Takunda Maodza Manicaland Bureau Chief
ON March 15, Cyclone Idai slammed Chimanimani and Chipinge in Manicaland Province, and partly affected parts of Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland East provinces.
The extent of damage in other provinces was minimal compared to Manicaland.
Over 300 people were killed by the tropical storm, while whereabouts of others remain unknown.
Infrastructure worth over US$1 billion was destroyed too.
President Mnangagwa declared the natural catastrophe a State of Disaster to help marshal resources for the reconstruction of areas devastated by the cyclone.
He also declared two days of national mourning.
Recently, The Herald visited Chimanimani and Chipinge — the most affected areas — to assess progress made by Government and its partners in rebuilding the two districts under its “Building Back Better” policy.
Roads and bridges
On August 11, Government announced through Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza that it had issued 21 contracts for the reconstruction of road infrastructure in Chimanimani and Chipinge.
The companies started trooping to Chipinge and Chimanimani the same month.
These included J.R Goddard, Bitumen World, Masimba Holdings Ltd, Fossil Contracting (Pvt) Ltd, Exodus & Company (Pvt) Ltd, Kuchi Construction and Bitcon (Pvt) Ltd.
J.R Goddard was contracted to repair the road from Wengezi to Skyline, its task involved repairing approaches to Umvumvumvu Bridges Number 4 and 2.
The company was also to reconstruct approaches to Biriwiri bridges Number 1 and 2.
It has since completed works on Umvumvumvu Bridges 4 and 2. The bridges have been opened to traffic.
The J.R. Goddard team has moved to Biriwiri where it has started work on approaches to Biriwiri Bridge No. 2.
“The rains have slowed our pace, but as you can see, we are battling it out in the rain,” said a J.R Goddard employee who is not authorised to speak to the media.
Government contracted Masimba Holdings to work on the Skyline to Chimanimani Village route.
Skyline was hardest hit by Cyclone Idai as this section of the road suffered a major landslide.
Initially, Masimba Holdings created a detour by-passing Skyline as it worked on reclaiming the ground lost to the landslide.
The by-pass was impassable whenever it rained, resulting in an outcry from motorists — especially haulage truck drivers ferrying timber from Chimanimani Mountains to the market.
Work at Skyline included “digging” up the mountain to create a road while at the same time reclaiming the damaged land.
The reclamation work is almost complete. Masimba Holdings has partially opened Skyline for use by motorists.
When it rains, Skyline is dangerous for use by motorists as the road is muddy and slippery.
On Wednesday last week, work was temporarily suspended owing to heavy rains.
Masimba Holdings has deployed right up to Chimanimani Village and is winding up works on approaches to Nyahode River, as one approaches Charter.
Bitumen World has justified why apart from rehabilitating the Charter to Machongwe and Machongwe to Kopa route, Government awarded it a tender for the tarring of the Joppa to Kopa Road.
The company has all, but completed the realignment of the road from Machongwe to Kopa. It has repaired all major bridges on its contract — at Peacock, Machongwe and Nyahode — and these have since been opened.
The company managed to tar a section of the road at Peacock.
Exodus & Company contracted to repair the road from Kopa to Mutsvangwa was as of last week working on two bridges at Chipita River.
The onset of rains is slowing progress, while Fossils has resealed a section of the Birchenough to Chipinge highway severely damaged by Cyclone Idai.
The hand over by the South African National Defence Forces (SNDF) of two Bailey bridges at Kopa on December 6 bore testimony to serious efforts so far made by Government and its partners in rehabilitating road infrastructure inasmuch as it reflected on the strong relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Constructed over Rusitu and Nyahode rivers at a cost of R59 million by the SANDF and the Zimbabwe National Army, the Bailey bridges were a donation by the South African government.
The bridges were officially commissioned by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who described the donation as “a gesture of pure love by our friends”.
South African Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Mphaka Mbete, witnessed the handover of the bridges.
He said construction of the bridges confirmed that “we are one people”.
For a banana farmer, Mrs Loveness Sithole of Taakanye Village in Kopa, the construction of the Bailey bridge over Nyahode River signals a return to a normal life after nine months of disconnection and despair.
“I am happy that construction of the bridge over Nyahode River has been completed,” she said.
“I am a banana farmer. I supply bananas to areas as far as Gweru.
“Heavy vehicles were not allowed to cross Nyahode River with our bananas out of fear they would destroy a temporary bridge that was there. Besides, the bridge was too small to handle the haulage trucks.
“This suffocated my banana business and this applied to everyone else involved in banana production in this area.”
Traditional leader, Chief Ndima, who lives on the outskirts of Kopa, now walks with a spring in his step.
“As traditional leaders our situation is very difficult,” he said.
“When there is no development on the ground, your subjects seek answers from you.
“Construction of the two bridges over Rusitu and Nyahode and the repairing of roads is evidence Government and its partners are indeed reconstructing the cyclone affected areas in Chimanimani. This is undeniable and as community leaders we are happy.”
Minister Matiza — who has been frequenting Chimanimani and Chipinge to assess progress — notes that while major strides have been made in road and bridge repairs, funding remains a challenge.
“Due to current economic challenges, the Government is finding it difficult to mobilise funds to pay the contractors,” he said.
“This has delayed payment of Interim Payment Certificates. Scarcity of fuel is also delaying works.”
While giant steps have been made towards road infrastructure repairs, provision of housing for the cyclone victims is snail slow.
It has proven a major headache for Government and its partners as over 700 people in 170 households in Chimanimani are still living in tents in camps, after Cyclone Idai destroyed people’s houses when it swept across the district.
Under the emergency recovery efforts, Government and its partners sourced tents for the victims.
Statistics show that Nyamatanda Camp has 30 households totaling 119 people, while Garikai Camp has 83 households totalling 352 people, and assuming the rest of the tented camps have similar sized households, there could be over 700 people in need of new homes.
Construction of houses at Greenmount, Nedziwa and West End Farm in Chayamiti area — the three sites that were identified by Government, has not yet started.
Paidamoyo Turn-Off is also being assessed as a possible relocation site.
Greenmount will have 1 217 stands, Nedziwa 631, while West End Farm will have 720 agro-residential stands.
Women chatting at Garikai Camp in Chimanimani
Government is aware that provision of shelter for the victims is lagging behind as captured by Vice President Chiwenga when he commissioned the Bailey bridges at Kopa a fortnight ago.
“Government notes the huge gap which needs to be addressed in the area of shelter, as most of the affected families are still living in tents,” he said.
“In this regard, Government will leave no stone unturned in order to provide shelter, water, sanitation and health. Lessons learnt are that when relocating people in affected areas there is need to worry about natural risks inherent in geography.
“To this end, no relocation will ensue before a comprehensive Geo-Spatial Report that guarantees safety of the people by strategic planners of new settlements is in place.”
The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development has been undertaking a hazard mapping exercise which has assisted in identifying areas prone to hazards like landslides and rock falls.
Government and its partners have managed to build toilets and teachers’ houses at some of the schools that were damaged by Cyclone Idai.
These include Kwirire Primary School, Ndima Primary School, Ngangu Primary School and Chimanimani High School.
At Kwirire, Government built toilet blocks. However, some of the building material kept at the school that included 150 bags of cement was last month destroyed by a storm which ravaged Chimanimani district.
Five blocks and two teachers’ houses at the school had their roofs blown off by the storm.
These had not been repaired at the closure of the third school term this month.
More pupils at the school are destined for the tents if no urgent action is taken during the festive season.
At Ndima Primary School, Government managed to build a block of toilets and a teachers’ house. Another classroom block has been at footing level since October, pointing to the slow pace of construction works.
Government and its partners are constructing temporary pit latrine toilets at camps at Ngangu and Kopa. This comes after the ones constructed when disaster struck filled up, posing a health hazard to the camp dwellers.
Helping in the provision of the toilets are non-governmental organisations like Welt Hunger Hilfe.
No cases of water-borne diseases have been recorded in the camps mainly because there is constant and reliable supply of potable water at the camps.
Government and its partners who include the World Food Programme (WFP) have been providing the Cyclone victims with food handouts and there are no reports of starvation in the camps.
Some NGOs are also giving the Cyclone Idai victims monthly allowances amounting to $200 to supplement on the food hand outs.
There is a feeling, however, that food hand outs are not sustainable and only allocating the cyclone victims pieces of land to grow their own food will help kill the dependency syndrome fast flourishing in the camps.