By Tichaona Sibanda
SW Radio Africa
10 February 2014
Thousands of villagers have been forced to flee their homes, downstream of Tokwe Mukorsi dam in Masvingo, amid fears the dam will burst after torrential rains pounded the province.
The situation could have long ago been averted had government provided the $12 million to pay for concrete lining to be installed prior to the rains. The dam has received 370mm of water in 10 days, described by engineers on site as ‘excess of the norm.’ The engineers are currently trying to construct an emergency spillway while at the same raising the wall of the dam.
President Robert Mugabe has declared Tokwe Mukorsi a disaster area which, in theory, allows government to move in rapidly and assist the evacuation of over 60,000 families.
But those who have already been forcibly evacuated from the flood basin have been staying in the open along the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, according to the Southern Eye website. The villagers said they feel they’ve been abandoned by the government.
The villagers have been camping at the Muzvidziwa bus stop in Ward 36 for the past three days with their few belongings and there is fear of a disease outbreak as there are no sanitary facilities at the place.
The government says it is relocating the villagers to Nuanesti Ranch, but it too has no facilities or running water. Hungry villagers only managed to take a few clothes when they were evacuated and are currently being served diluted orange drink. They complained that they need more solid food.
Tasara Wamambo, director and founder of Tokwe Mukorsi Rehabilitation and Resettlement Trust (TMRRT), which represents families affected by the dam and advocates their rights, said the long term solution to crisis is for the government to relocate the villagers and compensate them enough to build new homes elsewhere.
He said efforts to evacuate the villagers now were being hampered by floods that have affected the designated areas for relocation.
‘A number of areas that have been designated for relocation are flooded as well, so the situation is being made worse by the constant rains. But a long term solution is to find areas where the villagers can be compensated well enough to build new homes, away from the flood basin,’ Wamambo said.
Following cracks in the dam wall there were fears it would breach, threatening to unleash a wall of water into neighbouring villages, sweeping away thousands of people in its path.
However the government on Sunday urged the public not to panic as they said the issue can be resolved. Minister of Water Resources Saviour Kasukuwere said engineers were working flat out trying to reinforce the wall, although he admitted the situation is ‘challenging.’
A local insurance company said from its risk analysis of the site, the dam wall is unlikely to collapse. Champions Insurance operations director Munyaradzi Kativhu told the Daily News that the dam wall was not collapsing but a huge volume of water is forcing itself through the wall that is still under construction.
‘We carried out a risk management analysis and the dam wall is not collapsing. The dam wall was built through compacting rocks and these rocks have not been plastered. So the floods were caused by huge volumes of water which perforated through the dam wall,’ Kativhu said.
The Tokwe Mukorsi dam is being built by an Italian company, Salini, with funding from the government, to provide irrigation to villagers in Chivi and surrounding districts of Triangle and Chiredzi.
The project, with a cost of $156 million, is designed to boost the drought-resistance of a region that normally receives insufficient rainfall and once complete, it will also supply water to the city of Masvingo, where severe water shortages have been experienced in recent years.
Construction began in the 1990s but stopped a decade later when the economy experienced hyperinflation and government payments were late. It only resumed after the formation of the government of national unity in 2009.
The Tokwe Mukorsi is set to become the largest inland dam in the country, with a capacity of 1.8 billion cubic meters and a flood area covering more than 9,600 hectares.