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Zimbabwe: Deadly Floods Destroy Homes But Not Hope

Saliwe and her family were airlifted to safety following the floods in Zimbabwe (Photo: WFP/Victoria Cavanagh)

On January 22, Saliwe Sithole woke up surrounded by water as far as her eyes could see. Flash floods in parts of Zimbabwe washed away homes and crops, killing 30 people and countless animals in January. The government, in partnership with humanitarian agencies including WFP, responded by providing shelter, food and blankets to ensure that the basic needs of the flood victims were covered.

From the safety of her new home - a tent provided by the Red Cross - Saliwe recounts the moments that turned her life upside down.

“Water levels started rising during the night of 21 January and the loud gushing noises kept my children awake,” she says.

“We lay together trying to comfort each other. It was dark and I couldn’t see, but I knew the water was getting really high. I didn’t know if it would get us.”

In the morning, the only land Saliwe could see was the small patch around her house.

“We were stuck there and were very scared,” she says.

A helicopter soon came to airlift Saliwe’s family and 12 other households in the area to higher ground. They took with them some blankets, a few pots and some clothes.

Village Head Willie Hlongwane says that this year’s water levels were exceptionally high.

“There were floods here in 2000, so people thought they knew the flood routes and intensity,” Hiongwane says. “But this time it was different; it came all at once and people couldn’t get out.”

Saliwe’s village is very close to the Limpopo river, which divides South Africa and Zimbabwe and flows into Mozambique. Following heavy rains in January, the pressure at the confluence of the Limpopo and Bubi rivers was so great that part of the Bubi bridge collapsed. 

“It was almost impossible for local traders to bring in food, therefore even those with the means couldn’t buy it,” says WFP Country Director Felix Bamezon.

“WFP’s emergency food rations made things so much easier for people who’d been affected by the floods, helping them get back to earning a living and rebuilding their lives.”

Saliwe’s husband works at a factory in Johannesburg and sends 600-800 rand (US$75-100) back to Zimbabwe every few months. She shares this with her husband’s second wife and their children.

To compliment the remittances, Saliwe farms her small plot at the nearby community irrigation scheme. With her food needs covered in the wake of the floods, she could focus on other priorities.   

“Instead of looking for food, I can go to the irrigation scheme and work there,” she says. “We need to fix the fence that was destroyed because wild animals can get inside and ruin more crops.”

Saliwe says she is optimistic about the future because of all the help her family has received. “I want to move into my new home and get back to normal,” she says.