Fellow Zimbabweans, As I address you tonight, our Nation, alongside sister Nations in our Southern African region, has been buffeted by a disastrous cyclone which has hit districts in three of our provinces, principally and gravely the contiguous districts of Chimanimani and Chipinge in Manicaland. Already, we have lost many lives from Cyclone IDAI, with many more persons still missing and yet to be accounted for.
With every hour and day that passes, our worst fears become increasingly real, with figures of our dead likely to exceed the more than eighty already confirmed. From reports on hand, we now know that many drowned, while others were killed in their sleep from swift and unexpected rockfalls which demolished their homes and other forms of institutional shelter. Still others met their tragic fate from overwhelming landslides which suffocated, before swiftly burying them under. We believe that to this day, many still lie unrecovered beneath mounds of debris that hit them with such overwhelming fury in their sleep that they stood no chance. The human toll has been horrendous, far exceeding what we have seen or experienced before in our history as a Nation. On behalf of our grieving Nation, Government, and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to express my deep, heartfelt condolences and profound sympathies to all the bereaved families which have lost their loved ones. I, too, share affected families’ ever-mounting anxieties and distress in respect of all those still missing, and whose hopes for possible rescue diminish with each precious hour and day that passes. My heart goes out to all those who have sustained various injuries from the cyclone, all the time wishing that they rally back and recover speedily.
Beyond precious lives already lost is the enormous devastation to our vital infrastructures whose broken condition has made rescue efforts slow and more difficult. With roads and bridges destroyed and washed away respectively, the affected communities are still cut from, and inaccessible to, the help they so direly need. The weather itself has not helped matters, with poor visibility making air operations virtually impossible and certainly dangerous. Units of our troops deployed to rescue those in distress have had to cover considerable distances on foot. As I address you, rescue and relief teams are battling to reopen these blocked lines of communication so vital relief reaches these communities in time. Government is doing all it can to reach all lives that can still be saved; and to bring succour to families and communities fast running out of necessities, including food, medicines and shelter. Units of our Defence Force have now accessed Chimanimani town, where they have begun working with different arms of Government already active on the ground. The blocked roads have to be reopened so food, safe water and medicines reach people who have congregated around hotels, churches, schools, community centres and other makeshift safe gathering points. This is the effort which is now underway. No efforts or resources will be spared to reach all those in distress. Any extra life lost is one too many. I shall be leaving for Manicaland tomorrow to acquaint myself with, and personally lend weight to rescue efforts already underway.
The easing of this deadly cyclone will not mark the end of our troubles and challenges. We should brace for post-deluge challenges and complications, not least the likely outbreak of water-borne diseases and related epidemics. The post-cyclone situation thus require prompt, preventive interventions which can only be assured through well-coordinated, purposeful, surgical actions which encompass the emerging or likely resultant crisis. We must mobilize and deliver food, water, medicines and shelter so badly needed in the affected areas, and do so in required quantities and at best possible speed. To that end I appeal to all communities and interests in our Nation, and to all our development partners and well-wishers, to give a hand, and to come forward with whatever forms of assistance they command and can mobilize, in order to complement Government efforts. We need food; we need safe water. We need medicines; we need medical personnel. We need shelter; we need blankets and clothes for all age groups. Above all we need volunteers and other forms of civic interventions to keep essential services reaching and running in the affected communities, not least schools which must continue to conduct lessons so our pupils are not deprived. I have already directed that food be drawn from our strategic reserves so it reaches these communities in the shortest possible time. Already, lots of relief is now building up in Mutare, waiting for access roads to be cleared. I have also directed our Civil Protection Unit to help with meeting burial expenses for those we have lost. In view of the broken infrastructures and delays in reaching such families, burials must proceed without further delay. The assistance Government has pledged will still reach the affected families even after these burials.
I am grateful to the Government of the United Arab Emirates which, in the context of my just-ended working visit, promptly responded to my request for humanitarian assistance in the wake of this disaster. We are set to receive medicines and other materials from UAE, which will go quite some way towards alleviating our situation. Equally, I am grateful to other Governments and organisations which have heeded our call for assistance. To ensure the response to the disaster is national, Government will announce focal points which will be accessible to all well-wishers for the collection of any kind of assistance meant to complement Government efforts. I must pay particular tribute to the brave men and women living in affected communities who, in spite of their own plight and limitations, have been extending a helping hand to those in worse situations. Many spontaneously joined in voluntary rescue efforts since the onset of the cyclone. Some selflessly shared their fast-diminishing food stocks. Others took victims of the cyclone to health institutions at their expenses for medical attention. Still others have been providing shelter to those already exposed to the elements. All these actions in sum have saved lives, thus reducing the toll which we otherwise could have suffered. May that spirit of ubuntu engraft permanently on our collective character and conscience as a people and Nation.
Once we have stabilized the situation, we must immediately embark on the onerous task of repairing broken lives and communities. There are homes to be re-built; schools to be rebuilt or repaired. There are physical and social infrastructures to be replaced or repaired. Above all, there are broken livelihoods which have to be re-created and resuscitated. The disaster which has befallen us must spur us to better site our homes, and of course to use more durable building materials for safer, better homes for our people. This disaster must get us to think long and hard about a broad National Housing Policy which takes safety issues into consideration. There is no guarantee that this fickle act of nature will not visit us yet again, and do so with equal if not worse devastation; and hence the more reason we must draw lasting lessons from this mishap in order to plan and build a more secure and durable future for our families and communities. I am aware that apart from Manicaland Province, we have had the Provinces of Mashonaland East and Masvingo also affected. Already, some lives have been lost in some districts and places in these two Provinces. The focus and hand of Government will reach and encompass those areas too. Let us do all we can to give a hand to those in present need.
I thank you and Good Night.