The Zimbabwe government's emergency assistance arm, the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), is moving hundreds of people to higher ground and advising others to do likewise in the wake of flooding that has claimed three lives and resulted in a fourth person being listed as missing.
More rain has been forecast across Zimbabwe after a two-week deluge flooded low-lying areas in the Muzarabani district of Mashonaland Central Province, in the north of the country.
CPU deputy director Sibusisiwe Ndlovu told IRIN that an unspecified number of homes and livestock had been washed away in Muzarabani district, and that the Hoya Bridge linking Muzarabani with nearby Mukumbura district had also been destroyed.
"We can confirm that three people have died, while a fourth is missing in the Chadereka area of Muzarabani in Mashonaland Central after floods
devastated the area," Ndlovu said.
"More than a thousand people have been displaced and moved to higher ground, while the Air Force of Zimbabwe has deployed two helicopters to rescue
people who may be stranded in the low-lying areas."
The CPU has advised people living in low-lying areas, including Tsholotsho, in Matabeleland North Province in western Zimbabwe; Middle Sabi, near the Save River in Manicaland Province in the east; and Chikwalakwala, on the Limpopo River floodplains in the southeast, to move to higher ground.
Information and publicity minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told IRIN that, "Naturally, when such a humanitarian crisis ... occurs, it is incumbent upon humanitarian organisations to complement the efforts that we as government are doing. Flood victims who have been internally displaced will naturally be in need of many forms of assistance, especially food, blankets, water purification tablets and shelter, such as tents."
Ndlovu said, "The humanitarian assistance can be channelled through to the Civil Protection Unit, who are responsible for containing the situation on the ground."
Flood damage unknown
Humanitarian organisations contacted by IRIN said they were assessing the impact of the floods. "For now, it is virtually impossible to access most parts of the district because roads and bridges have been washed away, and many vehicles trying to get into the district have become stuck in the mud," a field officer, who declined to be identified, told IRIN.
"The truth of the matter is that very few people have an accurate knowledge of what is happening because the roads are impassable."
Hector Chikowore, Zimbabwe's Principal Meteorologist, told local media that Zimbabwe was experiencing unusually heavy rains this year. "Since the start of the wet spell on December 3, Belvedere, in [the capital] Harare, has received 276mm, which is about a third of its seasonal average of 841mm.
"There is therefore an increased risk of flooding, especially in low lying areas such as Muzarabani and the Sabi Valley, [near the Limpopo River in the south], that have received considerable rain."
The CPU has issued flood warnings across the country, including in the usually dry southern provinces of Midlands, Masvingo, and Matabeleland South and North. There has also been flooding in Harare's high-density suburbs of Kuwadzana, Dzivarasekwa and Rugare, and more flooding is expected after the city's largest supply dam, Lake Chivero, reached capacity after two weeks of incessant rain.
Sheilla Shumba, a resident of Kuwadzana, told IRIN that her house was flooded and her furniture destroyed. "We hardly get electricity in this part of the city, and depend on firewood, which is now soggy because of the rains. I now have to visit my relatives whose houses have not been flooded so that we can get some hot meals."