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International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48

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International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

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Indigenous knowledge, coping strategies and resilience

to floods in Muzarabani, Zimbabwe
Emmanuel Mavhura a, Siambabala Bernard Manyena b,n, Andrew E. Collins c,
Desmond Manatsa a
Department of Geography, Bindura University of Science Education, Private Bag 1020, Bindura, Zimbabwe
Disaster and Development Centre, Faculty of Engineering and Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK
Disaster and Development Centre, Faculty of Engineering and Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK

a r t i c l e in f o abstract

Article history: The connection between indigenous knowledge systems and disaster resilience derives
Received 17 November 2012 from both theory and practice highlighting potential contributions of indigenous knowl-
Received in revised form edge to building resilient communities. Using data from interviews and focus group
15 July 2013
discussions, this paper explores people’s indigenous survival strategies and variations in
Accepted 16 July 2013
Available online 8 August 2013
people’s ability to cope with floods in two flood-prone villages of Muzarabani district,
Zimbabwe. The findings reveal that indigenous knowledge systems played a significant
Keywords: role in reducing the impact of floods in Muzarabani district. However, the extent to which
Indigenous knowledge indigenous knowledge enhanced resilience to floods was influenced by geophysical
locations, exposure to flooding and socio-economic abilities. Communities in an area
with low flooding and with a strong socio-economic base such as education and income
Coping strategies
Muzarabani were more likely to cope with flood impacts compared to those communities in areas with
Zimbabwe high and sudden flooding and weak socio-economic base. The paper shows how
indigenous knowledge systems are an indispensable component of disaster resilience
building. This is because indigenous knowledge systems can, (i) be transferred and
adapted to other communities; (ii) encourage participation and empowerment of affected
communities, (iii) improve intervention adaptation to local contexts, and (iv) are often
beyond formal education about environmental hazards.
& 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction to ‘bounce back’, if not ‘bounce forward’ [3] and to recover

from disasters with little or no external assistance. Increas-
The rejection of environmental determinism as an ingly, indigenous knowledge systems are among the ele-
inadequate account of disaster causation shifted attention ments implicated in disaster resilience ‘thinking’, as
towards resilience [1]. The resilience notion emphasises reflected in sub-texts of the Hyogo Framework for Action
the importance of communities to ‘build back better’ [2], of 2005 as part of its call for ‘building the resilience of
nations and communities to disasters’ [4]. Indigenous
knowledge has been an inherent component of traditional
Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 796 679 35 92. disaster management systems where over centuries peo-
E-mail addresses:, ple have adjusted their lives and livelihoods to adapt to (E. Mavhura), changing contexts [5]. The interest in indigenous knowl-, (S.B. Manyena),
edge systems has been particularly highlighted in flood (A.E. Collins), disasters, due to the likely increase of flood events result- (D. Manatsa). ing from anthropogenic climate change through heavy

2212-4209/$ - see front matter & 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48 39

precipitation, increased catchment wetness and sea level resilience mechanism built over centuries. Although indi-
rise [6]. Yet, there is insufficient empirical evidence sug- genous knowledge, in many ways, is not always apparent
gesting the effectiveness of the indigenous knowledge in [12], local communities utilise it to construct and recon-
enhancing resilience to flood disasters. More importantly, struct themselves to prevent, mitigate, prepare, respond
the studies that have been conducted on the connections and recover from disaster impacts. This can be considered
between indigenous knowledge and flooding are based on to be a coping mechanism and is the manner in which a
Asia, with a relatively insignificant number of such studies group of people or individuals become ‘resilient’ in the
from Africa. In bringing indigenous knowledge more into sense used by UNISDR cited earlier in the Section 1 [4]. The
focus the rationale of this paper is that coping and resilience terminology is adopted by a global array of
resilience are interrelated concepts in contexts of African governmental and non-governmental organisations that
development. The effectiveness of people’s knowledge as now apply it commonplace. However, bringing indigenous
driver of coping and resilience from within their commu- knowledge more into focus and context deepens the
nity is however dependent on ecological and social con- understanding of how people manage their own changing
ditions within which they must reside. It is not the circumstances and can bring more pertinent information
intention of this paper to examine and reposition ter- about the hazard event itself Mercer et al. [11] argue that
minologies already widely banded about the academic indigenous knowledge is invaluable in understanding
discourse. Rather the paper contributes a case study historical hazard events while scientific knowledge has
through which concepts might gain better meaning, by been proven to be of great importance when dealing with
closer understanding of what under-reported people in rare or unprecedented events. As a result, indigenous and
conditions of flood exposure and socio-economic volatility scientific knowledge should be considered as two sides of
do to survive. the same coin, which complement each other.
This paper presents findings from a study on the role of While we avoid any overly definitive model that would
indigenous knowledge in reducing the impact of floods in explain the case of Muzarabani, the basic approach of this
Muzarabani district, Zimbabwe. The paper will make a study can be considered in relation to Dekens’ [2] frame-
significant contribution to the conspicuous literature gap work for analysing local knowledge in disaster prepared-
on indigenous knowledge systems and flood disasters in ness (Fig. 1). Dekens states that disaster preparedness at
Africa. The results are a useful source of information for the local level is a product of knowledge types, practices
preparation of a comprehensive disaster management and beliefs, which are mainly influenced by societal
programme. By using indigenous knowledge, it is hoped structures and processes within the local and global
that the government’s institutional capacity will be hazard contexts. In this model, disaster preparedness at
enhanced in order to effectively encounter future flooding. the local level is based on observation, anticipation,
The paper also highlights the resilience of Muzarabani as a adaptation and communication to enhance resilience with
community, particularly during a period when Zimbabwe the effects on levels of security, sustainability and com-
faced great socio-economic challenges. It indicates the munity resilience building.
merits of integrating indigenous knowledge systems in
flood risk reduction. 3. The study area

2. Indigenous knowledge and disaster resilience Muzarabani is one of the most flood-prone areas in
Zimbabwe. The term ‘muzarabani’ in the local Shona
The term ‘indigenous knowledge’ is presented as hav- language means flood plain or an area frequently flooded.
ing varied meanings including ‘local knowledge’ [7–9], It is located in the northern lowveld of Zimbabwe within
‘traditional knowledge’, ‘indigenous technical knowledge’, the Zambezi Basin. The Zambezi River itself flows from the
‘peasants knowledge’, and ‘traditional environmental Kalene Hills in Zambia generally in an easterly direction
knowledge’ or ‘folk knowledge’ [10]. Notwithstanding a into the Indian Ocean. The river marks the boundary
multiplicity of meanings the term suggests a body of between Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe
knowledge existing within or acquired by local people and Mozambique. Two types of floods have been affecting
over a period of time and passed through generations the Muzarabani area for decades. The first and most
[11,12]. Indigenous knowledge is thought to be distin- frequent is the seasonal flood, which frequently occurs in
guished from scientific knowledge, the latter being asso- January or February, at the peak of the rainfall season. The
ciated with Western technology or techniques. However, it second and not so frequent one is the cyclone-induced
is a subjective interpretation in that such differentiations flood. In 2000 and 2003 tropical cyclones brought intense
can be challenged since all knowledge can be indigenous, storms that caused flooding in the Zambezi Basin, includ-
cultural or ethnic. Nonetheless it may be reasonable to ing Muzarabani [14].
consider mainstream knowledge branded as scientific to The unique natural setting and human engineered context
be structured and global in nature [11]. Shaw et al. [13] of Muzarabani makes it more susceptible to flooding. This is
state that indigenous knowledge tends to be locally bound, because the area is downstream of Kariba Dam in the west,
culture and context specific, non-formal and orally trans- but upstream of the Cabora-Basa Dam in the eastern direction
mitted, closely related to survival and subsistence, in Mozambique. To the south of Muzarabani is a range of
dynamic and based on innovation, adaptation and experi- mountains known as Mavhuradonha which separate the
mentation. This suggests indigenous knowledge is an Zambezi valley from the highveld of Zimbabwe. All the
inherent valuable resource, and an integral coping or tributaries of the Zambezi River from the Zimbabwean side
40 E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48

Local Knowledge System

Composed of Influenced by In context of Resulting in Based on With effects on

Level of
Types Natural
Hazards and
Structures Other Shocks Disaster Anticipation
at the local

Practices Adaptation

Global Factors
and Trends Communication

Beliefs Values
World Views

Fig. 1. Framework for local knowledge on disaster preparedness.

Source: Dekens [5].

have their sources in this high-veld which is characterised by even those that are decentralised, the grades of staff
normal to above normal annual rainfall of 700–1000 mm. working at provincial and district level affects the manner
Tributaries of Zambezi River which pass through Muzarabani in which they are represented [16]. Disease outbreaks such
are Musengezi, Musingwa, Hoya and Nzou-Mvunda. as malaria and cholera have been quite common during
When the water levels in Kariba Dam rise, it is released the flooding period [15]. Subsistence farming which seems
to avoid dam failure. Most releases are conducted at the to be the viable livelihood in Muzarabani is usually
peak of the rain season, between December and February destroyed by the floods.
resulting in substantial increase in the discharge of the The study was conducted in two communities of
Zambezi River. Further downstream Cabora-Basa dam Chadereka and Dambakurima in Muzarabani District,
levels continue to rise due to inflows from the tributaries Zimbabwe (Fig. 2). These two were chosen basing on their
of Zambezi and releases from Kariba Dam. If authorities in history of flooding in the district. They are the most flood-
Mozambique fail to open in time the flood gates of the prone communities in Muzarabani district. During the
Cabora-Basa Dam or if the releases are exceeded by the 2008 floods, the worst floods since 2000, the two com-
inflows from Zambezi River and its tributaries, backflow munities were the most hit areas that attracted rescue
flooding occurs. This happens when tributaries such as operations by the Department of Civil Protection (DCP).
Musengezi River fail to discharge into the Zambezi. As a The DCP is the government department in charge of all
result water begins to pile up at the confluence of the civil protection issues in the country [15]. It has a National
Musengezi and Zambezi leading to backflow flooding in Civil Protection Coordinating Committee (NCPCC) in place
the whole area. Other tributaries of Musengezi River such with a multi-sectoral representation for the execution of
as Hoya, Musingwa and Nzou-Mvunda also tend to experi- civil protection functions. This committee is replicated at
ence backflow flooding. On the other hand tropical the provincial and district levels. The District Administra-
cyclones from the Indian Ocean result in flash floods in tor (DA) of Muzarabani is charged with the coordinating
the area. Disease outbreaks such as malaria and cholera role of disaster risk reduction, as empowered by the
have been quite common during the flooding period [15]. Civil Protection Act of 1989. A District Civil Protection
As Muzarabani communities are directly or indirectly Coordinating Committee (DCPCC) exists in Muzarabani but
dependent on the land, their lives and livelihoods are it is inactive and has limited capacity to prepare for,
jeopardised by the flooding. To reduce the risk of flooding, respond to or mitigate the effects of flooding. This leaves
a National Civil Protection Coordinating Committee (NCPCC) the communities with the sole responsibility to decide as
is in place with a multi-sectoral representation for the individuals or households on what action to take in the
execution of civil protection functions. This multi-sectoral face of rising floodwaters. However, rescue operations are
representation is replicated at the provincial and district conducted by the DCP during floods of high magnitude.
levels. However, there are marked variations in the repre- In the two communities under study, the majority of the
sentation as some organisations remain centralised and, households are subsistence farmers. They either directly or
E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48 41

Fig. 2. Location of the study area.

Source: Authors.

indirectly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Dambakurima community is also flooded regularly but
Chadereka community is located mainly between Hoya the character of flooding is different from Chadereka’s. The
and Nzou-Mvunda rivers. A few households are situated land is slightly on higher ground as compared to Chadereka.
slightly on higher ground. The community is flooded Few households are situated in-between tributaries of
nearly every year. Flooding is predominantly of flash flood Musingwa River and the backflow water is not as intense
type which is sudden and rapid. A combination of factors as that of Chadereka given the small size of the tributaries
including a rise of river-flow levels during the rainy season of this river system. However, floods develop gradually as
as a result of intense rainfall occurring in the Mavhura- the water level rises in the flood plain of the Musingwa
donha Mountains located upstream, backflow of the Hoya river system due to excessive torrential rains and backflow.
and Nzou-Mvunda rivers and the breaching of the land The term dambakurima in the local language means failed
separating the two rivers makes the area particularly agriculture, or simply ‘do not farm in this land due to the
susceptible to flash flooding. The term chadereka in the resultant food insecurity from flooding’.
local language means low-lying land. This denotes how
susceptible the place is to flooding when running water 4. Methodology
from the two rivers covers the land at great speed leaving
people without much time to evacuate with their Primary data were collected between September
belongings. 2011 and June 2012 through key informant interviews,
42 E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48

household surveys and focus group discussions in Chader- analyse the factors leading to variations in the adoption of
eka and Dambakurima communities. The three data col- coping strategies.
lection methods allowed for triangulation, which verified,
corroborated, enhanced the credibility and trustworthi- 5.1. Comparative analysis of flooding in Chadereka
ness or validity of the data [16,17]. Ten (10) formal inter- and Dambakurima communities
views were conducted involving village heads, ward
councillors, school heads and nursing staff of the clinics Both communities experience recurrent flooding, but
in the communities, the police and staff from the DA’s this is more severe in Chadereka than in Dambakurima.
office, Muzarabani. Some of the questions asked were: Chadereka community suffered moderate to high flooding
What socio-economic and environmental impact do floods between 2001 and 2010 while Dambakurima endured only
have in your area? What coping strategies did the com- light to moderate flooding. Over the same period, the
munity employ during the 2008 flooding event? What average flood duration was between two and three weeks
determines/influences the choice of the coping strategies? for Chadereka community and one week for Dambakurima
What preventive strategies were employed by the com- community. With regard to the depth of floodwater
munity prior to the flooding event of 2008? The inter- (average flood-water height from the base of the dwelling
viewees were selected purposively while households for unit), there was more than one and half metres of water in
the survey were identified using a simple random sam- most households in Chadereka community compared to
pling procedure from a total of 120 households. one metre in Dambakurima. Thus, evidence of flood
The survey provided data on flood coping strategies impacts reveal that Chadereka is more prone to flooding
that members of the two communities employ before, than Dambakurima. This has resulted in destruction of
during and after a flood event. Some of the questions crops, public infrastructure, loss of livestock and water
asked were: What strategies do you use to save human contamination. Table 1 lists other attributes pertaining to
lives and household items from flooding? How do you flood impacts in the study communities.
protect crops, poultry and other livestock from flooding?
How do you adapt to food insecurity and water scarcity 5.2. Indigenous flood prevention and coping strategies
during flooding? A five-point Likert scale of rating (ranging
from strongly agree to strongly disagree) was used during The coping strategies were considered in this context to
the same survey. The respondents were asked to indicate be the approaches people employ to deal successfully with
their level of agreement or disagreement with a set of a crisis [18]. Residents of Chadereka and Dambakurima
statements dealing with flood impacts and the commu- villages developed their own coping strategies to guard
nities’ coping strategies. Chadereka community had 56 against flooding. These can be classified as structural or
households and Dambakurima had 63 households that non-structural; indigenous or modern. However, these
participated in the survey, making a total of 116 house- residents are used to relying on various indigenous stra-
holds in the two communities. Of the 116 questionnaires tegies. The adoption of a particular set of strategies
that were distributed; 107 were completed and returned, depended on people’s socio-economic circumstances and
giving a participation rate of 92.2 per cent. the characteristics of the flood. The study findings suggest
One focus group discussion comprising 12 participants that a household’s response to a flood does not involve the
purposively-selected was conducted in each community. adoption of all strategies but rather the sequential imple-
The same interview questions were used so as to explore mentation of preventative and mitigative initiatives [19].
the role of indigenous knowledge in reducing the impact The sequence associated with preventive strategies includes
of floods in Muzarabani district. The participants were the placing of barriers around a house, avoidance of
drawn from the communities concerned. Each group had construction materials susceptible to cracking during
six male and six female participants of between 20 and 50 flooding, construction of floating houses and raising the
years of age. The selection of a gender balanced-group was platform of the kitchens and storerooms so that they keep
meant to ensure a balanced view of the coping strategies food, water, fuel and valuables during flooding. Likewise,
employed by both men and women when faced by flood the sequence associated with mitigative strategies includes
disasters. Both descriptive and inferential statistics were reducing the number of meals, relying on inexpensive
used to analyse the data. food, collecting wild fruits and honey, taking shelter on
higher ground with one’s personal belongings; searching
for alternative sources of income, and selling assets. It is
5. Results not necessarily the case, though, that all affected house-
holds move along this continuum; rather, it depends on
The results of this study reflect several of the elements their level of vulnerability and their ability to absorb the
apparent in Dekens’ (2) framework for analysing traditional shocks of floods. The following subsections discusses over-
knowledge in disaster preparedness. At the community all preventive and mitigative strategies.
levels, disaster preparedness is a product of practices and
beliefs that are greatly influenced by community structures 5.2.1. Strategies to save human lives and household items
within the local context. Therefore in this section, the Various earlier works suggest that in flood-affected local-
reasearchers first compare the flood impacts in Chadereka ities, coping starts with efforts to save people’s lives, such as
and Dambakurima communities; then present the indigen- raising a homestead before a flood [21,22]. What is interesting
ous flood prevention and coping strategies. Finally they from the perspective of this study is the accompanying coping
E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48 43

Table 1
Comparative analysis of the 2008 flood impacts in Chadereka and Dambakurima communities.
Sources: Key informant interviews, household survey and focus group discussion with members from the two villages.

Flood impacts Chadereka Dambakurima

Riverbank erosion About three quarters of the land area eroded and A quarter of the land area eroded and siltation
heavy siltation of the rivers of the rivers increased
Soil fertility Improvement in soil fertility as a result of alluvium Improvement in soil fertility as a result of alluvium
deposits in flood plain deposits in flood plain
Width of the river Great widening of the Hoya river compounded Small widening of the Musingwa river compounded
by stream-bank cultivation by stream-bank cultivation
Drinking water pollution All shallow wells and boreholes were inundated All shallow wells and half of the boreholes were submerged
Surface water pollution Decomposition of human and domestic waste Decomposition of human and domestic waste
in stagnant water in stagnant water
Loss of crops Most crops were severely destroyed Three quarters of crops were destroyed
Food insecurity during floods 75 per cent of households insecure 41 per cent of households insecure
Common diseases and conditions Cholera, diarrhoea, malaria Cholera, diarrhoea, malaria
Impact on school attendance Very high rate of absenteeism from school High rate of absenteeism from school
Damage to public infrastructure Bridges swept away, roads severely damaged, blocks Damage to roads, bridges and isolated classroom
of classrooms cracking blocks developed cracks
Loss of livestock Goats, pigs and chicken swept away Few goats, pigs and chicken were lost
Damage to individual property Mud houses destroyed and toilets collapsed Mud houses destroyed and toilets collapsed

measures people introduce to live in greater safety. Given raised land and a platform, community members avoid the
previous experience of flooding, communities tend to elevate use of materials that are susceptible to cracking; rather
their bed using bricks or stones. Some use raised platforms they prefer their traditional huts and houses which float
(dara)1 outside their houses as shelter and others seek for during flooding events. In addition some community
safety in relatively higher ground. This is true in both members sow coach grass (Cynodon dactylon) around their
Chadereka and Dambakurima communities. Our findings houses to guard against erosion. About 60 per cent of
suggest that the building of dara and their application during respondents in Chadereka said that the sowing of coach
flooding is a normal practice in both communities. grass (C. dactylon) around the houses was a common
Besides attempting to save human lives, communities technique to protect it from erosion, whereas in Damba-
also try to rescue their assets such as furniture and kitchen kurima only 33 per cent reported employing this method.
utensils. Initially they keep their kitchen utensils on mud People said that they had raised primarily the floor of their
shelves built in the kitchen or outside on a dara. Such bedrooms due to changing heights of floodwaters each year.
shelves are built at a height of about a metre or two from
the ground so that kitchen utensils are not washed away 5.2.3. Strategies to protect crops
when floodwaters rises. Depending on the size of the dara, Subsistence farming is the viable livelihood in the area
these can be used to store fodder, ploughs, grains and any and crops grown are only drought-resistant ones with
other properties. Techniques to save property also vary seasonal markets in the local area. This is done to increase
between households of the two communities. In both food security of the households. The farmers in both
communities 81.3 per cent of all respondents said they communities have adopted different kinds of indigenous
preferred to build dara to protect their household items. coping strategies to protect their crops from the impacts of
Few people (18.7 per cent) reported that they were flooding. These range from the selection of appropriate
prepared to move to higher ground with all their posses- varieties that suit the local climate, soil conditions and the
sions during a flood event. time frame of floods. Household survey data show that in
both communities, significant numbers of farmers follow
5.2.2. Techniques to save shelter the crop calendar of the agro-ecological region 5 (in which
Techniques to protect shelter depend on the risk posed they are located), though the cropping pattern is not
by flood and erosion. Some studies conducted in flood similar in the two study communities. This region is an
prone areas such as Bangladesh emphasise how villagers arid one which receives erratic rainfall per year, making it
built their dwelling units on raised land or on earthen difficult for subsistence farmers who rely on rain-fed
platforms so that water cannot reach the plinth level in a agriculture for their living. In Dambakurima, 80 per cent
low magnitude flood [19,20]. However, this study finds of farmers grow drought resistant crops such as millet,
that apart from the usual practice of erecting shelter on cotton, rapoko and early-maturity varieties of maize
during the short rain season. This is mainly done in areas
far-away from the flood plain to deliberately avoid the
Dara is a raised platform built outside the house to keep household
utensils and equipment. The platform can be a metre or three metres
washing away of crops by floods. During the long dry
from the ground level. Depending on its size, the dara can also be used to season of the year the same subsistence farmers grow
stock fodder and as refuge during flooding. maize and vegetables using residual moisture from floods
44 E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48

in the plains. This practice is commonly known as mud- flood. A common observation is that post-flood diseases
zedze2 and is done along the river bed, banks and flood spread through the drinking of contaminated water. Peo-
plains of Musingwa River. Farmers use zero tillage ple are aware of the risk of consuming contaminated water
whereby they prepare holes of more than 30 cm deep but often they are unable to procure pure water as shallow
and plant their seeds. Germination occurs and the crops wells and boreholes are submerged and water purifying
mature without irrigation. In this way farmers increase materials are not available. It is impossible to boil water
their food security during the whole year. frequently as traditional fuel resources such as cow dung
In Chadereka, by contrast, only 25 per cent of the cake and fuel wood become wet during the flood. This
respondents indicated that they were practicing mudzedze finding is important, as whilst we found many examples of
and this improved their food security. A large proportion successful adaptation strategies, health risks had not been
of the community members (75 per cent) said they did not overcome across this region. This reality is made highly
have a piece of land along the flood plains of the rivers; evident by the outbreaks of cholera particularly during the
hence they could not practice mudzedze. This situation latter parts of 2008 until 2009 during the season for
made them vulnerable to drought and food insecurity flooding [24].
because their reliance on rain-fed agriculture often led to
low production of food. Hence, this study confirms the 5.2.6. Adaptations to food insecurity
findings of Rasid and Mallik [22] and Paul and Routray Scarcity of food during and after a flood is a common
[19], regarding agricultural cropping patterns and related phenomenon in flood-affected areas. When faced with
strategies in the case of Bangladesh. such an insufficient food supply, the household head is
primarily responsible for feeding the family members.
He or she adopts different measures to cope with such a
5.2.4. Strategies to protect poultry and livestock
situation, including reducing the number of meals per day
Poultry and livestock are important assets for house-
and relying on inexpensive food stuffs such as vegetable
holds with low incomes in both areas. During the initial
leaves and wild fruits. The study confirms that in both
stage of a flood, households keep their poultry and live-
communities, skipping a meal is a coping strategy and that
stock in pens on slightly higher parts of their homestead.
there are variations in dependency on inexpensive food.
When this becomes unsafe, they move them to safer
Approximately 38 per cent of respondents in Dambakur-
places on higher ground, or they sell the poultry and
ima and 62 per cent in Chadereka had decreased their
livestock to outsiders. Household survey data show that
meals and increased their dependency on inexpensive
51.4 per cent of respondents in Chadereka prefer to move
food. The situation is more severe in Chadereka because
their poultry and livestock to safer places on higher
of the high impact of flooding and the poor economic
ground, while in Dambakurima 23 per cent of them prefer
circumstances of most residents. By contrast, respondents
to keep their livestock on a raised part of their homestead.
in Dambakurima said that they had reduced their number
When all such measures fail, 51.5 per cent of respondents
of meals because of wet firewood during and immediately
in both communities reported selling their poultry and
after the flood. Consequently they prepared two light
livestock to outsiders.
meals per day.
Households in both communities employ many other
5.2.5. Coping strategies to conserve food and water coping methods during a flood. Among households
The storage of food and water is a big challenge for exposed to shocks, for example, borrowing money after a
victims of a flood. People prefer and use polythene bags to flood [23] and disposing of assets are considered very
stockpile dry food, grain and seed. These are then kept in a important initiatives. The study found that the most
special hut called dura.3 Seventy-five per cent of the total common assets sold in both communities to overcome
households in both communities prefer plastic containers difficult periods and manage crisis are cattle, pigs, goats,
to transport water as they are easy to seal and carry. chicken and sheep.
In most houses, the storing place is higher than the normal
floor; such places remain safe until there is high flood- 5.3. Variations in the adoption of coping practices: selective
water. However, when floodwater increases, communities determinants
usually relocate to higher ground with their containers of
food and water. About 60 per cent of all the respondents Every locality might have some established or tradi-
have raised the basement level of their storerooms. tional coping strategies, but the type of response adopted
Most of the study participants expressed a great need by community members and its effectiveness may vary
for pure drinking water during and immediately after a over time [22]. Many of these coping mechanisms may fail,
and not because people’s ability to cope is overwhelmed
2 by the scale of the flooding. In effect, changes in the size of
Mudzedze: This is a traditional practice to grow food crops along
flood plains during the dry season. The crops are not irrigated; rather the population and the economy, in the local market and
they use residual moisture from flooding. The practice leads to heavy the environment, and in the source of the livelihood of
siltation of rivers and dams downstream. each household and in flood characteristics can make the
Dura: This is a traditional hut meant to store grain and other food coping mechanisms outdated [24]. The study’s findings
stuffs. The hut is raised from the ground floor by large stones and
hardwood logs. It is then built using wood or bricks. The design of the
suggest that traditional strategies make a positive con-
dura is varied. Some have doors at about a metre from the ground and tribution to improving people’s adaptability to a flood
others have a hole at the top that is used to access the food. hazard, but as a whole, it is a complex process, linked to
E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48 45

other physical and socioeconomic variables. Therefore the relation to disposing assets. High income groups are able
discussion of variations in the adoption of coping strate- to cope with a disaster without selling their assets. Low
gies that follows considers endogenous factors, such as income groups are more likely to cope with the situation
income, education, and occupation, and exogenous factors by disposing their assets, though the contrasts are less
such as external assistance, flood characteristics and extreme than the case of food availability and differences
riverbank erosion. in eating behaviour (Table 2).

5.3.1. Household’s income level’s influence on traditional 5.3.2. Level of education as a determinant of coping
coping strategies practices
The income level of a household is closely linked to Education is one of the important determinants of
coping strategies. Households with high income or savings coping and adaptation measures to increase one’s resi-
can readily help themselves during a flood event and as lience to disasters and enhance one’s quality of life [26].
such are less vulnerable to flood impacts [25]. Table 2 Education level is also very important in generating
shows that the income level of households in the two awareness of flood forecasting. Flood warnings can reduce
communities is associated with the availability of food damages experienced by flood victims [27]. However,
during and after a flood. Food is available to the high and people’s response to a flood warning depends on accurate
middle income groups during the flooding event, while dissemination and reliability of the flood-forecasting infor-
most of the low income groups do not have sufficient food mation. Similarly, capacity to understand flood forecasting
to overcome the situation. As a result, the ability to cope varies among people with different education levels.
with flooding in terms of the storage of food is greater Table 3 shows that all household heads with a minimum
among high-income groups than it is among the low- of diploma level education and 77.8 per cent of those with
income groups. Key in this regard is the relatively high secondary-schooling are able to capture flood forecasting
agricultural production of the former groups as they information, whereas the numbers gradually decrease
possess more landholdings and farming inputs than the among households heads with only primary-school level
later farmers; increasing savings and reducing their vul- education and among those who are illiterate. Therefore,
nerability to a potential shortfall in income in a times of the higher the education level, the greater one’s capacity
disaster [19]. to understand flood forecasting and to reduce one’s
In addition, eating behaviour fluctuates among differ- vulnerability to flooding. Whilst there are complexes
ent income groups. Households in low- and a few middle- of other factors important to flood early warning
income groups prefer to reduce their number of meals and [29] the basic education indicator was found to be very
to rely on inexpensive food. These groups have few resources important here.
to buy and store food for a prolonged period of flooding.
Interestingly, the behaviour of the high income group and 5.3.3. Occupation’s influence on coping practices
a few middle income groups is quite different. They prefer The occupation of a household head is another impor-
to reduce the number of daily meals than consume tant variable that influences the adoption of coping stra-
inexpensive food. One of the reasons for this could be that tegies. The study found that food was available to
the group is quite aware of the susceptibility to water- subsistence farmers whose heads of families were formally
borne diseases during and after a flood. Similar contrasting employed, while labourers and vendors had limited
behaviour is evident among various income groups in amount of food. This is because such families are able to

Table 2
Household head’s income, food availability, eating behaviour and disposal of assets.

Level of income of household head

Low (0–100 USD Middle (101–500 USD High (above 500 USD Total
per month) per month) per month)

No. of Households (%) No. of Households (%) No. of Households (%) No. of Households (%)

Availability of food
Yes 20 31.7 19 57.6 8 72.7 47 43.9
No 43 68.3 14 42.4 3 27.3 60 56.1
Total 63 100 33 100 11 100 107 100
Changes in eating behaviour
Reduced number of meals 16 25.4 18 54.5 9 81.8 43 40.2
Reduced meals and rely on less expensive 47 74.6 15 45.5 2 18.2 64 59.8
food (both)
Total 63 100 33 100 11 100 107 100
Disposal of assets
Yes 30 47.6 18 54.5 2 18.2 50 46.7
No 33 52.4 15 45.5 9 81.8 57 53.3
Total 63 100 33 100 11 100 107 100
46 E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48

Table 3
Household head’s education level and capacity for flood forecasting.

Capacity to capture flood forecasting Illiterate Primary school Secondary school Diploma level and above Total
HHa (%) HH (%) HH (%) HH (%) HH (%)

Yes 8 34.8 27 54.0 14 77.8 16 100.0 65 60.7

No 15 65.2 23 46.0 4 22.2 0 0.0 42 39.3
Total 23 100.0 50 100.0 18 100.0 16 100.0 107 100.0

HH¼Number of households.

Table 4 5.3.5. Flood characteristics as a determinant of coping

Occupation of household head and food availability. practices
Flood characteristics, such as the height of floodwater,
Farming Vending and Formal Total
menial work employment the frequency and duration of flooding, influence people’s
adoption of coping strategies [19]. A longer period of
HHa (%) HH (%) HH (%) HH (%) stagnating water has more severe ramifications than
floodwater height. If floodwater remain stagnant for a
Availability of food
Yes 30 35.7 1 12.5 12 80.0 43 40.2
long time in a locality, the level of damage rises and hence
No 54 64.3 7 87.5 3 20.0 64 59.8 people’s ability to cope decreases. Similarly, pollution
Total 84 100.0 8 100.0 15 100.0 107 100.0 increases if water remains stagnant for a long time and
Loan to meet expenditure coping strategies fail in relation to health issues. It is
Yes 53 63.1 6 75.0 6 40.0 65 60.7
evident in this study that floodwater which stays stagnant
No 31 36.9 2 25.0 9 60.0 42 39.3
Total 84 100.0 8 100.0 15 100.0 107 84 for a long time, disrupts people’s food and drinking water
supply, reducing their ability to cope and augmenting their
HH¼Number of household. vulnerability. Thus there is a direct link between the
effectiveness of the coping strategies, the nature of flood-
outsource the food and store it safely among others. The ing and respondent’s socioeconomic conditions, with
study also revealed that borrowing during and after a flood lower income respondents being the most vulnerable.
was highest among the labourers and vendors, and in
contrast to those in formal employment (Table 4). This is 5.3.6. Distance from riverbank’s effect on coping practices
because the labourers and vendors become jobless during Localities adjacent to a riverbank are more prone to a
flooding. flood hazard. A great volume of floodwater first enters
open land along the river, damaging cropland and home-
steads, and subsequently the interiors of houses. People far
5.3.4. Influence of external assistance in the choice away from the rivers are not as vulnerable to flood risk of a
of coping practices similar intensity. Chadereka community is mainly located
External assistance such as a food relief programme has between Hoya and Nzou-Mvunda a river, which is prone to
a significant impact on a household’s capacity to respond riverbank erosion, with the severity of erosion mounting
to shocks and the timing of relief can play an important during cyclonic flooding. People in this community are
role in determining the effectiveness of coping strategies more vulnerable to flooding than their counterparts in
[28]. This study’s findings review that in addition to Dambakurima, primarily because their proximity to river-
providing food aid, some NGOs and relatives in the bank erosion and the related nature of flood.
diaspora, are also assisting the communities with inputs
and other materials to revive agricultural- and livelihood-
related activities. Food relief is a necessity but providing 6. Conclusion
food-production assistance is more sustainable and can
enhance victims’ ability to cope [29]. The study identified This research finds that flooding has disastrous impacts on
basic needs such as food, drinking water, temporary people’s socio-economic conditions as well as on the environ-
shelter and access to health services, among other vari- ment that supports them. The impact depends not only on the
ables, as important during a flood event; whereas agricul- magnitude of the event but also on some other variables such
tural inputs, employment and reconstruction of resilient as income, lack of awareness, level of education, occupational
houses are considered vital needs after a flood. Therefore, structure and the physical location of the area. Therefore the
providing such relief to those who have experienced findings are consistent with research conducted in Bangladesh
greater loss or who are poorer in the post-disaster phase [19,30,31] showing that flood problems are not merely a
can help create an enabling environment for their coping hydraulic dynamic; rather they are linked to issues of demo-
strategies. If relief is made early enough and is based on graphy, ecology, education, settlement pattern, society, socio-
victim’s priorities, this may help households to save at economic status, culture and politics.
least some of their asset base and avoid selling them or It is evident that in response to a flood, people adopt
reaching the final stage of destitution [19]. different indigenous preventive and mitigative measures
E. Mavhura et al. / International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 5 (2013) 38–48 47

in a sequential order. The implementation of such strate- these present a panacea; this understanding would be
gies may fluctuate due to variations in the aforementioned complemented by additional inputs from early warning
factors. However, the study indicates that coping techni- systems and appropriate external assistance during and
ques adopted by households fall into distinct stages: after a flood so as to further enhance victims’ ability to
preventive measures, adaptive measures and distress cope. Ultimately people aspire to moving beyond a life
mitigation. Indigenous coping strategies tend to be effec- focussed on coping and being resilient.
tive in low magnitude floods. As Thompson and Tod [21]
warned, these strategies have limited effect in reducing
damage in more extreme cases.
The adoption of coping strategies reveals an important Acknowledgements
pattern in how different households respond to a flood in
relation to factors such as education, flood characterises, We would like to thank the Development Partnerships
income, occupation and riverbank erosion. A high income in Higher Education (DelPHE) Project funded by the British
level of household is accompanied by increased access to Council at Bindura University of Science Education for
food and safe drinking water, leading to a greater ability to their financial assistance. We would like also to express
cope with a disaster without relying on inexpensive food our gratitude to the DelPHE team for their valuable
items or selling of assets. Similarly, the higher the educa- support during the action research.
tion level the greater the scope to capture flood forecasting
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