Zimbabwe: Road construction, a step towards the recovery of isolated communities – Zimbabwe

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REPORTAGE

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • A road construction project will help connect 5,000 people to schools, health centers and markets. The motorable road will help communities increase their agricultural productivity.
  • Using a community-based approach, all households in the area are represented in the labor force.
  • A build-back-better philosophy means that the design of infrastructure involves weather-proofing techniques to improve its resistance to extreme weather conditions.

“Inaccessible” is the term that has become synonymous with Ruwedza in southeast Zimbabwe, where road access has been impeded since 2019 when Cyclone Idai caused widespread destruction in the area. Subsequently, local communities could not receive assistance or services quickly. Until today, the nearest places to find a market and a health center are 36 km (22 miles) away, while other social and government services are in the business center of the district of Chimanimani, 49 km (30 miles). Pupils were affected because they had to use roads to get to their secondary school (high school).

Recognizing the urgency of this situation, the $72 million Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP) is undertaking the reconstruction of the eight kilometer road at Ruwedza to connect three remote rural villages – Munyebvu, Matsekete and Muyererwa. Before the cyclone, the road they were taking was already prone to landslides and flooding, as well as rockfall during the rainy season.

Nestled behind a mountain, the community of 158 households came together to support the project. Using a community-based approach, all households in the area are represented in a workforce of 58 men and 100 women. Inclusion is so important that the community has assigned ‘proxies’ to child-headed households to ensure no one is left behind.

The road construction project will help connect 5,000 people to schools, health centers and markets. And, as communities move into farming, a motorable road will help them increase their agricultural productivity.

Initiate rehabilitation works

A cash-for-work model provided community members with opportunities to earn temporary income and learn skills, with participants being paid for their work in road construction. Its gender perspective has made possible the full participation of women, in part by creating childcare facilities and ensuring that menstruation-friendly ablutions are available on-site. Two-week shifts at a time allow workers to pursue their other income-generating activities.

Most workers work shifts, but in response to a special request from the community, a worker works longer hours so that he can raise more money to support his child, who has special needs.

Sustainability

The community was consulted and involved in the construction of the roads, and these elements (skills transfer and ownership) mean that there is a chance that the roads will be locally sustainable at the end of the project. The project guidelines are to train communities in operation and maintenance. There is also strong project engagement with local leaders inside and outside the rural district council.

A build-back-better philosophy means that the design of infrastructure involves weather-proofing techniques to improve its resistance to extreme weather conditions. The scope of work on the road combines mechanized contract work and community labour. Lateral drains are being constructed along the road, gabions and splash drains are being put in place and vetiver will be planted to minimize erosion on the slopes.

The ZIRP, which is implemented by the United Nations Office for Projects and Services (UNOPS), is expected to be completed in 2023 and by project closure, nine roads totaling 90 km (56 miles) will have been rehabilitated. Some 15,000 people have been able to use the community infrastructure rehabilitated so far.

Early warning systems

Risk reduction initiatives are part of the project, which has supported the establishment of two community radios, one in Chimanimani and the other in Chipinge, to help disseminate early warning information. Early warning systems can give communities time to prepare for extreme weather conditions and are therefore an effective way to reduce loss of life and property.

By receiving frequent data and alerts from the Zimbabwe Meteorological Service, radio stations will be able to send accurate and timely warnings of weather changes. Their integration into community information structures – formal and informal – means that they can provide a reliable source of information for communications and proactive early warning messages in the event of floods and droughts.

Thus, the radios (Chimanimani FM and Chipinge FM) will help support long-term community resilience. They are also seen as a versatile springboard for creating content and sharing information on topics other than roads, such as health, agriculture, education, hygiene and sanitation, violence gender and other socio-economic issues.

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