By CHARLES NDOPU –
THE Zambia Red Cross Society (ZRCS) is generally synonymous with issues of first aid in the country.
However, other people know ZRCS as an organisation which is involved in various programmes that are aimed at alleviating human suffering such as disaster management, among others.
Its objective is to build capacity of the National Society so as to enable it complement Government in preparedness and responding to disasters, refugee operation, health (home-based care, nutrition, water and sanitation and other epidemics mitigation), information dissemination and youth development.
Zambia Red Cross Society was established in Zambia by an Act of Parliament in 1966 for the purpose to also supplement Government efforts in alleviating human sufferings wherever it may occur.
And ZRCS, with the financial support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) which is the world’s largest humanitarian and development network, in July 2010 launched a historic, long-term and cross-border initiative project at Hotel Inter-continental in Lusaka to support hundreds of thousands of chronically vulnerable people along the Zambezi River Basin.
This initiative, which is dubbed ‘The Zambezi River Initiative’ (ZRBI), is a joint project between ZRCS and the Angolan, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe National Societies.
The project intends to comprehensively identify the risks of hazards and existing capacities of more than 600,000 people living in villages and towns along the river over at least a period of eight years.
The Zambezi River is a tremendous source of water for domestic households, crop production and hydro-electric power and it also provides livelihood through fishing, agriculture, transportation and a result of its status as an international tourism attraction.
The river winds its way from its source in Zambia, through Angola, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and finally to Mozambique where it empties into the Indian Ocean.
And at 2,574 km long, the Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in Africa and directly affects the livelihood of approximately 32 million people.
But the river is also a source of problems for the communities along its shores. They have experienced serious issues with flooding which culminated in mass displacement, outbreaks of waterborne diseases, high rates of malaria, crop reduction, marine accidents, environmental degradation and high rates of HIV and AIDS.
The initiative aims at breaking this cycle of disaster, displacement and recovery by helping the communities to be prepared for these eventualities and encourage them to take steps which will reduce devastating impact that they have on their lives.
Mitigation measures developed will include capacity building, food security activities, provision of clean, safe and adequate drinking water and disease control interventions will be further based on tenets of Millennium Development Goals to foster disaster risk reduction and promote safer and more resilient communities.
Other measures will also be developed that can be strategically fused across the different geographical locations, cultures, economic standings and political orientations of different countries.
The National Societies will conduct research in their respective countries to contribute to an integrated regional approach.
In addition, the National Societies will identify problem areas where they will conduct Vulnerability Capacity Assessment (VCA) and Branch Capacity Assessment (BCA) to allow comprehensive and need-based programmes.
The Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting (PMER) offices of each of the seven National Societies will work in conjunction with the IFRC’s Southern Africa Zone PMER department, which has already customised the data collection tools for the VCA and BCA.
In addition to careful consideration between the National Societies, there will be close collaboration with the governments of each country involved with Zambezi River Authority, a cross-country organisation developed to effectively manage and develop the common water resources of the Zambezi River.
Although there are major challenges posed by the Zambezi River, there are equally many opportunities for economic development and the scaling of ongoing interventions raging from tourism, arts and crafts, diamond mining, electricity generation, cultural exchanges, cross-border trade and promotion of environmental conservation.
The successful development and implementation of ZRBI, therefore, has the potential to contribute significantly to health and socio-economic welfare of the affected households, thus improving the quality life of the most vulnerable.
At the closure of a four-day workshop on Basic Disaster Management Training in July 2012, at Joweli Lodge in Sesheke, the District Commissioner, Miss Chaze Simasiku reminded the participants that the people in the district had great expectations from them since the knowledge they had gained in the workshop had placed them in a better position to respond to disasters in the district and also be able to co-ordinate with other stakeholders in the area.
And the ZRCS acting Secretary General, Miss Patricia Nambuka urged the participants to impart the skills they had acquired to community members in the district they serve such as how to respond and manage disasters.
(The author is former national information adviser to the Zambia Red Cross Society Governing Board)