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UNFPA restores women's dignity in flood-affected Beitbridge

BEITBRIDGE - “Once 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,” exclaims Maria Ngulube (36) as she recounts the terrifying night her home was flooded by water. “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 is just one of the 300 women and girls seriously affected by localized flooding caused by torrential rains associated with the El Nino phenomenon in Dulivhadzimu suburb of Beitbridge, one of Zimbabwe’s border towns where UNFPA is providing urgent humanitarian relief to 238 households through the provision of dignity kits to address sexual and reproductive health concerns, and working to prevent sexual abuse.

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

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

Rudo Rwezuvha (31) who is six months pregnant is among those who were affected by the floods. She lost materials she had set aside in preparation for her newborn's arrival. 

“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,” recalls mother of three Rudo. “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 only have the pair which I was wearing when the house was flooded. I can go about rebuilding my family’s life, now that I feel complete, like a woman."

I am very happy that UNFPA has been able to come and assist us. I can go about rebuilding my family’s life, now that I feel complete, like a woman.

Also pregnant expecting her second child is 20 year old Charity Ndere. As she collects her designated UNFPA dignity kit from the town centre in Dulivhadzimu, Charity recalls the moment she realised her home was being flooded.
“At first the flood waters seeped in slowly from 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 go to the waist level. I watched helplessly as all my belongings began floating in water,” says Charity.  

“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, all our possessions…”

When asked what she most needed at this trying time, Charity stated “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.”
Despite provision of shelter from local authorities, some affected families have remained in their homes, protecting what remains of their belongings, such as Athalia Mbedzi (49) and her three son’s whose small kiosk was completely flooded damaging their items 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,” says Athalia who has experienced previous floods.

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

"Our response to protect the lives of women and girls in this crisis is very crucial; we need to respond as quickly as we can to protect their dignity especially in times of crisis such as these," stated 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 and we are on alert for any other cases in other flood prone areas because it’s important for us to respond timeously.”

By Margret Masanga