Politicians must stop grandstanding over climate change

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The first day of October in England broke the record for the highest temperature recorded in October.

It recorded at 29,9 degrees Celsius at a time when everyone was readying for winter. That side of the world such temperatures are definitive of a heatwave which sent most of the people to the beaches to cool it off.

And of course, for once most people were exuberant about the “second coming of summer” in a country which is perennially cold.

Here in the southern hemisphere, the story was totally different, not that we didn’t have our own weather surprises. Most parts of Southern Africa experienced torrential rain-accompanied storms and tornados with trails of destruction.

On October 2, some parts of South Africa were hit by strong to severe thunderstorms producing at least two damaging tornadoes hitting the areas around Duduza township in the eastern part of Johannesburg and Ficksburg in the Free State.

Several deaths were recorded in the two areas and over 180 people were reported injured as the severe weather moved through Duduza.

But it left almost 700 houses damaged and over 2 600 people without a roof over their heads.

According to Duduza communities, the tornado which is popularly known by the local communities as a “flying snake”, only lasted for not more than five minutes.

In those five minutes, people’s lives were reduced to zero. Over 2 600 people may not be able to own a house again in the near future, if they are not assisted.

This is happening less than eight weeks before the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) convenes in Durban to discuss climate-change issues.

It is clear that these two weather phenomena are effects of climate change and it will surely feed into the COP 17 agenda.

The South Africa government, which is hosting the conference for the first time on African soil, have been on the forefront telling world leaders world will suffer dire consequences if food security was not placed on the agenda at November’s COP 17 climate-change meeting.

“If we do not act against climate change, and also ensure that the parties reach an agreement that will take us forward in the reduction of global carbon emissions, our development is at stake, our future is at stake, our pristine beaches are at stake,” said the Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa.

But stating that parties must reach an agreement, shows the minister is targeting global leaders.

Nothing wrong with that, but looking at the two scenarios, one can’t avoid the glaring double standards and political grandstanding by the South African government and perhaps typical of most African governments.

Firstly it is the same government that facilitated the construction of low-cost houses in Duduza under its Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).

RDP houses as they are popularly known are built using cheap and sometimes substandard materials such as those in Kuwadzana Extension in Harare.

The RDP concept is more influenced by political reasons as it was a shotgun approach to quell the impatient communities who threaten to rise against the government for failure to deliver on accommodation.

And RDP was a quick-fix hence it is also be easily blown off by strong winds. That should be the beginning of protecting people from the vagaries of climate change.

The effects of climate change are multi-faceted and require a holistic approach in order to save the poor than grandstanding.

While food security is one of the primary victims, climate change will cause numerous disasters such as tornadoes and one of the ways to prepare is to ensure the construction of proper and strong houses.

While it is vital to push the big ozone polluters to reduce carbon emissions, it is equally important to pass national laws and policies which prepare and protect people from different kinds of disasters.

On August 29 this year, the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum released the 2011/2012 climate outlooks which suggest that the period between October and December 2011, the bulk of Southern Africa and western Madagascar are likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall.

The weather outlook further projects that the period between January and March 2012, the bulk of Southern Africa is expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall.

In general terms, it means the region is likely to receive fairly good rains which should be able to sustain the farming season if all preparations are done in good time.

By preparation, I don’t mean jingles for kongonya dance, but the agriculture inputs. This is the right time to start encouraging farmers to till the land and tell politicians not to disturb, but support the busy farmers. The country needs more food than it needs political party supporters.

While above normal rainfall doesn’t always translate into flooding, there is a possibility of some places experiencing excessive rainfall which may lead to flooding.

The eastern highlands and Muzarabani are the usual suspects. Preparedness has to start now even before COP 17 begins.