Wednesday the 8th of February 2018 started as any other normal day in the Gatche Gatche community in Nyaminyami Rural District situated in the Zambezi Valley, Mashonaland West Province of Zimbabwe. Gache Gache community is predominantly a fishing area where 95% of the people survive on Lake Kariba for their livelihoods.
In the middle of the night around 01:00hrs rainfall started pounding in the area. The rainfall came with violent winds and this continued for more than three hours. Most people were indoors since it was a full moon week when all fishing activities are not allowed by the Department of National Parks. Farisai Phiri a local a Neighbourhood Watch Committee and Ward Resilience Committee (WRC) member was awake when the rains started. He was going to visit his colleague Doubt Matsvisi, a village secretary in Gache Gache. Doubt is also the Vice Coordinator of the local Ward Resilience Committee set up with the support from the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF) programme.
As Doubt was accompanying Farisai back home a hailstorm began unexpectedly. Immediately trees started falling and deafening thunder and blinding lightning started all over the community. Sensing danger and as men who were trained in disaster response they braved the wind and alerted residents advising them to get out of their houses. Some houses were now falling to the ground. Their voices could hardly be heard due to the thunderstorm pounding the area.
Amid all the noises the two men heard wailing sounds from a distance and they rushed to the source of the cries. A house had just collapsed trapping three people under rubbles. The two men immediately started the search and rescue operation. They managed to retrieve two people alive, a mother and her daughter namely (Spiwe Mawona (41) and daughter Pretty (17). Unfortunately, Spiwe’s five-year-old girl, Tawonga lost her life in the mishap. Spiwe’s husband Friday Kugara was also lucky to survive the disaster as he had travelled that night to visit a relative some 100km away where the hailstorm did not hit.
Doubt, a trained first aider, used his skills to assess the degree of injuries of the two survivors and administered first aid. As rescue operations continued more people were mobilized to come and render assistance to the survivors of the hailstorm. The community response was swift but unfortunately one life had already been lost.
Meanwhile the two Ward Resilience Committee (WRC) members, Doubt and Farisai contacted the WRC Coordinator who also rushed to the scene and took over the coordination of the response. The Coordinator could not be immediately contacted due to network challenges compounded with power challenges as phones periodically run out of power in the area. Walking to their homes at such wee hours of the morning was also risky for Farisai and Doubt due to the presence of wild animals that freely roam the place especially at night. Early in the morning they contacted the District Civil Protection Committee who quickly mobilized a boat to Gache Gache to ferry the injured to Kariba Hospital. The injured could not be transported by road since all roads were impassable due to trees that had fallen along the road and due to flooding of bridges along the way. By the time the boat arrived six people had been admitted at the local rural health centre. While his wife and daughter were in hospital, Friday made a makeshift iron sheet house for the family. Wife and daughter joined him in the iron sheet house after their discharge from hospital. Unfortunately, the fourth member of the family, Tawonga, could not join them as they painfully buried her later in the week.
The Ward Resilience Committee Coordinator embarked on a damage assessment and produced a detailed report whose major findings were as follows: 40 houses collapsed during the hailstorm; 10 houses cracked but didn’t collapse in the hailstorm and 14 toilets collapsed during the hailstorm. The hailstorm was a first-time experience for the community and they have attributed it to climate change.
The Ward Resilience Committees are part of structures set up by the Zambezi Valley Alliance (ZVA) and they aim to promote community preparedness in the face of disasters, the majority of which are caused by climate change. The ZVA programme where ActionAid is a consortium member is implemented in Nyaminyami, Mbire and Binga districts all in the Zambezi Valley is supported by the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF) with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation (MAMID), The European Union (EU), The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Department for International Development (DFID) and Sweden.
The ZRBF, reaching 18 districts countrywide and over 86 000 people was introduced in Zimbabwe at a time when the country was contending from the effects of an EL-Nino induced drought. The occurrence and severity of natural disasters such as a floods, droughts and hailstorms in Zimbabwe have increased in the past 10 years and they have largely been attributed to climate change.