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Flooding terrorises Budiriro residents, wetlands fight back

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JABULANI Kurehwatira (9) gazes into the sky as rain gently falls on his young face in Budiriro, a suburb about 15km west of central Harare.

AYESHA CHIDEMBO

He dashes to remove laundry drying on the washing line as he calls his siblings, who are playing at a distance, to come into the house.

On Tuesday last week, the nine-year-old woke up to a frightening sight. His house was almost flooded after a heavy downpour.

 Panicking, Jabulani called his father who re[1]moved part of the family’s property from the door entrance.

“When I woke up that night, I noticed that it was flooded outside, and I feared that our house was going to flood. So, I called my father, and he woke up the rest of the family,” Jabulani said.

His family is lucky to still have its furniture intact after days of heavy downpours, causing the nearby Marimba Stream to flood, leaving some families counting their losses.

A drive around the Budiriro Cabs area shows desperation as families try frantically to divert large puddles of water from their homes.

Another hazard is also brewing in the area after a crocodile emerged from the nearby stream.

 “It is scary, especially for us children. It may affect my schooling when we finally open,” the Grade Five pupil said.

 Jabulani’s sister, Nicole (19), said the area is not fit for human habitation. She said families pay council bills, but never receive water or any services from the local authority.

“We started staying here in 2017 and every year flooding happens. Last year we received a tank for safe water from Oxfam after they realised that water in our wells was dirty and unsafe to drink. Even though my parents pay bills for water from the council, there’s no day we have seen water running from the taps and used it, not to mention that they have already paid for these stands we stay in. I always find myself worried when I hear the rains coming, even when it rains in town because when it rains in town water starts coming from underground because of the force it would have rained with in town,” Nicole said.

“Whenever my mother is not around, I get worried. My siblings depend on me. For these past two weeks, I have been forced to stay at home because a crocodile was seen close to the stream,’’ she added.

Jabulani’s family built near wetlands in Budiriro’s Cabs section, an area prone to flooding. Although the government threatened to evict families who built houses on the wetlands, no action has been taken.

 Onelia Freddy (38), who has lived in the area for eight years, says the flooding is perennial, while bemoaning loss of property and livelihoods. She accused the government of turning a blind eye to their plight, saying ropes had to be deployed to rescue some families from flooded houses.

 “I have lived in these cooperative stands for close to eight years and have not seen any improvements, but rather more residents who find themselves in a bind and developers selling them land on wetlands. I moved into my house with my husband in 2015 after we had bought a 300-square-metre plot. Since that time, the government has always turned a blind eye to us, but would rather send representatives here and there after disasters like these happen. Imagine water flowing from the Marimba Stream, not just water but sewage flowing into our houses, affecting food and furniture while some people were pulled from their houses using ropes,” Freddy said.

Despite earlier promises to relocate residents by the Civil Protection Unit to Dzivaresekwa Ex[1]tension suburb, the beleaguered residents are still reeling from perennial flooding.

“Last year in January, CPU director Nathan Nkomo said we were going to be relocated to flats in Dzavaresekwa Extension, which he said were going to be done in November 2021, but to my surprise November came and went just like the fake promises they always make and we are tired of complaining. They don’t help every time, all they say is ‘we have seen the problem, we are going to sit down and talk’. I wonder if they can’t sit down and talk because they haven’t done anything tangible so far and it’s painful,” she said.

Pracious Makwiyana (40), a resident, is always nervous during the rainy season.

“Whenever it rains, the water levels reach the window level. There are almost 200 families in this settlement and every family is having its own problems depending on how close the house is to the stream,” Makwiyana said.

The acting spokesperson of Harare City Council, Innocent Ruwende, said the affected residents are illegal settlers.

“Cabs settlers settled in the area without following the necessary procedures, they did not have a certificate of occupation which is issued by council upon the completion of servicing stands. Council requires that before people settle in an area the area should have roads, drainage facilities and other amenities to minimise such disasters. They might have made payments to council, but the land was not ready for occupation.

“Council is engaging government with a view to coming up with a lasting solution and as this is an engagement we cannot give a timeframe,” Ruwende added.

Wetlands, which include bogs and swamps, are ecologically essential to the well-being of the city, environmentalists say as they have a vital role to play in climate change and adaptation in a country which is currently experiencing one of its worst droughts.

 Wetlands help ease the impacts of a changing climate by helping maintain ground water levels and mitigate flooding by absorbing excess water.

At law, anyone intending to build on a wetland must apply for a permit from the state-run Environmental Management Agency, but unscrupulous land barons and cooperatives have been parcelling out stands on wetlands.

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