Ruchera rural community, comprising 750 households and a population of 3 700, was cut off from the rest of the world when Nyan’ombe Bridge, a major link connecting the area with its Nyanga town, was washed away by incessant rains and floods which also pounded the rest of Zimbabwe in January. The bridge was damaged in such a way that vehicles and people cannot cross to Ruchera when coming from Nyanga town where members of the community derive some of their livelihoods from. Ruchera is about 35km from Nyanga town centre and people from the community are now forced to travel by a very bad road network through Makoni District for about 137km to reach Nyanga town. The rains received in Zimbabwe in January recorded an average of 150mm as the highest rains recorded in one single day, breaking the 1972 highest daily average record of 111mm.
The Ruchera community fields and gardens were washed away while the remaining crops in the fields are water logged and soils are leached. No meaningful harvests are expected and the community is in dire need of food aid. Food stocks for most of the households from harvests in the previous farming season are said to have ran out by December 2012 due to poor yields associated with poor rains during the 2011-2012 agricultural season. The main sources of livelihood for the vulnerable people in Ruchera are mainly subsistence farming, gardening and on-farm casual work done across the damaged bridge.
The households which benefitted from the food packs provided through AAI Zimbabwe support comprising 20kg maize-meal, 2 litres cooking oil, 2kg beans and a packet of 10 sanitary wear, were mainly widowed women, single mothers, the elderly people and child headed families. Speaking during the distribution of the food conducted by the Nyanga Civil Protection Unit (CFU), Rural District Council officials, traditional leaders and community members, most recipients said the food would last the families between one and two weeks.
The distribution exercise, which took place at Ruchera Clinic on 28 February 2013, was also supported by AAI Zimbabwe partners which work in wards near Ruchera, namely Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) Nyanga and Simukayi Child Protection Unit. AAI Zimbabwe facilitated the distribution exercise, while the CPU and community members conducted the entire exercise which includes the disaster need assessments, selection of beneficiaries and the actual food distribution. In Zimbabwe, the CPU, has the mandate to manage emergencies which includes taking lead in assessments, coordination or responses and making appeals.
Tsvakai Stima (38), a single mother of five children aged between eight months and 14 years and one of the beneficiaries of the exercise said: “We are grateful for receiving food. We eat sadza in the morning, afternoon and in the evening and the food I received will last me a week. My garden was washed away and I can no longer cross the bridge as frequent as I use to do. Before the floods, I used to do casual work in farms across the bridge where I earned about US$20 a week. I used to cross the bridge once a week and now since the bridge was damaged, I have only been able to cross the bridge once in January. My child who is doing secondary school is not going to school because I have failed to pay school fees for him.”
She said she could not afford the US$40 needed for a return trip using the longue route to get to the farms where she works. She used to pay U$2 for a return trip to the farm where she did casual work. Like a few other brave community members, Tsvakai says she has managed to cross the bridge once since January using ladders to get into the water and a tyre tube to row across to connect to the other side of the bridge, dicing with death in the river which is said to be infested with crocodiles. Some young men from the community who are supplying the ladders and the tyre tubes are charging $5 for one person to cross the bridge.
Martha Samatinha, a member of beneficiary selection and distribution committee said she welcomed the food but community members still needed food aid as their livelihood copying mechanisms had been curtailed by the destruction of the bridge. Prices of basic food stuffs in the area had been increased due to the high cost of transporting the food and grocery shop owners were using the longer route to transport goods. The price of a 20kg maize-meal bag has increased from US$4 to US$6.50, something that is beyond the reach of the community which no longer has a source of income.
“We are appealing for funds to construct a foot bridge to allow the Ruchera community to go across the bridge and sustain their lives and that is the most immediate solution. Proper fixing of the bridge will be a long term project,” Christopher Munyawu, a member of the CPU said after the distribution of the food.