By Wallace Mawire
The government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works has initiated countrywide stakeholder consultations on the disaster risk management bill which seeks to repeal the country’s Civil Protection Act.
The consultations come in the wake of concerns raised by various sectors in the country on the need to enhance the capacity of the Civil Protection Unit to fulfil its mandate during times of disaster. Consultations in Harare were conducted on 13 March 2020.
Sibusisiwe Ndhlovu, deputy director of the Civil Protection Unit, at a consultative meeting for Harare Metropolitan Province, held on 13 March 2020, said the draft bill was produced in 2011. She said the new Act should be in place by 2021.
“Due to the 1992 drought and Cyclone Idai, it became apparent that proper legislation on disaster risks was lacking in the country. We have decided to take necessary measures to amend the situation,” Ndhlovu said.
Some of the issues discussed during the Harare meeting include key gaps and challenges in disaster risk management.
Stakeholders highlighted the need for early warning systems and to focus on other disasters which are not the only natural, including climate-related disasters.
Stakeholders also called for enhanced community participation highlighting the need for community-based disaster risk management mechanisms.
Others called for the use of forensic science and remote sensing in disaster management. Another issue highlighted was on disaster risk management funding with stakeholders calling for well-defined funding mechanisms to properly manage disasters in the country.
During past disasters in the country, the unit has failed to properly carry out its mandate of offering protection to affected citizens. This has been mainly blamed on lack of comprehensive fiscal support from the government to capacitate the operations of the unit during disaster periods.
Yet, almost every year, Zimbabwe suffers disaster losses which set back development and leave communities living in perpetual state of risk.
For example, the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai in southern Manicaland Province in March 2019, and the recent 2020 floods experienced in areas such as Binga, in Matabeleland North Province, during which the unit had to rely on support from other state and non-state agencies to conduct rescue operations.
The unit had to receive support from state organs like the Air Force of Zimbabwe through helicopters used for evacuation of marooned citizens during floods, for example.
The unit has been hamstrung by lack of necessary equipment such as helicopters for use during disasters due to low fiscal budgetary allocations.
This situation is obtaining at a time when the country is getting more vulnerable to natural disasters, especially those related to climate change.
According to a statement published in the national media, national consultations on the proposed bill have been attended by national, provincial and district civil protection committees, rural and urban local authorities, parastatals, private sector, local leadership, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations.
In addition, development partners, universities and other tertiary educational institutions including people living with disabilities and other special interest groups, also participated.
The conduct of Zimbabweans regarding disasters has been reactive in nature. Communities, sometimes aware of the risks they face, would wait in anticipation of a disastrous event and then activate plans and procedures. Human, social and economic development has further contributed to creating vulnerability, weakening the ability of humans to cope with disasters and their effects.
Disaster risk management is the process of using administrative directives, organisations and operational skills and capacities to implement strategies, policies and improved coping capacities to lessen the adverse impacts of hazards and the possibility of disaster.
Disaster risk management, therefore, aims to avoid, lessen or transfer the adverse effects of hazards through activities and measures for prevention, mitigation and preparedness, according to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).
UNISDR is the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. It was created in December 1999 and is part of the UN Secretariat with the purpose of ensuring the implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.