HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnists‘Ticking water time bomb’

‘Ticking water time bomb’

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The water summit in Harare last week was important, but came at a time the country has already suffered a series of disease outbreaks due to acute shortage of safe drinking water especially in urban centres across the country — perhaps due to poor service delivery or misplaced priorities by local authorities.

Nobody knows why it took so long for government to convene such a meeting to address the water situation. Harare was hit by typhoid recently, recording over 3 000 cases.

The disease has since spread to far-flung areas in the countryside. That coupled with poor rains also means Zimbabwe will grapple with serious food shortages as it seeks to provide food to its poor citizens.

President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at different settings indicated Zimbabwe is facing a food deficit due to the poor agriculture season, and indicated a Cabinet taskforce has been in place to import grain to augment food levels to alleviate the plight of the general populace.

The communities of Masvingo, Beitbridge, Bulawayo, the Matabeleland region and some parts of the Midlands have been severely impacted by recurrent droughts, and would need food aid by May.

The water resource comprises one sector that is highly dependent on and influenced by climate change, and Zimbabwe is already experiencing water stress as a result of insufficient and unreliable rainfall that changes patterns.

Researchers say Africa’s population is expected to increase to 1,1 billion in 2030 and 1,5 billion in 2050, and the most difficult part is populations will become increasingly urban.

Overall, water demand can therefore be expected to more than double without considering rises in per capita demand for food and water.

Clearly climate change is expected to have serious environmental, economic and social impacts in the country.

In particular, rural farmers whose livelihoods depend on the use of natural resources are likely to bear the brunt of the adverse effects.

Ironically, the extent to which these impacts are felt depends in large part on the extent of adaptation in response to climate change. Without adaptation, climate change would be detrimental to the agricultural sector, yet with adaptation vulnerability can be significantly reduced. It appears the fight against climate change is a “lone battle” by Environment minister Francis Nhema and a few environmental civic groups.

It is pertinent to note that the drought Zimbabwe is facing is testimony that Africa’s variable climate is already contributing significantly to its development problems, and yet government support that would help the poor households to adapt to climate change is “very limited”.

The key development sectors of agriculture, water, energy, transport and health are all sensitive to climate variability. Climate-related disasters — catastrophic floods in low-lying Zambezi Valley areas or prolonged droughts in the southern parts of the country — have enormous social and economic impacts that can negate years of development efforts.

The negative impacts of climate change at the household level multiply on the national economy.

Climate thus presents a risk to both livelihoods and government, but at the same time it also presents opportunities that can be exploited.

Zimbabwe is not currently benefiting from all that climate science has to offer. Climate information, which feeds into decision-making as a matter of course in most developing countries is mostly failing to reach decision-makers in useful and useable forms especially on the continent.

Why has the country failed to invest in a computer-driven weather-forecasting tool known as “General Circulation Model” that can be used to understand current climate conditions and project future climate change?

Due to lack of primary data on which to base the model, predicting Zimbabwe’s climate changes remains uncertain and the climate observation system is in a far worse state than those of other countries, and is deteriorating.

Climate change is another of the many security threats facing Zimbabwe because it is likely to produce a host of social and political problems that are likely to weaken the communities dotted around the country.

Changes to the climate may thus seriously threaten political and economic stability — what with the call for elections sometime this year!

As can be seen, climate change is already putting a strain on the capacity of the inclusive government to coordinate activities, to communicate and to organise.

This weakening effect is hugely problematic in terms of human security as it has jeopardised health, livelihoods and development.

Agriculture, which provides a livelihood for 70% of the country’s population, is mainly rain-fed. Severe and prolonged droughts, flooding and loss of arable land due to desertification and soil erosion are reducing agricultural yields and causing crop failure and loss of livestock, which endangers rural populations.

In contrast to the lack of knowledge on the direction and magnitude of hydrological changes under different climate scenarios, the prospects of demographic change because of Zimbabwe’s overdependence on rain-fed agriculture compounded by factors such as widespread poverty and weak capacity, are strong.

Therefore, the public expects government to increase water availability and reliability of water in agriculture through irrigation as a preferred option to increase productivity and contribute to poverty reduction.

Given that few farmers have adjusted their farming practices despite perceiving changes in climate change, government should facilitate adaptation by enabling them to overcome barriers.

Specifically, government policies should ensure that farmers have access to affordable credit which would give them greater flexibility to modify their production strategies in response to climate change.

More importantly, extension services need to be expanded with highly qualified personnel to subsistence farmers countrywide.

Additional measures required are improving off-farm income-earning opportunities and facilitating a smooth transition from subsistence to commercial farming.

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