JUSTICE minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and his counterparts from the Housing and Social Amenities and Public Service ministries were on Wednesday grilled in Parliament over the country’s perennial lack of disaster preparedness as the rainy season begins following the loss of life in previous calamities like Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Freddy.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs charter states that governments have an obligation to mitigate natural disasters and prevent its negative effects on fundamental human rights.
These include rights to life and shelter.
However in the past, the government has failed to fulfil this obligation, notably during Cyclone Idai between 14 and 17 March 2019 as well as in the subsequent calamity of Cyclone Freddy leading to many deaths and massive loss of property.
During Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, Zaka North MP Opphias Murambiwa asked National Housing and Social Amenities deputy minister Yeukai Simbanegavi to state government policy on the assistance of flood victims.
“What is government policy with regards to the assistance of those whose properties have been destroyed by natural disasters such as storms, floods, et cetera? Thank you,” he asked.
In his response, Simbanegavi responded although he said the question should be directed to the minister of Local Government.
“However, the Ministry of National Housing, in terms of accommodating those who would have been affected by natural disasters, we have a policy whereby we can also allocate some Government flats and other accommodations to disaster victims.
“For example, we have houses in Binga that are under construction that we will allocate to the people that would have been affected by disasters in that area. We are also constructing flats in Dzivaresekwa which are also going to be strictly allocated to people that have been affected by floods, here in Harare,” he said.
Gokwe Gumunyu MP Stephen Ngwenya was not satisfied with the reponse and pressed further.
“Still concerning those floods, what is the policy position of the ministry concerning — because she actually referred to houses that will be built or are being built but at the moment — many people have been affected, as we speak, by these winds and floods?
“What is the government position concerning those people who have been affected before?” he asked.
In response, Simbanegavi said: “Maybe that question can be directed to the minister of Local Government. If he is not in, the honourable leader of government business can respond (Ziyambi).”
In turn, Ziyambi struggled with the question and sought assistance from former Local government minister July Moyo who is now minister of Public Service.
“I was looking at Honourable Moyo, you know he is an expert in that area because he has been in Local Government for a long time. I will just give a brief answer to that on the government policy. With your indulgence, if you agree, I will refer to Honourable Moyo.
“Basically, if we have a disaster, the government has a Civil Protection Unit (CPU) that will be activated and it will assess the damage and recommend the help that is needed.
Government will then be able, at that juncture, to mobilise resources towards what the CPU would have recommended on the basis of the disaster that would have happened,” said Ziyambi.
In his lengthy explanation in which he tied himself in knots, Moyo said the CPU in the ministry of Local Government every year makes sure that by September, they plan in terms of how to deal with climate change-induced disasters which can be in two parts, either floods or drought.
“If people survive a storm or a disaster like what we have had, then the issue of properties can be addressed in several ways. For the houses that are destroyed, which the honourable member has asked about, there is a quick reaction that can be done by either the Civil Protection Unit or the department of Social Welfare to provide tents.
“Right now, those two organisations are already working so that we can see whether we can provide tents. The tents are not made in Zimbabwe, so normally the Civil Protection Unit is empowered to work with donor agencies that are part of the civil protection system of this country.
“Therefore, that is what is taking place and I know that a number of members of Parliament will be concerned because disasters have already happened. The speed with which we do it definitely depends on the responders. The responders are also organised in such a manner that at the provincial, district, ward and village levels, including the traditional leadership and the councils, have to inform,” he said.
However, Gokwe-Kabuyuni MP Spencer Tshuma still quizzed Moyo.
“I want to direct my question to the minister of Local Government. Last year, we experienced Cyclone Freddy which had thunderous rainfall that damaged schools, roads and other infrastructure. Those in the rural areas were affected. What are you doing as a government to correct the impact of natural disasters where you find some dams and some schools that have roofs damaged, seeing that the rains have come?” he asked.
Moyo, in response, said the plan is to make sure that “we save lives first.”
“As members of Parliament, let us assist our people as soon as possible, schools need to be attended to promptly. When we think of what should be done in schools, then in some cases, we need to provide tents whilst we are rebuilding the schools.
“For instance, after Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, we had some learning and living tents during that transitional period when we were working on restoring their livelihoods,” responded Moyo.
Repeatedly, civil society organisations have urged the government to ensure meaningful and informed participation in cases of natural disaster.
After the Cyclone Idai disaster, civil society said the government must make early-warning information regarding climate effects and natural disasters available to all sectors of society.
They urged the government to adapt and mitigate plans that should be publicly available, transparently financed and developed in consultation with affected groups.