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Cyclone Idai: Of donations and the bane of sanctions

27 Mar 2019 at 12:31hrs | Views
Zimbabwe was hit by Cyclone Idai from 14 to 17 March 2019, a crisis that plunged the nation into darkness. When the news reached President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was on a State visit to the United Arab Emirates, he had to cut short his visit to return home and face the crisis together with fellow Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe was not alone in this as both Malawi and Mozambique had been affected.

Houses, roads, eleven (11) bridges, 18 schools, a growth point and a police station, among other infrastructure were destroyed. Some areas were no longer reachable making it difficult to rescue people and dispatch aid to victims. More than 7 299 people were displaced, 185 were injured and 329 were declared missing. The death toll was put at 179 and those who are missing are to yet to be declared as dead.

Owing to poor weather conditions, Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopters under the auspices of the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) could not move into the affected areas, further delaying the search and rescue process.  

Government immediately declared the crisis a national disaster and appealed for donations from well wishers. What were needed to tackle the disaster were both financial and material resources to assist the victims and to rescue those who were marooned.

The spirit of giving and unity of purpose as was never seen before took centre stage. The corporate world, churches and other well wishers did not let down those in the crisis as they donated so much for the victims. Companies such as Econet, Zimplats, ZB Bank, Stanbic Bank and Delta Corporation, Nyaradzo Group and Econet Wireless among others mobilised assistance mostly in the form of foodstuffs.
Members of the diplomatic community despite their differences with Harare came forward to offer assistance. This saw the United States Embassy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland Humanitarian Aid and the European Union contributing significantly to alleviate the crisis. On Sunday 24 March 2019, a plane from the UAE landed at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport carrying a 95-tonne cargo of goods to assist victims of the cyclone.

Despite these all-out efforts, some people blamed Government for not having a comprehensive disaster management strategy (DMS) in place. Government was also accused of having failed to evacuate people before the cyclone hit Chimanimani and Chipinge Districts. Most of these vocal voices were coming from MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa and a legion of his bootlickers in the mould of Patson Dzamara and Dr Nkululeko Sibanda, among others.

What most people tend to forget is that the country is under sanctions from the United States, EU and Britain. There are some who quickly dismiss that sanctions have nothing to do with this, claiming that Government was sleeping on the job.

Government can come up with a well written DMS blueprint, but as long as the sanctions are in place it cannot buy the necessary equipment to make the CPU more viable. Some countries which manufacture rescue equipment are afraid of availing it to Zimbabwe fearing backlash from the US which monitors trade relations between Zimbabwe and other countries using its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

On another note, Zimbabwe is failing to mobilise enough foreign currency to purchase the requisite equipment. Instead, the little foreign currency available is channelled towards wheat, drug, fuel and electricity payments. When a disaster strikes like what happened in Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland East Provinces strikes, the country finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
Government departments which constitute the CPU are also feeling the pinch of sanctions as they are hamstrung in terms of vehicles and financial resources.

As a long lasting solution for Zimbabwe, the country could use the same spirit and united effort to fight the inhibitive sanctions. Those who contributed could also help in calling for the removal of sanctions on the country so that when a disaster occurs, the country would use its own funds and resources to assist victims without extending a begging bowl. The begging element would be done away with.

The removal of sanctions would see the country being self-sustaining with food being readily available, sound infrastructure, all-terrain vehicles in place, well-stocked clinics and hospitals and cranes for bridging flooded rivers, among a host of other equipment.

When sanctions have been removed, the country would have access to lines of credit from International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like the IMF and World Bank. These loans would enable the CPU to augment its capacity by purchasing state of the art equipment in line with modern trends.

The lifting of sanctions would mean that stipulations set by OFAC on Zimbabwe would be removed enabling the country to easily buy equipment and make payments across the globe without offending the US. With increased trade, Zimbabwe would be able to build meaningful foreign currency reserves which could be used in times of need.

For simulation on how to manage disasters, the country could be able to send its CPU members to assist in disasters in other countries. The experience so gained in the host countries would form the basis of how best the nation could respond to and deal with disasters at home.

Source - Elijah Chihota
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