to 2030)[8]  Given the debilitating effects of COVID-19, being caught unprepared by Chalane will spell doom to the economy. As a country, we cannot afford just to pretend that all is well. However, our preparations should be guided by the essential lessons that we learnt from Cyclone Idai.

Critical lessons from Cyclone Idai

  • As a country, our Civil Protection Unit needs further capacitation to manage environmental disasters
  • Information dissemination in vernacular languages is pivotal for raising awareness among communities likely to be affected
  • Constant surveillance and monitoring of the progress of Cyclone Chalane is fundamental for activating disaster risk reduction structures at the local level
  • The defence forces can play a critical role in implementing disaster preparedness plan and disaster management efforts.
  • Relocation of people who have been displaced by disasters or who live in risk prone areas is very important. Low budgetary allocation for disaster management and flood management is another problem facing emergency management in Zimbabwe. Although it is encouraging that legal provisions are in place for setting up a National Civil Protection Fund to finance the development and promotion of civil protection measures; the effectiveness of such a provision is dependent on the GoZ’s fiscal budget.  As a result, a system on paper, absent of corresponding financial commitment, is likely to be doomed

Based on these lessons learnt, we, therefore, recommend the following:

  • Identifying evacuation centres by the District Civil Protection Unit is a top priority. Provision for transport should be made to ferry families to the identified centres.
  • The Civil Protection Unit should identify and put plans to evacuate households and livestock in low lying areas of Chimanimani and Chipinge;
  • The District Civil Protection Unit should activate disaster preparedness structures from the bottom up. The National Climate Change Response Strategy and Climate Change Policy speak about disaster preparedness from the local level. These systems should be triggered;
  • The defence forces should be on standby for a stress call to pitch tents for emergency shelter and mobilise aircraft for lifting marooned people;
  • Community radio stations and the national broadcaster should embark on periodic awareness of the impending danger from Cyclone Chalane. For instance, every 30 minutes, they should broadcast a message on the cyclone and its effects and warn people to evacuate once it is confirmed that Cyclone Chalane has hit Beira;
  • Humanitarian organisations should embark on awareness raising missions in the areas to be affected;

The GoZ should prepare a standby fund that kicks in for natural disasters as it is expected to take a leading role in disaster risk response in fulfillment of its constitutional obligation.


[1] https://www.unocha.org/southern-and-eastern-africa-rosea/cyclones-idai-and-kenneth

[2] http://veritaszim.net/node/3469

[3] https://www.africanews.com/2019/04/16/cyclone-idai-s-death-toll-stands-at-847-thousands-need-food-water-and-shelter//

[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/4/10/death-toll-from-devastating-cyclone-idai-rises-above-1000

[5] https://www.voanews.com/africa/official-death-toll-cyclone-idai-zimbabwe-tops-180

[6] https://www.africanews.com/2019/04/16/cyclone-idai-s-death-toll-stands-at-847-thousands-need-food-water-and-shelter/

[7] https://www.herald.co.zw/sa-sends-soldiers-equipment-for-idai-help/

[8] Is an international document which was adopted by UN member states between 14th and 18th of March 2015 at the worlds conference on disaster risk reduction held in Sendai in Japan and endorsed by the UN General assembly June 2015. A successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework for action (2005-2015) which had been the most encompassing international code to date on disaster risk reduction. Zimbabwe is committed to implementing the seven targets therein in responding to disaster be it natural or manmade

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