Floods Displace Hundreds in Harare, Spark Human Rights Debate

Floods Displace Hundreds in Harare, Spark Human Rights Debate

There were no Christmas celebrations for 90 families whose houses were flooded by incessant rains in Budiriro on 26 December 2023, amid allegations that Harare City Council may have ignored the advice from the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in settling people in the wetlands.

Although section 28 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that the state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to them, to enable every person to have access to adequate shelter, people in Zimbabwe are homeless while many more millions live in conditions of vulnerability that threaten a wholesale erosion of human rights.

Residents of Budiriro are not new to flooding as they have faced similar incidents since 2020. The homes, which were built on a wetland along the banks of Marimba River, were not spared by the rains that also flooded other high-density suburbs and low-lying areas around Zimbabwe. The floods were particularly brutal in their onslaught, wreaking havoc on homes and possessions and tragically claiming the life of a six-year-old child.

The floods displaced numerous residents, forcing over 100 families to evacuate their homes and seek refuge in temporary shelters. The loss of their homes and possessions left many inhabitants in a state of distress, their lives irrevocably altered by the floods.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), in collaboration with the Harare City Council invited sympathisers to provide humanitarian aid to over 90 families who were displaced by the floods and were in urgent need of blankets, food, and accommodation.

“Working together as a nation to support the Budiriro flood victims is the way forward. The victims are facing difficult times since they lost property and other valuable items. The council should take note that it is not the right time to point fingers at each other, but to act and give a permanent solution to these kinds of problems,” said ZimRights National Director Dzikamai Bere.

Watch full remarks from ZimRights National Director Dzikamai Bere

ZimRights chipped in with blankets and foodstuff resourced from its partners and well-wishers. The donation was made to the Social Worker at Budiriro 3 Council primary School where 50 women and children from the affected area were housed. Handing over the donations the ZimRights National Chairperson Mr Takesure Musiiwa said that the overture was in line with ZimRights’ mandate of defending, promoting, and protecting human rights for everyone.

ZimRights got an opportunity to interact with the affected residents, both at the site of the flooding and at the temporary sanctuary at Budiriro 3. Some Budiriro residents said the floods disaster could have been averted had the Harare City Council taken into consideration advice from EMA. Some residents blamed the land barons who sold them stands on wetlands and the corrupt officials who authorized these allocations.

“All these houses which you see submerged in water were condemned by EMA a long time ago. EMA noted that all the stands they red flagged out of their coordinates were not supposed to be used or inhabited,’ however we have been paying council rates and everything,” Budiriro  resident Collin Sibanda said.

Watch full video below

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association National Treasurer Jannet Kanavete said,  Council leaders should respect the rights of local residents, by providing adequate services that will benefit the present and future generation.

“Council leaders must collaborate to ensure that every local resident has access to clean and safe environment.”

She highlighted that, many Chitungwiza residents have also lost faith in their local council leaders, who have failed to provide adequate services such as water supply, refuse collection, and road maintenance.

Watch full remarks by ZimRights National Treasurer

Adding to the issue of service delivery and access to clean water ZimRights Vice National Chairperson said, council leaders should understand that access to clean water is not a privilege but a right, Bulawayo residents have not known clean water since ages and it is a sign that the Council leadership has failed.

“Council leaders should take action in providing alternative sources for clean water during these difficult times to the flood victims in Budiriro as they are exposed to many water borne diseases,” he said.

Watch full remarks by ZimRights Vice National Chairperson

ZimRights National Chairperson Takesure Musiiwa said, Harare City Council should have collaborated with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) during the allocation stage to avoid such kind of problems.

“The situation I am seeing here in Budiriro is vice versa. Instead of the council approaching EMA, they are inviting EMA to look into the current problems. The council claims the affected people illegally acquired the stands, but if you go to the residents, they actually have proof of payment to the council. So, it gives a discord to what is happening,” he said.

Watch full remarks by ZimRights National Chairperson

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Principal Officer Mr Liberty Mugadza said, “An Environmental Impact Assessment must be done before any construction takes place but for the situation on the ground that was not done and efforts to ratify after the council had allocated land were then done when the council approached EMA. An ecological assessment was done and demarcations were put where it’s possible to build and where it cannot be done. All this information was given to the planning department at the local authority. Now what is coming to our surprise is the time taken to effect the necessary changes.”

According to Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in article 11.1 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adequate housing is recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. Other international human rights treaties have since recognized or referred to the right to adequate housing or some elements of it, such as the protection of one’s home and privacy.

Adequate housing must provide more than four walls and a roof. Several conditions must be met before particular forms of shelter can be considered to constitute “adequate housing.” These elements are just as fundamental as the basic supply and availability of housing. For housing to be adequate according to the UDHR it must, at a minimum, meet the following criteria:

  • Habitability: Housing is not adequate if it does not guarantee physical safety or provide adequate space, as well as protection against the cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, other threats to health and structural hazards.
  • Accessibility: Housing is not adequate if the specific needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups are not taken into account.
  • Location: Housing is not adequate if it is cut off from employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities, or if located in polluted or dangerous areas.

Furthermore, according to section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe every person has the right to an environment that is safe and protected for the benefit of present and future generations through measures to prevent pollution and ecological degradation and promote conservation to achieve sustainable development. International law recognizes that environmental degradation results in the violation of human rights such as the right to life and the right to health. These rights are protected by a number of human rights instruments which Zimbabwe is party to. Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that all people shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development.

These floods have threatened the enjoyment of the right to health, as the flood victims are prone to many water borne diseases and have also destroyed people’s hard earned assets.

Disaster Risk Management and Public Safety Chairperson Jane Mbingari said the evacuation that has been done for the affected families to Budiriro 3 Primary school is only temporary as they continue to work with the Department of Civil Protection, the Provincial Civil Protection Committee for Harare, City of Harare and ZimRights to support Budiriro and Kuwadzana flood victims with descent shelter.

“Plans of moving the evacuees from schools to other sites such as community halls, churches etc are underway given that schools will be opening soon,” she said.

Watch full remarks by Jane Mbingari

The heavy rains and floods also affected several provinces in Zimbabwe causing deaths, injuries, and destruction of property and infrastructure. According to the Department of Civil Protection, the following incidents have been reported as of 30 December 2023:

In Nyanga District, two people died when their dwelling collapsed at Selborne Compound under the Wattle Company and more than 40 people were evacuated to Selborne Primary School from the compound, where most houses were severely damaged.

In Gutu District, three family members lost their lives and two others were seriously injured after their house collapsed due to the heavy downpours in Ward 20, Crowlands Plots. The District Civil Protection Committee assisted the bereaved family with food items and transportation of the injured to Driefontein Hospital in Mvuma.

In Gokwe South District, there were severe damages to roads and houses in Wards 11, 12, 14, 15, 17 and 33, affecting more than 300 households. Some families were left homeless and sought refuge from neighbors. In Lupane District, roofs for two classroom blocks and an administration block were blown off by strong winds accompanied with heavy rains at Jotsholo Secondary School. The same storm also affected Lupane Staff College, where roofs were blown off.

The Department of Civil Protection urged the public to exercise caution and avoid crossing flooded rivers and bridges. The department has also appealed for humanitarian assistance from well-wishers and partners to support the affected communities.

ZimRights Recommendations:

  • Government should adopt a human rights-based approach to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, and ensure that the rights to food, water, health, education and housing are respected, protected and fulfilled for all people affected by floods and other natural disasters.
  • ZimRights recommend that the state seeks cooperation with international organisations, humanitarian agencies, civil society organisation and other stakeholders to come up with measures to achieve a durable solution to the problem of destruction of homes and livelihoods (& displacement) due to flooding or other natural disasters.
  • ZimRights call upon the government and responsible stakeholders to coordinate in addressing the root causes of floods in urban areas.
  • The National Environmental Council should become operational and co-ordinate approaches to environmental issues so that strategic decisions can be taken at national level.
  • The EMA should ensure that local authorities produce and implement Local Environment Action Plans (LEAPs). Local authorities need funding so that they retain employees with environmental expertise. Through its parent Ministry the EMA should engage key stakeholders on wetlands protection.