With close to 400 people still missing since Cyclone Idai hit the eastern parts of the country over a week ago, it is sad to note that Zimbabwe had to ask for special sniffer dogs from neighbouring South Africa.
That in itself shows the lack of capacity and how ill-prepared we are as a country to respond to disasters of this magnitude as the minister of Local Government July Moyo admitted: “We are now educated that sniffer dogs can sniff for gold, can sniff for mbanje or other drugs but there are specially trained ones which can sniff for dead bodies and those ones we generally don’t have them in Zimbabwe.
“Therefore we are getting assistance from our neighbour, South Africa.” We are now 39 years into independence and government tells us they do not have sniffer dogs specially trained to sniff out human bodies; someone has to be fired here or we are completely missing the big picture.
What has been the police or army dog units been doing all these years? The minister seems to imply that government security departments have been concentrating on training sniffer dogs to just sniff out drugs while neglecting other aspects that have to deal with rescuing human beings.
And it has now been several days since people have been buried under debris, mud and boulders; simply because we do not have specially trained sniffer dogs to help find them. We are confident that had we had enough trained sniffer dogs for this operation, by now we could have recovered most of the bodies or even earlier rescued more people buried under debris.
The South African sniffer dogs only arrived on Tuesday after that country’s ambassador to Zimbabwe sent an SOS. While we thank the South African government for sending the sniffer dogs to help Zimbabwe out, we also should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation.
Cyclone Idai will not be the last disaster of this magnitude, as such government has to be prepared in future; an earthquake might hit or yet another cyclone might strike the country. The government has to put money aside to buy and train sniffer dogs that can do this work otherwise they say; once bitten twice shy!
And as if this ill-preparedness is not enough, government said most areas are not accessible by road hence food relief, shelter, medicines and blankets are not reaching many affected areas.
But what about using helicopters?
Minister Moyo says government could only mobilise 12 helicopters for the rescue operations and that most of them are small, hence cannot carry many people. While we are not privy to what the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) and the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) collectively have in terms of helicopters; just mobilising a dozen for such a catastrophe is sad to say the least.
This rescue mission should have had the AFZ and the ZNA at the forefront because we have soldiers just milling around in barracks.
The two security arms should have used even horses to reach difficult areas; should we just see the horses during times of riots and protests?
This cyclone has greatly exposed our government’s flawed priorities as affected people are still trapped in bushes, mountains and isolated landscapes while bodies remain hidden in mud, earth and debris.
The latest disaster should be a learning curve for the government and we expect them to do right next time.