Encountering the Rivers of Stones in Chimanimani

Tropical Cyclone Idai ravaged Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi between 14 and 15 March 2019, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and thousands missing, with homes and infrastructure completely destroyed. Whole communities have been displaced and are in great need of support at personal and communal level.

News | 24 April 2019
Contact(s): ILO Harare Office Tel +2634369806-12 Email: greenenterprize@lo.org
(Harare, ILO News) As you drive from Mutare towards Chimanimani, the first evidence of the devastating cyclone Idai that hit the four provinces in Zimbabwe, is the debris. It includes uprooted trees, collapsed building rubble and huge stones and boulders. But perhaps the most distressing was the sight of a number of survivors digging through the rubble to salvage anything that is possible. How does one make sense of this river of stones that flooded these vulnerable communities?

ILO’s engagement in situations of disaster is longstanding and is inherently linked to crisis response. Over the years of working in such situations, the ILO has enhanced its capacity in recovery activities building on humanitarian programmes and seeking to catalyse sustainable development opportunities. This is done through using the Employment Intensive Investment Approach, a methodology that links infrastructure development with employment creation, poverty reduction and local economic and social development as well as environmental measures for natural resources restoration, management and climate change adaptation. In using local labour and resources it creates much needed employment and income, reduces costs, saves foreign currency and supports local industry while increasing the capacity of local institutions. The ILO’s recovery involvement has often focused on restoring the capacity of national institutions and communities to recover from crisis, revitalise the economy and prevent crisis relapses.

The key role of the ILO in the recovery has been to create employment opportunities and livelihoods to facilitate reintegration.

Following the aftermath of cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe (see photo slideshow), in particular in Manicaland, the ILO is working hand in hand with a group of volunteers, mostly civil, water, roads, geotechnical and sanitation engineers and land surveyors, within and outside Zimbabwe, to contribute towards disaster risk reduction and reconstruction efforts as part of the aftermath of the cyclone. These Zimbabweans living in Diaspora and in country, who have temporarily called themselves ‘Engineers Voluntary Consortium’, wish to dedicate their time towards finding solutions to minimize mostly the flooding, landslides related hazards and contribute towards re-designing and reconstruction of damaged infrastructure.

Towards that end, the team of volunteers aims to:
  1. Assist in gathering data and information on the extent of the damage caused by the cyclone, and strengthen early warning systems in the event of a repeat and climate change
  2. Provide expertise, tools and knowledge on the use of new technologies such as earth observation, drones and mobile phone technology in data gathering, mapping, and general land use planning, for human settlements and reconstruction
  3. Recommend steps to be taken in the immediate, mid and long-term to avoid further loss of lives, disease outbreaks, damage to infrastructure, environment, agriculture and other ecosystems in line with the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction
  4. Contribute towards re-thinking, climate resilient re-design and reconstruction to ensure that sustainable, safe and affordable infrastructure (water and sanitation, energy sources, telecommunications, roads and bridges) and super-structures are provided in the affected areas
  5. Enhance creation of employment opportunities for cyclone victims though participation in the reconstruction of damaged public infrastructure in order to earn income and revive their livelihoods
  6. Share knowledge and lessons learnt within the region, Africa and beyond
To kick-start the process, the team of volunteering engineers, accompanied by the ILO Director for Zimbabwe and Namibia paid a courtesy call to the Manicaland Provincial Administrator, Mr. Edgar Seenza, who informed the team of the institutional framework for recovery and post-disaster reconstruction efforts. He indicated that the district has formed 19 committees looking into different aspects of the reconstruction effort and each of these committees has conducted or is in the process of conducting in-depth assessments that will inform the post-disaster reconstruction plan. The Manicaland Provincial Administrator introduced some of the chairs of these committees to the ILO team in order to kick-start bilateral meetings.

Following successful bilateral meetings with several sector leads, the team of ILO volunteers then proceeded to visit Chimanimani and Chipinge to assess, first hand, the damage of the cyclone Idai. The ongoing field visits are conducted in collaboration with partners (for example the Chimanimani assessment of roads was conducted jointly with UNOPS and Government technical staff based in the province) and in liaison with those based in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts. At the end of the 4-day field assessment, it is expected that the team of volunteers will submit a report detailing the damages observed and recommend actions for short-term, mid-term and long-term interventions. This report will then form part of the Zimbabwe UN-wide Early Recovery and Post-disaster Reconstruction Response.