Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction:

The Place of Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Preparedness.


When disaster looms, nature often gives us clues through the wind, the rain and even the singing of birds. Dr Nyunyutai Mudzingwa, a disability rights activist and member of the Zimbabwe Association of the Visually Handicapped (ZAVH), believes that everyone, including persons with disabilities, should be able to understand these signs. Below, Dr Mudzingwa talks about indigenous early warning systems in Zimbabwe and how they can be harnessed for disaster risk reduction.

Indigenous wisdom: nature's early warning systems that have been practised for generations in Zimbabwe:

  • High temperatures signify abundant rains in the season; low temperatures imply less rain in the season.
  • Wind blowing from the south symbolises less rain but when it blows from the north it signifies abundant rains.
  • The incessant singing of cicadas (sound-producing flying insects) is a symbol of abundant rains in the season but the singing of a certain type of bird (hoto) in Shona symbolises less rain.
  • When birds build their nests on low tree branches there is less rainfall but when they build their nests on high tree branches there is much rainfall.
  • Flocking together of a type of bird called mashohori in Shona predicts much rainfall, the opposite of which signifies less rain in the season.
  • Too many locusts in the season is a sign of drought, the opposite signifies abundant rains.
  • Much fruit, for example, chakata and mashuku in Shona is a sign of drought. The opposite symbolises the abundance of rain.

These indigenous early warning systems can be useful for some people with disabilities. For example:

  • Almost all persons with different disabilities can feel the heat of the sun. Then they can tell and interpret what this means. The singing of cicadas and birds (matendera) can be utilised by persons with visual impairment. They can understand the meaning of the singing.
  • Persons with hearing impairments and those with physical challenges – but who can see – benefit from seeing many locusts and much fruit after which they can deduce what it means in relation to early warning systems.

These indigenous early warning systems in Zimbabwe should be documented and widely disseminated in Zimbabwe. The goal is clear: to ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, is prepared and able to respond when disaster strikes.

Dr Nyunyutai Mudzingwa

Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Preparedness in Zimbabwe.

How are organisations of persons with disabilities involved in disability inclusive disaster risk reduction?

OPDs play a pivotal role in disability inclusive disaster risk reduction. Here are some examples of the work OPDs do in Zimbabwe.

  • OPDs engage the department of civil protection (DCP) to discuss issues around disasters and disaster management as a way of being capacitated.  They, in turn disseminate that information to their constituency.
  • They visit disaster prone districts for example, Bikita, Chivi and Mwenezi in Zimbabwe to raise awareness on disaster preparedness for them to be disaster responsive.
  • OPDs source resources from government, non-governmental and international organisations to assist the affected persons with disabilities in the districts.
  • Through their focal persons, OPDs engineer the creation of inclusive ward committees where DIDRR issues are discussed.  Representation of persons with disabilities in the architecture of the department of civil protection (civil protection committees).
  • OPDs have a database of persons with disabilities in place, for easy monitoring in the times of disasters.
  • OPDs sensitise community leadership on disability rights, putting emphasis on the importance of persons with disabilities. They also conduct awareness-raising workshops for persons with disabilities for them to know and claim their rights.
  • They participate in cluster coordination meetings such as the food security and livelihoods cluster. OPDs advocate for inclusion of persons with disabilities in different interventions and increase the prioritisation of persons with disabilities.
  • OPDs train humanitarian actors and government in disability inclusive DRR programming. ZAVH has trained authorities and humanitarian actors such as CARE International in Masvingo province on DIDRR.
  • OPDs work with the CBM Zimbabwe country office on inclusive risk assessment and planning. ZAVH has developed ideas and written proposals with the CBM country office.
  • OPDs have also conducted accessibility audits in camps for internally displaced persons (IDP). In the case of 2019 Cyclone Idai, the Quadriplegic Persons Association of Zimbabwe conducted an accessibility audit in the three IDP camps that were set up in the district of Chimanimani.