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Flooded rivers must not be crossed

Fungai Muderere recently in Binga

24 Feb. 2017, Published in B-Metro.


SINCE time immemorial human beings have found it desirable to construct cities, towns, villages or any other forms of habitats along streams and rivers because water is life.

Other than food production, rivers provide transportation routes, energy, and a means of disposal of waste. Stream valleys offer a relatively flat area for construction.

But human populations that live along streams have a disadvantage because flow of water in streams is never constant. High amounts of water flowing in streams often leads to flooding which is one of the more common and costly types of natural disasters.

In that regard, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) continuously warns the public against crossing flooded rivers. That advice was taken seriously in Binga a fortnight ago by this reporter but sadly the locals took it as a small issue.

Defiant men, women and even school going children freely crossed an overflowing Nakapande River. This was despite that locals in 2015 experienced one of the worst incidents at this river when they discovered a partly devoured body of a school temporary teacher who went missing the previous week, reportedly after he was swallowed by the flooded river and attacked by crocodiles.

The river, located a few kilometres from Kariyangwe Mission- where there's a hospital, primary and secondary school, had been overflowing for several hours, the reason why a bus which this reporter was travelling in got grounded while on its way to Bulawayo.

From 9pm to 6.30am, the following day, life was spent in a run down chicken bus. But at around 5am, those who were up to do their errands in the area and were not travelling by bus, took turns to daringly cross the river.

“You can even find crocodiles in this river. We experienced a similar development last rainy season. Buses and private vehicles could not cross,” said Denzel Mudimba who was travelling to Lupane.

But one Trevor Munkuli almost got swept away when he tripped only to struggle to regain his balance in the middle of the dangerous act. He crossed the river three times in a space of an hour.

“There is a simple rule here that must be followed, or else we will continue to see loss of life. If the river’s flooding, people should stay away. The police have advised the public against crossing flooded rivers,” said Zimbabwe Climate Change Coalition executive director Justice Zvaita.

Between November and December last year, rains reportedly claimed 33 lives countrywide. The numbers could rise amid reports there would be more flooding incidents. In the process people have been displaced too with more than 600 homes and 23 schools destroyed by end of December last year.

The Meteorological Services Department predicted heavier rains that could increase damages through flooding and water-related accidents. There has been scores of people who have died after trying to make the

ill-fated crossing. The Department of Civil Protection is on record saying 31 people drowned from October to November this season. That alone, even without trying to drive across a fast-flowing river, would be enough to warrant the police to get involved.

We have read local and foreign newspaper stories of people who get attacked and killed by saltwater crocodiles while trying to make their way on foot across flooded rivers. There is no reason except luck that this same fate did not meet those who crossed the overflowing Binga’s Nakapande River two weeks ago.

What were they thinking? A good rainfall season brings joy and hope for a good harvest. This, however, can be marred by an increase in water accidents.

Why not cross only when it is safe to do so?

Motorists have also been advised to cross rivers with low level bridges where and when they can see the bridge itself. This police advice underscores the rising concern on the number of people who  drown in flooded rivers as the ZRP Sub Aqua Unit has so far this year recorded 109 such cases as compared to 106 cases last

year. And the rainy season is still far from over with more rains expected in the next two months.

Zimbabwe experienced its worst floods in 2000 when it was hit by Cyclone Eline, resulting in 136 deaths.

In 2003, Cyclone Japhet killed seven people sweeping away bridges and other infrastructure.

Floods regularly cause damage in Zimbabwe’s low lying areas like Muzarabani, Tshotsholo and the Lowveld.