By Wallace Mawire
Zimbabwe’s Advocates4Earth has intensified its call for a better equipped Civil Protection Department as a strategy to protect the human and environmental rights of vulnerable communities as they grapple with the negative effects of climate change.
The urgent call has come in the wake of recent floods experienced in Binga district on the south eastern shore of Lake Kariba, in Matabeleland North province.
The district is one of the forgotten areas despite its leading treasures in tourism and wildlife resources in the country. Binga district is located, on the banks of the Zambezi River. The Zambezi makes up the Victoria Falls and Kariba Dam and forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Before the construction of Lake Kariba, the Tonga people lived largely without interference from the colonial rulers who, at the time, were uninterested in the remote area. Their problems began in 1957, when the then government sanctioned the forcible removal of the local inhabitants to make way for the lake, and subsequently, a huge dam and an electricity generating station at Kariba.
The colonial government were unperturbed by the human cost of the exercise. The local people had to pay a huge price for a development that they would never benefit from. Apart from losing their traditional alluvial farmlands and ancestral burial grounds to the lake, there was also the mental trauma associated with being forcibly removed, without compensation, to infertile dry land now called Binga district.
“We need our water which we were forced to leave behind. We need our water to follow us. Water is the most sacred thing we left behind,” says 70-year-old Judas Mwinde of Binga’s Lubu area.
According to the villagers, the government promised to resettle the people immediately following the construction of the 282 kilometre long Kariba dam but did nothing. Instead they were deposited in haphazard locations and left to fend for themselves.
On the weekend of 8-9 February 2020, flash floods affected the district, leaving 21 families stranded. The floods affected hundreds of Binga residents resulting in loss of property and life..
Advocates4Earth, a non-profit environmental law, climate and wildlife justice organisation, has since its inception been calling for a better equipped Civil Protection Department as part of measures to protect the human and environmental rights of vulnerable communities in times of climate change and economic hardships in Zimbabwe. This includes capacity building in terms of human resources, equipment and networking, The organisation was formed in 2019.
It is reported that in February 2019, exactly 12 months before the current Binga floods, environmental organisations such as Advocates4Earth (Then known as People and Earth Solidarity Law Network), and the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) have called on the government of Zimbabwe to be better prepared for disaster risk reduction in the aftermath of Battlefields Mines disaster in Mashonaland West province which was also caused by flash floods. Advocates4Earth went further to call for a commission of inquiry on disasters.
“We have been calling for adequate disaster management in Zimbabwe, especially after the Battlefields and Cyclone Idai flood disasters (Manicaland province) in early 2019. A natural hazard shouldn’t automatically lead to the struggle and dislocation of communities,” remarked Lenin Chisaira, an environmental lawyer and the director of Advocates4Earth.
“Every person has the right to an environment that is not harmful to health, as well as the right to health itself. These rights are provided in Zimbabwe’s Constitution and in international treaties. Binga is a special case for us because in the past and with various organisations, I worked on the amendments of the Binga Rural District Council Environmental By-Laws” he added.
He said that failure to deal with floods and other natural hazards is a human rights and environmental justice issue. Some of the challenges being faced in Binga include poor infrastructure such as roads, limited telecommunications coverage and medical and power facilities.
He said that these issues occur in a district which is practically on the banks of the water system that provide the most hydroelectric power for Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries.
It is reported that there are, however, a number of ways to deal with these disasters, which government is called upon to genuinely embrace and fully implement. According to the organisation, they range from capacitating the civil protection department, quicker responses, having viable early warning systems, allowing better access to environmental and weather information for communities, civil society, mainstream and alternative media, among other measures.
As provided by the Zimbabwe Civil Protection Act of 1989, central government initiates hazard reduction measures through relevant sector ministries with the local administration taking the responsibility for implementing its effectiveness.
The Department of Civil Protection is a national organ, which is housed under the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing. The Department was established to carry out the overall co-ordination of all relevant disaster management stakeholders. The current system uses the existing government, private, and non-governmental organisations whose regular activities contain elements of disaster risk prevention and community development.