Cyclone Idai: Victims’ donations looted?

Observers say donations intended for victims of Tropical Cyclone Idai may go missing as there is lack of a centralised donation receiving centre.

A top government official said all donations should be handed over to the Civil Protection Unit, an authority mandated by government to provide protection to the victims of natural disasters.

“The CPU is in charge and this should be the driving force,” said the source.

“There is no way anyone can just get into the affected areas with truckloads of donations and bypass this government entity.”

This comes as thousands of Zimbabweans across the globe have made calls for donations meant for the victims of cyclone Idai that has left close to a hundred people dead and a trail of destruction of roads, schools and households.

In the midst of all this outpouring of goodwill some individuals have taken advantage by allegedly creating false fundraising efforts.

“People are simply posting phone numbers in various platforms such as church Whatsapp groups. 

“Some are claiming to be from areas like Chimanimani claiming to have lost their homes, but after we made donations we were unable to contact their numbers” a source said.

“Some individuals have begun to post phone numbers in comment sections of publications claiming to be from hard hit areas of Cyclone Idai and in dire need of assistance.

Such behavior, our source said, had made him skeptical to make donations in the future.

Another source, a member the ruling Zanu-PF party said some individuals were claiming to be working on behalf of the party in its efforts to fundraise for cyclone victims.

“Youths who claimed to be Zanu-PF provincial committee members told us to donate cash, food and clothes as they were on their way to help victims.

“But I did not recognise them,” he said.

Numerous civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, corporates and individuals have called on citizens to make donations on various platforms, bypassing the government’s Civil Protection Unit (CPU). 

Speaking in a phone interview from Chipinge on Tuesday, Civil Protection Unit (CPU) director Nathan Nkomo said he was disturbed by the reports of possible looting.

“Yes, people should be making their donations through us because we have our provincial administrative officers in the major cities and in Chipinge we have established systems where people can make their donations,” he said.

He said it was important donations should be channeled through his organisation to ensure accountability and effective distribution to flood victims.

The main opposition MDC Alliance has established its own “command centers” in Harare and Mutare where donations can be dropped off, with its leader Nelson Chamisa making a personal trip to Manicaland on Monday.

Nkomo emphasised the issue of channeling donations through the CPU was also a matter of safety.

“It is difficult to talk right now, I am driving in a jungle, this is not a safe location for people to visit. But God-willing by end of day we will have provided some relief to the people of Chipinge,” he said.

Nkomo added government was doing all it could in its response efforts but it needed the support of the citizenry.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube on Monday announced a RTGS $50 million fund to repair the damage caused by Cyclone Idai with $3 million intended for the CPU.

Ncube said money was being allocated towards capacitating the CPU as well as road repairs, power and water infrastructure.

Various groups do however continue making donation without the involvement of the CPU.

Mobile operator, Econet has provided a biller code for cash donations.  Its chief executive officer, Douglas Mboweni said Econet Shops had been receiving blankets, water bottles, food, and medicines.

Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Fortune Chasi also called on citizens to make donations through their social media platform Whatsapp to match the $5 million donation made by Econet.

Musician, Alick Macheso has urged citizens to the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, whilst Jah Prayzah called for donations to be sent to  his offices in Harare.

Human rights lawyer Doug Coltart also called for donations to a GoFundMe page, one of many created since the disaster began. 

Cyclone Idai has already claimed an estimated 89 lives and the death toll is expected to rise with areas such as Chimanimani and Chipinge reportedly hardest hit by intense rains and floods.

This is not the first time that donations to flood victims have been looted.

In 2014 victims of the Tokwe-Mukorsi dam floods in Masvingo made claims that senior government officials looted their donations.

A pressure group, Coalition Against Corruption also urged parliament to probe the then Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, over the alleged disappearance of some funds and other donations meant for Chingwizi camp flood victims.

CAC director, Terry Mutsvanga, said his organization was unhappy with reports that more than $500,000 donated by the Chinese government to assist the Chingwizi flood victims did not reached its intended beneficiaries.