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cyclones zimbabwe finance
Blessing Matsondota passing by a house destroyed during cyclone Idai.

Lack of funding slows down adaptation to cyclones in Zimbabwe

When Cyclone Idai first hit Zimbabwe in 2019, people needed evacuation, but the Airforce’s ageing helicopters were parked. For three days they could not move, as the bad weather would make them collapse.

Hundreds were negatively affected by Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe, as a result of bad construction planning and a lack of preparedness. Now, as climate change threatens with increasing impacts, the country is trying to adapt.

Zimbabwe’s government is implementing a new set of measures to adapt vulnerable communities —especially in the rural Chipinge and Chimanimani districts— to more extreme climate conditions, said Ernest Marange, an Environmental Officer who worked on the Cyclone Idai Assessment Report.

As part of the new measures, the local authorities seek to install recovery programmes for people in extreme poverty after disasters, upgrading emergency equipment and infrastructure, relocating settlements to safer areas and supporting the rebuilding of stronger and more durable structures of shelter.

But despite the efforts to adapt to the new climate conditions, funds for these measures are scarce in the country. A lack of adequate funding might hinder progress, as the government is facing troubles to execute the new policies, said Simba Makonese, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) & Ecosystems Officer Manicaland.

According to the emergency’s official report, around US $60 million are required to respond to the effects of flooding in Zimbabwe, which accounts for new infrastructure and aid programmes.

Climate finance will be precisely one of the more important topics in the upcoming UN Climate Change negotiations in November. Developing countries are asking rich nations to contribute $100 billion for climate action, a compromise that’s far from being met.

Adapting without funds

Local governments in the vulnerable districts of Chimanimani and Chipinge, are proposing measures to protect communities from flooding. However, the implementation of these proposals has been slowed down by a lack of funds.

One of the plans of the Zimbabwean government is identifying areas vulnerable to flooding along the Nyamatanda River, located in Chipinge district. 

In the past, government authorities allowed people to settle and build infrastructure in waterways, which are danger zones for excess flowing water in case of cyclones. The new measures seek to stop the construction of vulnerable infrastructure, said Makonese.

zimbabwe cyclones finance
A road in Chimanimani destroyed by a mudslide.

Additionally, environmental reconstruction and rehabilitation is underway for damaged areas where excessive erosion occurred washing lands way beyond the natural watercourses, explained Marange.

But Zimbabwe is facing challenges to secure enough funding to implement adaptation measures. Currently in Zimbabwe, some of these actions have been implemented only partially, since funds for some projects have ran out before the completion of the tasks.

An example of this happened in Ngagu, where relief homes were only partially completed before the funds were depleted, said Marange. Since then, the structure has remained incomplete.

The Department of Civil Protection (DCP) is leading national and sub-national coordination of Cyclone Idai response through the National, Provincial and District Civil Protection committees.

But most of the funding for adaptation measures comes from humanitarian aid from multilateral organizations, UN agencies and NGOs. This funding is not enough to implement the $60 million necessary to protect communities in Chimanimani and Chipinge, said the government officials. 

Read more: Opinion: The G7 ends without a planned coal phase-out or any sense of climate justice

Devastating cyclones

In the last 10 years, Zimbabwe has experienced 2 cyclones in 2017 and 2019, something rare given the geographical characteristics of the country. Now, climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of these events, forcing the African nation to adapt.

Cyclones usually develop in the Indian Ocean and move inland via the Mozambican channel to reach Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, said Mr Amos Manyanga the Chief Research Officer of the Department of Research and Specialist Services of Zimbabwe.

In the year 2000, Cyclone Eline was thought to be the worst natural disaster to have been experienced in the country. Bridges and power lines were damaged. The flooding of low-lying lands in Chimanimani district rendered roads impassable. 

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in the Southern Africa region. It consists of 5 natural regions distinguished by the rainfall characteristics.

Region I is the region that receives the most rainfall in Zimbabwe averaging 1.050 mm of rain per year. Chimanimani and Chipinge are the towns that comprise this region, making the area more susceptible to flooding. 

These districts also have a high poverty rate, as they only depend on farming tea and bananas, further increasing the region’s vulnerability to disasters.

At a global level, the intensity of tropical cyclones is likely to be increasing due to climate change, according to a 2021 study by Princeton University, University of East Anglia, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Zimbabwe cyclones finance
Homestead in Ngangu community destroyed by boulders.

In the last extreme event, Cyclone Idai, people’s crops, houses, roads, and infrastructure were particularly affected. An estimated 634 people lost their lives, 328 people went missing and 4.032 people were displaced, which made it the most fatal disaster in the country’s history.

When extreme events like Cyclone Idai hit, the most affected people are from vulnerable commnunities. Blessing Matsondota, for example, lost his entire family, after Cyclone Idai devastated his hometown of Kopa Village, in eastern Chimanimani district.

During the impact of the cyclone, Matsondota’s son passed away after being hit by a rock. His wife, on the other hand, disappeared during the emergency. He confesses to have undergone mental health problems because of the events.

Extreme weather events also have a toll on business. Before Cyclone Idai, Aaron Shumba’s butchery business was growing fast. He had over 200 cattle, 100 goats and 40 pigs which he possessed to supply meat for his butcher. The cyclones washed away his piggeries, killing his livestock and left him with only 20 cows. 

His business premises were also destroyed by the heavy winds and overflows. “I had been investing in my business for 8 years. But it took only 3 days for the cyclone to destroy the business,” Shumba said. 

Both Shumba and Matsondota supported a stronger adaptation to climate change in the region, as it will be the only way to reduce impacts in their communities, they said.