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Storm-hit Zimbabweans Endure Another Rainy Season in Risky Homes

The United Nations says many people in Cyclone Idai affected areas in Zimbabwe such as Chimanimani district are still homeless, food insecure and failing to access basic health care, June 9, 2019. (C. Mavhunga for VOA)

Farai Shawn Matiashe, Thomson Reuters Foundation

CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe, Jan 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Albert Sabawe, 25, is waiting to eat lunch, resting against the wall of his flimsy wooden home in a small village in eastern Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani district.

The father of one moved into this shack by the river when he got married in 2018, after his parents bought the land from local authorities in 2010.

Jobless Sabawe could not afford to build a house of brick and cement, as is common in Zimbabwe.

But when powerful Cyclone Idai hit last March, ripping off part of the roof, luck spared his family.

The storm killed more than 300 people, displaced about 60,000 and destroyed 50,000 homes in the southern African nation.

It caused damage worth $622 million, mainly in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, according to the government.

Sabawe’s home survived, but located less than 10 metres (33 ft) from the Nyamatanda River, whose channel was widened by the 2019 storm, it remains vulnerable to flooding this rainy season.

“We are living so close to the river. I would not want another cyclone to strike again while I am still here,” Sabawe said.

If offered the chance to relocate under a planned government programme, he would be willing to do so as long as the area had enough farmland to sustain his family, he said.

Chimanimani has so far received average rainfall this rainy season, which runs through April.

But the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) has predicted heavy rains nationwide in the coming weeks, and other places have already experienced flash floods, damaging homes and crops.

According to Zimbabwe’s Civil Protection Unit (CPU), many houses made of cheap materials near rivers were wiped away by Cyclone Idai, while those still standing remain at risk of flooding.

CPU director Nathan Nkomo said both rural and urban settlements and infrastructure should adhere to planning regulations and minimum standards to reduce the risk of disasters.

Edward Antonio, a lecturer in the civil engineering department at Mutare Polytechnic, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was high time local authorities designed buildings with climate change in mind.

Many Africa-based engineers had yet to grasp the reality of climate change or that most designs from the early 1970s were no longer robust enough, he said, while building codes were not being updated in line with disaster threats.

“Proper planning and siting of infrastructure is lacking (and) construction materials and standards being used are cheap and of poor quality,” he warned.

Antonio said key factors in determining risk were not the distance of a building from a river but river capacity, soil type, size of the water catchment area and intensity of rainfall.

Cyclone Idai brought heavy downpours to Chimanimani and Chipinge, resulting in huge surface runoff that caused flooding as the soil was saturated and rivers overflowed, he explained.

NEW LANDSLIDE THREAT

Julius Sibanda, a Mutare-based engineer, said altering building designs could face resistance from most Zimbabweans as it could hike costs at a time of economic crisis.

“Of course we can change, but it becomes unaffordable to most citizens,” he said, calling for rules to prohibit human settlement in flood-risk areas.

In past decades, Zimbabwe has not often experienced landslides during storms. But last year, landslides in Chimanimani and Chipinge left devastation.

The CPU, based on weather forecasts, had advised people to move to higher ground to keep them safe from flooding - but doing so put them at risk of landslides.

Terence Mushore, a climate scientist and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said one lesson from Cyclone Idai was that an extreme event with a very low probability can happen.

“Landslides were beyond the expectation of anyone,” he added.

In mountainous Chimanimani, people were mainly worried about floods in low-lying areas but had not anticipated danger on higher ground, he explained.

The CPU’s Nkomo said Zimbabwe’s early warning equipment and systems for weather and climate hazards were grossly inadequate.

There was an urgent need to revamp them and procure radar systems to track rainfall volume and intensity, he added.

In the 2020 national budget plan, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube proposed allocating 165 million Zimbabwean dollars (about $7 million) to purchase weather radar equipment.

Marian Chombo, deputy minister for local government, said people living along river channels and on dangerous slopes would be considered for relocation after a consultation process which was still underway.

The government has still to resettle about 200 cyclone-affected people living in tents in Chimanimani, suggesting the process will take longer for those who have houses. Chombo said there was a need to construct climate-resilient infrastructure, and housing designs and building materials would be revised.

But until that happens, the CPU said it fears that cheaply built houses located by rivers, like Sabawe's, are a disaster waiting to happen. (Reporting by Farai Shawn Matiashe; editing by Megan Rowling)

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Argentina Beats Brazil 1-0 to Win Copa America, 1st Major Title in 28 Years

Copa America 2021 - Final - Brazil v Argentina

Argentina won their first major title in 28 years on Saturday and Lionel Messi finally won his first medal in a blue-and-white shirt when an Angel Di Maria goal gave them a 1-0 win over Brazil and a record-equaling 15th Copa America.

Di Maria, starting for just the second time in the Copa, justified his selection by scoring the opener midway through the first half.

Renan Lodi failed to cut out a long ball forward from Rodrigo De Paul and Di Maria lobbed the stranded Ederson with aplomb.

Brazil piled on the pressure in an exciting second half but even with five strikers on the field they could not get an equalizer against an Argentine defense protected by the outstanding Rodrigo De Paul.

"First, we have to congratulate our opponents especially for the first half when they neutralized us,” Brazilian defender Thiago Silva said.

“In the second half, there was no contest -- only one team tried to play football, the other just wasted time as we knew they would. It’s not an excuse, we didn’t do what we had to, principally in the first half.”

Argentina’s win was a particular triumph for Barcelona striker Messi, who picked up his first-ever title in a blue-and-white shirt after more than a decade of club and individual honors.

The Argentine players surrounded their captain at the final whistle. Goalkeeper Emilian Martinez celebrated what he called a Maracanazo, a remarkable win at the famous Rio stadium.

"I'm speechless," he said. "I knew my dream would come true, and where better than the Maracanazo and giving the title to the best in the world and fulfilling his dream."

Messi finished the tournament’s joint top goal scorer with four goals and was elected joint best player along with Neymar.

But he was quiet throughout the game at the Maracana stadium and uncharacteristically missed a golden opportunity to wrap the game up with 2 minutes remaining.

When the final whistle went, Argentina TV declared “Argentina Champions, Lionel Messi Champion!”

The match itself was a disappointing one, with Argentina the better side in a cagey first half that featured 21 fouls.

However, Brazil came out more aggressively in the second period and as the time ticked on, they threw more people forward -- and at one point having five recognized strikers on the field.

Richarlison had a goal chalked off for offside 7 minutes into the second half and then forced Emiliano Martinez into a good stop 2 minutes later.

But as Brazil poured forward gaps opened up and Argentina missed two clear chances to score in the dying moments of the match.

The victory was Argentina’s 15th Copa America triumph and means they draw level with Uruguay as the all-time leading winners.

"This is a very big title," Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni said. "I hope that Argentines can enjoy it. The fans love the team unconditionally and I think they identify with this side that never drops its guard."

Their win extended their sequence of undefeated matches to 20 under Scaloni and handed Brazil their first competitive defeat since they lost to Belgium in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup.

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Cheap as Bread, Girls Sell Sex to Survive Crisis in Africa

FILE: A Zimbabwean subsistence farmer holds a stunted maize cob in his field outside Harare. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Young girls in southern Africa are selling sex - sometimes for less than the cost of bread - to survive a hunger crisis ensnaring tens of millions, aid agencies said on Thursday.

In Angola, girls of 12 sell themselves for as little as 40 cents to feed their families as the south of the country faces its worst drought in four decades, World Vision said.

The United Nations says a record 45 million people in southern Africa face hunger amid a “silent catastrophe” caused by repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic chaos.

World Vision said staff had seen a significant increase in girls resorting to transactional sex in Angola and Zimbabwe amid “huge levels of desperation”.

Robert Bulten, World Vision’s emergencies director in Angola, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation a girl might get 500 kwanzas ($1) for sex - enough to buy about a kilo of beans or two kilos of maize - but could get as little as 200 kwanzas.

“We definitely know there’s an increase. It’s difficult to quantify because it’s taboo ... but I would say a significant number (are doing this),” he said.

“We’re talking about girls between 12 and 17.”

Bulten said the price of some staples had doubled since last year. With the next harvest not due until June, he predicted hunger would worsen.

In Zimbabwe, CARE International said there were reports of girls as young as 14 resorting to selling sex, especially en route to South Africa and near goldmines.

“Sometimes they earn as little as 5 RGT ($0.31) for one sexual encounter, which is really awful ... it’s not even enough to buy a loaf,” said CARE’s regional gender expert Everjoy Mahuku.

ActionAid regional advisor Chikondi Chabvuta said women and girls “on the edge of survival” were forced into transactional sex in Mozambique and Malawi.

Swathes of southern Africa have experienced their lowest rainfall since 1981, according to the United Nations, which says the crisis is fuelled by climate change as temperatures in the region rise at about twice the global rate.

Other countries affected include Zambia, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Aid workers said many of the girls would normally be in school. In some cases, they had dropped out because of deepening family poverty, but many schools had also closed.

World Vision’s Bulten said the crisis in southern Angola had also increased the incidence of rape and child marriage.

Girls were at heightened risk of rape while walking long distances for water or foraging in forests, he said.

Families struggling to make ends meet may marry girls off early so they have one less mouth to feed, but Bulten said sometimes it was to keep them out of the prostitution.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the crisis had driven up child marriage in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and Namibia.

Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.

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