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Restoring dignity in flood-affected Zimbabwe

BEITBRIDGE, Zimbabwe – “When I noticed the water was rising fast, I gathered my four children and ran for safety. We nearly lost one of our girls in the panic and rush to get to high ground,” said Maria Ngulube, 36, recounting the terrifying night her home was flooded by water.

Maria Ngulube with her three children and her UNFPA dignity kit.
© UNFPA / Margret Masanga

“The water was so powerful, had I not grabbed hold of her arm, she might have been swept away. I had my little boy in my arms while I held on to her.”

Maria was just one of 300 women and girls seriously affected by localized flooding, caused by torrential rains associated with the El Niño phenomenon, in Dulivhadzimu, a suburb of Beitbridge, which is one of Zimbabwe’s border towns. Here, UNFPA provided urgent humanitarian relief to 238 households through the provision of dignity kits to address sexual and reproductive health concerns, and worked to prevent sexual abuse.

Ensuring dignity in crises

The dignity kits contained a range of basic supplies such as underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, bath soap, a towel, pain killers, salt, sanitary pads and Vaseline – items that women are likely to need for basic hygiene care. Health and hygiene needs remain urgent for the affected women and girls in the area. 

At least 1000 people, including women and girls, were affected by the flash floods and were at risk of the outbreak of disease as a result of the floods. Many lost their valuables and some, their sources of income, as the floods washed away their stock for resale at the market. Among the affected were pregnant women, some of them at an advanced stage of pregnancy and others, lactating mothers.

I am worried we may not be able to gather all the items in time for the baby’s arrival. I am very happy that UNFPA has been able to come and assist us. Rudo Rwezuvha, 31, six months pregnant

Rudo Rwezuvha, six months pregnant and relieved to receive her dignity kit from UNFPA.
© UNFPA / Margret Masanga

“I remember feeling cold”

Rudo Rwezuvha, 31, six months pregnant, was among those affected by the floods. She lost the material she had set aside in preparation for the arrival of her child. “The night of the flood, my bed was totally immersed in water. I remember feeling cold. Everything was wet and knee deep in water and mud,” recalled the mother of three.  

“Our wooden wardrobe was destroyed. I saw my husband’s work tools float away down the road. All the things I had prepared for the child we are expecting were destroyed too. I am worried we may not be able to gather all the items in time for the baby’s arrival. I am very happy that UNFPA has been able to come and assist us. I am especially thankful for the fresh underwear as I have only the pair I was wearing when the house was flooded.”

Also expecting her second child, 20-year-old Charity Ndere collected her UNFPA dignity kit from the town centre in Dulivhadzimu. She recalled the moment she realised her home was being flooded.

“At first the flood waters seeped in slowly under the door. I didn’t think the water levels would continue rising so I stayed in the house but it began rising steadily until it got to waist level. I watched helplessly as all my belongings began floating in water,” said Charity.

It was a painful decision to just leave our home and all our possessions. – Charity Ndere, 20, expecting her second child

“The next thing I knew, we had lost electricity. It was then that my husband and I made the decision to vacate our home. It was a painful decision to just leave our home and all our possessions.”

When asked what she needed most at such a trying time, she said: “At this moment I would say anything to help me get ready for the arrival of my baby. I would pick that over food, if it came to that.”

UNFPA distributed dignity kits to over 300 women and girls in need of assistance at Beitbridge, Zimbabwe. © UNFPA / Margret Masanga

Choosing to stay home

Despite the provision of shelter by the local authorities, some affected families remained in their homes, protecting what remained of their belongings. One such family was Athalia Mbedzi, 49, and her three sons. Their small kiosk was completely flooded, damaging all items that were for sale.

“We chose to stay put instead of running away. You cannot move away from your home because it has been flooded. If it is still standing then you protect it as best you can,” said Athalia, who had experienced floods previously.

Mitigating effect of El Niño

UNFPA is working with health and protection authorities and other partners in a multi-sectoral response to the effects of El Niño, including drought, in Zimbabwe.

Our response, to protect the lives of women and girls in times of crises such as these, is crucial. – UNFPA Zimbabwe Country Representative Cheikh Tidiane Cisse

“Our response, to protect the lives of women and girls in times of crises such as these, is crucial. We need to respond as quickly as we can to protect their dignity,” said UNFPA Zimbabwe Country Representative Cheikh Tidiane Cisse.

“UNFPA is looking to work with partners to strengthen referral pathways, mainstream gender in distribution of food and other items, as well as create temporary safe spaces for women and girls in Beitbridge. We are on the alert for any other cases in flood-prone areas because it’s important for us to respond timeously,” he said. 

By Margret Masanga