Floods displace Zimbabwean villagers from controversial dam’s path
In Zimbabwe, thousands of villagers in the Masvingo province - about 280 miles south of the capital, Harare - remain homeless after heavy rains last month damaged a 200 million dollar dam. Many of the newly displaced villagers opposed the dam project from the start. FSRN’s Garikai Chaunza visited one of the temporary camps set up after the flooding and brings us this story.
The multimillion dollar Tokwe Mukosi dam project has been controversial since it was first proposed three decades ago. Construction started briefly in 1998 and was put to a halt after villagers rejected government compensation offers of between 2000 and 6000 dollars to households that would have to relocate. Some villagers were unwilling to sell their lands at any price or leave behind the graves of their ancestors.
The Zimbabwean government said the dam would benefit hundreds of thousands of area residents along its banks. In addition to a stable source of water for crop irrigation, villagers were told the benefits would include revenue and developments from fisheries, boat cruises and hydroelectric power generation.
The project laid abandoned for many years, but work on it resumed in 2009.
Early this year, heavy rains burst the banks of the incomplete dam, sending flood waters rushing into nearby villages and displacing thousands of areas residents. Flood victims were taken to temporary transit camps where they await transfer to new lands to rebuild their homes.
FSRN spoke with villagers in the Kushinga Transit camp who said they wanted compensation for the relocations. They blame the government for imposing a dam project most area residents did not support in the first place.
”We were expecting the government to give us compensation in the form of money and land before they took us from the flood prone areas,” said Marry Musiwa, who was displaced from her village by the floods. “They should have allocated fertile lands and then relocated us.” Musiwa was transferred without food to a tent in the Masengula transit camp.
Prior to the floods, government employees were assessing property values in the dam’s planned catchment areas. Many villagers questioned why Zimbabwean landowners were offered so little while the Italian company contracted to build the dam expected to receive 200 million dollars.
Mudukuti Murambwa of the local area’s Ward 22 neighborhood said the government offered him a compensation package last year but has yet to disburse payment. “We were displaced and taken to the transit camp and given some tents,” explained Murambwa. “The tents are not enough. We are left exposed to rains and we are staying in squalid conditions.” The 72-year-old lost three farm animals while he was being transferred from the flooded area to the Chingwizi transit camp.
Many of the newly displaced never received compensation offers at all because – according to the government’s environmental impact assessment - their homes were supposed to remain above the dam’s flood line. “We appreciate that this a natural disaster but the government should have known that one day such a thing was going to happen,” said Takaendesa Gwanetsa, another villager forced to leave his home.
The government says warnings were given to the villagers well in advance of the destructive flood surge.
Godfrey Kufandada of the Civil Protection Unit, a government entity responsible for assisting people affected by natural disasters, says villagers should have accepted government compensation offers to move to higher ground when they were made two years ago. He adds the government is now channeling resources to these flood victims in the form of aid: “We want quite a big number of tents and the corporate world has so far responded positively. They are donating and the government has also put aside a fund from the Treasury responsible for purchasing tents food and other basic necessities so that the affected leave a normal life.”
The government recently appealed to the international community for $20 million dollars to assist flood victims.
Religious and non-governmental organizations have been carrying out relief efforts since the government declared the Tokwe Mukosi floods a national disaster. The National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) says local politicians have hampered their efforts and misappropriated donations meant to help the affected.
”We as NGOs would like to give directly to the affected people so that at least we can record to say how many people have we assisted and so forth for purposes of accountability and transparency,” explains Anozivaishe Muguti, a representative of NANGO working in Masvingo. “But now the challenge is we are not allowed to go straight to the affected people. We have to leave the donations to people who have been given the responsibility to distribute the items which we would have brought to the affected people.”
The damage done to the incomplete dam by the flood waters and the mass displacement of villagers has not changed the plans to move forward with the controversial project. The government says the dam will be the country’s largest economic development project of the 21st century. But many of the dam’s displaced say they are paying the highest price for a promise of progress that has yet to materialize.