Areas that were affected by Cyclone Idai were located in environmentally unsound and unstable settlements not safe for human adaptation, an assessment by the Environmental Management Authority revealed.
The assessment was conducted in Chimanimani District between April 1 and 5 after over 300 people died with over 250,000 affected from the vicious tropical cyclone.
EMA investigated the causes damages of the flash floods, assessed the suitability of continuity of the current or former land uses and strategies for the future.
According to the assessment, affected areas were either located in flood plains, water ways, or steep slopes while others were affected by land use change and lack of adherence to conservative works.
“Environmentally speaking the areas affected were either located in environmentally unsound and unstable settlements,” said EMA principal research officer Ntando Nondo.
In the case of Kopa Business Centre where mass deaths were recorded, Nondo said it is located at a flood plain, an area close to rivers.
“The other major reason why some of the areas were affected is that they were either located in flood plains. This is the case with Kopa (Business Centre). It was located at the flood plain of Nyahode and Rusitu rivers,” said Nondo.
Machongwe Business Centre also fit in the same category as it was located close to Nyahode River.
Nondo warned that the danger with such settlements is that they flood when the rivers over floors.
In Ngangu residential area where high casualties were also recorded, Nondo said environmental threats were ignored by authorities when people were settled there as it is within water ways.
Water ways are small seasonal streams subjected to flooding when high volumes of rainfall are recorded.
“These streams where not active all the time but at one time or the other water passed through them. There was tendency to ignore these environmental threats and then people were settled in those areas. The example I can give for these areas is your Ngangu area, which is in Chimanimani town,” he said
The environmental researcher added that other settlements such as Nyamatanda, Tilbery Extension, Charter and Tiya in Chimanimani were located in steep slopes of between 70 to 80 degrees.
“Such settlements are prone to landslides,” he said.
On land use change, Nondo said most villagers located within valleys cleared forests in mountain tops for subsistence farming, which loosened the land cover.
“Some areas had forests and people cut the forests. After cutting down the forests, they cultivated on the areas. What it meant is that there was no land cover anymore, the ground was exposed. So were are having a situation where someone is located at the foot of the mountain in a water way and then goes up mountain to cut down the trees and plough there. The forests used to be a protecting front for these settlements. So what then happens is that after the area was cut off and exposed, it then became easily saturated. After it was saturated the top soil could be easily moved because there were no deep roots protected that area,” he said.
Nondo added “We noted that there was generally poor conservation. People were located on steep slopes but were not practicing conservation (farming) by doing terracing or ploughed across the slopes. So basically what it meant is that they were creating slope instability and also areas of weakness where water could later be channeled.”
He also cited illegal panning in timber estates as another contributing factor that weakened land cover.
However, Nondo hastened to point out that only the local government can comment on issues in relation to human adaptability of the affected areas.
Local government minister July Moyo was not picking up his calls or responding to texts when repeatedly reached for comment.
Manicaland provincial administrator Edgar Seenza who is the Civil Protection Unit provincial chair said he is yet to be appraised on the environmental assessment and therefore cannot comment.
However, environmental experts categorically stated that the settlements are not fit for human adaptation.
“Most areas which were affected were never conducive for human settlements. They were designated for forests prior to the land reform,” said Sustainable Environmental Conservation Trust Africa director Moses Chimedza.
Several villagers were illegally settled in timber plantations owned by Wattle Company, Border Timbers and Allied Timbers.
Centre for Research and Development concurred adding that the manifestation of Cyclone Idai disaster can be traced back to the colonial era.
“Historically people were moved by colonialism from region of high concentration to peripheral areas of low concentration that are environmentally unsafe and economically unsustainable. Unfortunately the fast track land reform did not address the land imbalance for those communities. In fact the communities were used as political tools to invade estates and settle in temporary shelters that are not even habitable worsening their situation as exposed by Cyclone Idai,” said CRD director James Mupfumi.
Mupfumi further indicated that CRD also gathered information pointing to incompetents by the Chimanimani Rural District Council that settled residents Ngangu fully aware that it was inhabitable.
Centre for Natural Resources Governance said there is need to revisit and adopt new rural planning policies as many settlements are still located in unsafe zones.
“I don’t recall any rural settlement where prior Environment Impact Assessment was conducted. Thus the affected settlements in Chimanimani are no different from many others across the country. The real issue we are facing is Climate Change. Government need to come up with a robust Climate Change response strategy and implementation plan. Otherwise soon the same destruction with visit one or more regions elsewhere in the country. We have hundreds if not thousands of villages built on slopes and flood plains as a colonial legacy but also as a historical legacy as some moved close to rivers for agricultural purposes
“The whole country needs new rural planning (policies) and it’s a pity land reform benefitted a few politicians only when majority of rural people are living precariously,” said CNRG director Farai Maguwu.
The experts concurred that the experience of Cyclone Idai points to the need to revisit the Communal Lands Act, Land Tenure System and the Mines and Minerals Act in order to come out with a resettlement policy that ensure sustainable human settlements.
Several settlements in Vumba, Nyanga and Mutasa all in Manicaland province are environmentally unsafe for human adaptation.
Government is expected to relocate Chimanimani settlers with land for resettlement already identified.