Flood controlling mechanisms for vulnerable rural communities

Peter Makwanya

Flood controlling mechanisms are key actions and survival strategies for resilience building in fragile rural communities with weak soils, poor drainage systems and waterways. During the current rainy season, all methods used to reduce or prevent the damaging effects of flood waters are critical and essential lifelines for humans, livestock, agricultural landscapes, vegetation, plants and crops. As rainfall exceeds its normal precipitation levels, it goes out of control, resulting in wide scale loss and damage to community livelihoods.

This discussion foregrounds flood controlling mechanisms in rural areas more as compared to urban areas. The reasons being that, the majority of rural communities are quite vulnerable and have least coping mechanisms as compared to urban areas. It is in urban areas where resilience planning in the construction sector is practised, although with weak links of course. While urban areas experience all sorts of flooding due to deliberate negation of the building by-laws at least some forms of construction due-processes are observed.

It is against this background that, rural communities situated in marginal and remote areas where flooding is concentrated, are on the frontline of flooding. Therefore, they need to be sufficiently conscientised, made aware and empowered with sustainable building knowledge and information as a critical missing link.

Rural communities require integration of their traditional flood controlling mechanisms with modern flood controlling pathways in order to achieve resilience in the rural settlement patterns and construction sector. With their local conditions and situations in mind, rural communities need to engage in mopping and constructing sandbags, rock rip-raps, rubble, vegetation, dykes (for controlling or holding back the flooding waters) or leeves (flood banks, long ridge of sand, silt or artificial embankments) including retention or detention basins (pond like bodies of water for holding water permanently against run-offs). With the realisation that human-induced activities accelerate climate change impacts, it calls for human interventions to change human behaviours.

It  is  a  norm  that  rural settlement patterns are concentrated adjacent to rivers and streams, wetlands and ponds where water resources are available. Trouble will always emerge when uncontrolled human activities like practising agriculture on stream and river banks occurs, thereby destroying vegetation that hold soils together to control soil erosion. Illegal small-scale gold panning is another menace that contributes to siltation of streams and rivers. Overgrazing and building of new settlements contribute to deforestation, leaving landscapes bare.

What  increases  the vulnerabilities of rural communities to flooding is lack of mechanised and systematic drainage patterns, leading to landscapes getting overwhelmed by forces of flood water. Many rural communities do not observe the 30m distance from the stream or river regulation. There used to be natural water-chains where flood water would have safe passage without damaging anything but nowadays these water-chains have been turned into arable land, leaving the land exposed to soil erosion and run-off.

Rural communities appear not to have any idea on how best they can deal with concentrated overgrazing, deforestation for agricultural activities and land degradation that they are currently causing. Rural communities need to be empowered on how best they can link current emerging flooding activities to their human activities and climate change. An integrated working knowledge of these phenomena requires sufficient and sustainable mainstreaming.

The other point of concern is that rural communities seem to have forgotten even the traditional methods of countering floods that were practised before. Leaving trees concentrated along stream and river banks, aquifers and ponds have been ignored, sidelined and replaced with illegal mining, unselective harvesting of poles and grass for construction purposes which allows passage of destructive flood waters.

The other reason stems from rural areas’ fragile types of soils and settlements, built with locally available materials which are not integrated with modern building strategies, materials and technologies. In this regard, nobody seems to care about the rural communities’ vulnerability to flooding and  the negative impacts of climate change.

In order to reduce the damaging effects of floods, they need to be handled in the context of natural disasters, human activities and climate change. There are still quite a number of rural communities which need to be reminded about managing floods the traditional way taking cognisance of modern action and resilient community adaptation practices. This is important in avoiding economic losses, losses of livelihood options, loss of indigenous knowledge resilience practices, infrastructure, human lives, among others.

Even in the urban areas, in the context of resilience in the construction sectors, floods remain a menace despite the available knowledge.

Roads have been destroyed so as powerlines, streetwalks, residential areas and communication facilities, among others.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: [email protected] 

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