“Water is life indeed, but a serial killer” (Prof Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa: 2019)
A public lecture conducted to commemorate World Water Day on Thursday, 21 March 2019 at the University of Zimbabwe hastened my blog article on the aftermath of Cyclone Idai. The keynote address, titled ‘Water in a changing world- towards an all-inclusive adaptation leaving no one behind’ by Prof Hubert Gijzen, the UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa left me in tears. The profound melancholy that had engulfed me when I first heard the death toll from cyclone Idai revisited me.
Prof Hubert Gijzen, the UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa
The story of cyclone Idai has once again reminded humanity that water is life, but so is it also death. Prof Gijzen reiterated that water and sanitation constitute basic human rights issues impacting all people, rich and poor alike. However, water borne diseases reportedly claim 7000 lives annually worldwide. Cyclone Idai which hit the Eastern parts of Zimbabwe from Mozambique on the 14th and 15th of March 2019 was a cruel devastating natural occurrence that derails the government’s vision 2030 effort ‘Towards an Upper Middle Income Economy’ as well as United Nation’s agenda of ‘leaving no one behind’.
When I first read about cyclone Idai’s warnings as it sped from the Indian Ocean towards the inland of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, I joked on Mt Selinda Giants WhatsApp group “….cyclone iyi yaka discover naIdai wemuZim here……?”, “..was this cyclone discovered by Idai from Zim?” (Mt Selinda Giants, 13/03/2019: 14:43pm). The reason I posed this question is that most cyclones are curiously ascribed women’s names. It so occurs that cyclones are naturally very destructive. Inevitably, the feminine in me reared its proverbial head.
Vuso Sithole- Geographic Info Science Data/Analyst
Vuso Sithole also constantly updated us on the course of the cyclone saying, “Mangwana manheru Idai anenge asvika muZimbabwe” (tomorrow evening Idai will have reached Zimbabwe) (Mt Selinda Giants, 14/03/201907:52am). Several group members troubled Sithole for further updates and thankfully he was patient enough to inform us. Little did we realise then that most people in the path and eye of the cyclone did not know about these updates. For the few who were warned, they lacked emergency preparedness and thus couldn’t do anything. I and countless others never thought that the magnitude of the cyclone would decimate life, limbs and property in horrendous ways. Zimbabwe had before experienced minor flooding disasters such as cyclones Bonita (1996), Eline (2000), Gloria (2000) and many others. The intensity of the Idai damage is nevertheless more heart rending. No Zimbabwean anticipated such a vicious natural disaster. In the Shona language a cyclone is called ‘mvuramupengo’ and ‘wild rains’ in English. Paradoxically, instead of being a loving cyclone as the name ‘Idai’ implies it became loathsome rains.
What especially moves me most is that since 2014, I have been working on a mythological film script about the Inyangani/ Nyanga mountains and the Civil Protection Unit’s work in Zimbabwe. Idai has consequently made me revisit my script. The suggestion is that in future the government, the Civil Protection Unit and all Zimbabweans should put in place disaster management measures to minimise loss of human lives, animals, property and infrastructure. In 2015 Sifelani Tsiko highlighted the impacts of climate change disasters and hinted on some disaster mitigation measures saying, “Burrowing through archival material helps to bring important lessons to our physical planners, engineers, doctors, meteorologists, politicians, relief agencies, people and other professionals critical to emergency preparedness and disaster management”. Yet pre-Idai burrowing was not done thoroughly.
But what exactly is a cyclone? Between 1836-1855 Henry Piddington published 40 papers on tropical storms. He coined the term cyclone from the Greek word kuklos meaning going around, or encircling, like the coil. Oxford dictionary defines a cyclone as “a system of winds rotating inwards to an area of low barometric pressure, with an anticlockwise (northern hemisphere) or clockwise (southern hemisphere) circulation; a depression”.
Picture courtesy of Medecins Sans Frontieres
Cyclone Idai hit the Eastern part of Zimbabwe bordering Mozambique on 15 and 16 March 2019. The first most affected areas were Chimanimani and Chipinge districts. Like a horror movie the township of Copper area was literally wiped out. Charles Lwanga school was badly hit. Two students and a staff member died when a boulder hit the dining hall and a dormitory in which the two were sleeping. The students had to sleep with corpses of their colleagues awaiting rescue . When it dawned on them that help was not coming their way, they risked a mountainous travel to Skyline with the help of the boarding master whilst carrying the bodies of their colleagues in blankets.
Picture Courtesy of Getty Images – Charles Lwanga students braving the mountains and forests on their way to Skyline . Help did not reach them and they had to reach help instead.
This is how the boulder wrecked Charles Lwanga School.
The cyclone later hit Buhera, Makoni, Mutare Rural, Bikita, Masvingo and Gutu districts damaging vast infrastructure. The cyclone also intensively ravaged Mozambique and Malawi. Mozambique’s president Filipe Nyusi rightly called it, “a humanitarian disaster of great proportion”. More than 1000 people are feared dead in Mozambique.
MOZAMBIQUE – PICTURE COURTESY (RICK EMENAKET/AFP)
Initially the cyclone hit Beira in Sofala on Thursday 14 March 2019 with a landfall of winds travelling up to 177km/h (106mph). Clare Nullis a UN weather agency warned that Cyclone Idai was “ shaping up to be one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the Southern hemisphere”.
In Zimbabwe, the aftermath of cyclone Idai has united Zimbabweans from all walks of life. All Zimbabweans young and old are coming in solidarity to assist the victims of the cyclone. The disaster was declared a national disaster and two days, Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 March 2019 were set aside to mourn the departed. The international world is also coming aboard to assist the Zimbabwean government. We have never seen such apolitical commitment from all Zimbabweans. The affected people need to rebuild their battered lives through material and psychotherapy help.
Zimbabwe’s Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister reiterated that “we all have a duty to help our brothers and sisters who went through living hell last week” (Mutsvangwa:2019). It is pointless and foolhardy to play the blame game at this juncture as Zimbabweans.
The least we can do is to empathise with the affected. The UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa Prof Gijzen, reminded us at his key note presentation at the University of Zimbabwe that, “water is life, food, is for people, industry, energy, transport, recreation, tourism and nature. Yet the same water is now a nightmare to humanity.” However, cyclone Idai-affected areas still require clean water and sanitation so as to avoid water borne diseases. Prof Gijzen further highlighted the mandate and mission agenda of the United Nations Water and UNESCO program. The hope is that UNESCO’s mission and agenda of eradicating poverty, zero hunger, good healthy, well being, quality education and clean water inter alia would be fulfilled by assisting in the post cyclone rebuilding program. Water is truly “a defining issue of our time.”
The Ubuntu spirit and philosophy is very visible among Zimbabweans. The Deputy Chief Secretary to the President & Cabinet (Presidential Communications) had to reiterate the philosophy’s sentiments in the wake of certain people in Masvingo who were charging $10.00 per night as rentals for people whose homes were destroyed by the cyclone. “When you look at a hut in our cultural context it is a kitchen, a bedroom and a granary. That trebles the tragedy which hit that family. They lost their grain, they have nowhere to sleep and they have nowhere to prepare food for the family” Charamba (2019). Therefore, let’s all give a helping hand, let’s shelter the homeless, cloth the naked, feed the hungry and save the soul of the traumatised people. And above all let us not steal from those that do not have. No to prejudice. A relief centre has been stationed in Mutare with several Zimbabwe districts also collecting aid. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
Picture courtesy of Getty Images
People had to do mass burials for their family and friends, much against cultural burial conventions.
The government of Zimbabwe together with the international community require to work closely in the post-cyclone Idai reconstruction. Road infrastructure, homes, schools, hospitals and human dignity need to be rehabilitated. A very strong restoration drive is urgently needed. The government, as well as Zimbabweans should find lasting solutions to mitigate future disasters. Local governments should revisit housing infrastructure standards. We can take a cue from Abijan where low cost houses are being built from more resistant steal. This material is also resilient to all weather patterns.
Condolences messages to Zimbabwe and Mozambique and Malawi continue to flow from the whole globe. Humanitarian aid is also pouring in from the international community as well.
Below is a poem by Musaemura Zimunya which glorifies the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. The children’s rain song is supposed to be sung celebrating the rains which bring new life and food.Yet Cyclone Idai’s had a different tune for its victims in the eastern parts of the country. In the place of a children’s rain song we now wail funeral songs. “Tine urombo nezvakaitika. Vakatorwa nenzira inorwadza asi nesuwo tichatevera” (Memory Chirere:2019).
Children’s Rain Song
I see little children
Fling their small clothes away
Like merry flying termites
After their rainy wedding flights
Skipping, hopping and screaming in the rain
Rain fall fall
We will eat berries
Rain fall for all
We will eat mealies
We will eat cucumbers
Rain fall fall
Little brown bodies
Shrieking in the rain
Laughing and playing
Splattering in the puddles
Loving all the rain
Rain fall fall
We will eat berries
We will eat all
Children in the rain
They don’t feel the pain
Of longing all the time
To streak through my years
And dance in the rain again.
Musaemura Zimunya (1995:7)
https://relief web int/report/Zimbabwe/unicef-Zimbabwe. ‘UNICEF Zimbabwe Humanitarian Situation Report (Cyclone Idai) 24 March 2019
https://www.herald.co.zw/let-us-keep-ubunthu-spirit-alive-says-mutsvangwa. Cletus Musanawani. 21 March 2019
https://www.herald.co.zw/cyclone-eline-ghost-haunts-zim. Sifelani Tsiko. 12 February 2015
Mt Selinda Giants. WhatsApp Group March 2019
Zimunya, M.1995. Poetry Collection
Elizabeth is also currently a PhD student candidate with the Midland State University Zimbabwe. She holds a Master of Arts in English and Bachelor of Arts Honours in English from the University of Zimbabwe. She started script writing in 2019 with a pilot project she is working on at the moment.
She is a member of the Zimbabwe Film Industry Development Platform (ZFIDP) since 2019 and is the current ZFIDP Executive Committee secretary. Also, a member of Pan African film association, Azania Filmmakers Association Zimbabwe (AFA Zimbabwe) since 2021. Elizabeth is currently working on two projects that are still at story development stage; Mystical Nyanga and The Prince of Ngoniland. She is co- writing Mystical Nyanga with Mr Ezekiel Mutasa (Zimbabwe) and The Prince of Ngoniland is a collaboration with C.J Ndlovu (South Africa). Congratulations to Tete Eliza as she was recently (2022) accepted into the eQuality Impact Film Development Program.
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