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Climate change spawning disasters

Opinion & Analysis
FOR many decades, climate was seen as constant and even the science shows that it was constant because first rains fell between October 15 and 18 every year in Zimbabwe, with local farmers arranging their planting calendars in line with the seasons.

FOR many decades, climate was seen as constant and even the science shows that it was constant because first rains fell between October 15 and 18 every year in Zimbabwe, with local farmers arranging their planting calendars in line with the seasons.


But over the past 30 years, the situation has changed as onset of the rains appears to have shifted as seasons have drastically changed, with rainfall falling much later in the year in November or December, or sometimes in January the following year.

In fact rainfall patterns have become so unpredictable that many farmers are left off guard, encountering so many losses.

Speaking during a recent indaba on climate change, principal researcher-Climate Change Management Department in the Ministry of Environment Water and Climate, Elisha Moyo, noted that Zimbabwe could fall into the United Nations’ “absolute water scarcity category” by 2080.

Moyo explained that the country now spends so much on climate related disasters like food procurement due to climate induced crop failure.

“Recently, hotter and less cold days are being experienced that is what used to happen in the past. Rainfall has become more erratic, spatialy and temporary with the number of rain days reduced.

“Mid-season dry spells increased and Zimbabwe’s long term rainfall is generally on a decreasing trend,” Moyo said. He also noted that climate change had robbed vulnerable people’s peace, as malaria and other water borne diseases sky- rocket following flooding.

The heavy rains that hit Harare

“We share the atmosphere with those most polluting yet we are generally least adaptive,” he said.

Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF) country director Juergen Langen said symptoms of changing climate such as greater frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions, changes to average temperature and precipitation, and sea level rise had implications for a country’s environmental socio-economic situation.

“The diagnosis of planet earth seems rather clear in that constantly growing human and industrial activities have caused dramatically increased emissions of greenhouse gasses, which in turn cause the global climate to change rapidly and probably irreversibly.

“The symptoms of climate change are likely to cause more and more natural disasters, extreme weather events and climate induced migration movements,” Langen said.

Langen noted that changes in land use in Zimbabwe especially through agriculture; and economic and technological transformation was one of the major factors that had brought about environmental and climate change.

“Livestock farming is widespread and cultivated plants have to adapt to the dry climate because in the past, smallholder agriculture functioned with the use of fallow ground.

But this is no longer possible due to prolonged dry spells, inadequate irrigation systems and overuse of land.

“The poor quality of the soil is due to droughts, inferior seed and deforestation, among other things, that has resulted in a drastic fall in crop yields,” Langen said.

There was, however, debate that ensued following presentations by various experts, which noted that information not in the public domain does not add any value. It is useless.

“There is need to have this information out to ordinary people through a communication strategy over both social and traditional media, otherwise many people will not buy the idea,” said an official from the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).

Obert Jiri, from the University of Zimbabwe said: “We need to integrate the knowledge we now have with what people in communities have been using all along. Indigenous knowledge systems are important and should be integrated with science.”

This, Jiri noted, is because people in rural areas have been adapting alone over the past few years.

Julieth Makombe, another climate expert, noted that there was need to simplify vocabulary, so that such discussions are not limited to academic circles when discussing climate change.

“Civic education — when going ahead to educate the people we should take note of the 16 officially recognised languages for translation to demystify the debate. Indigenous knowledge systems are related to the translations into indigenous languages,” noted another participant.

Maria Goss, from the University of Zimbabwe, said people at grassroots level should be involved and then take the knowledge down to the ordinary person who is dealing with effects of climate change on their plots.

“It is important to take cognisance of small-scale farms that are most in need of this knowledge. As well, it is essential that we get the youth involved in these issues,” Goss said.

The aspect of adaptation was noted as a matter of great importance to Zimbabwe and other countries that were experiencing effects of this phenomenon.

Although Zimbabwe’s contribution to green house emissions was very insignificant when compared to industrialised countries that are supposed to reduce their share of these emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, the country has suffered the brunt of climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997, and entered into force on February 16, 2005, is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets.

“Zimbabwe needs to major on the “minor” issues like drought resistant in general. Further, we should involve gender balance, by also engaging the women,” an environmental expert Desire Nemashakwe said.

David Manenji, an environmental expert who works with young people, said there should be emphasis not only at implementation stage, but throughout the development cycle on climate change awareness. He said aware at local communities should start from conception.

“In Ruwa, planting of trees has become a way of dealing with the effects of climate change and these small efforts should be taken seriously,” Manenji said.

Another contribution came from an official from the City of Harare who said there was need for concerted efforts to produce targeted information, which could be used by local authorities to reduce waste carbon footprint.

“Local authorities will need to come up especially with new ways of managing waste — developing reuse and recycling concepts to create productivity out of waste. In the next 24 months, 10 000 of the city’s 80 000 streetlights will be under solar energy — we need research to continue such urban initiatives,” he said.

Another issue that was raised was funding and resources necessary to get government officials to the relevant global negotiations.

“The ministry is open to dialogue with everyone in civil society and hopes to see a collaborative approach take form in the future.

After every meeting, there is a feedback meeting to cover the negotiations that have been made.

It is not that information is not given on the part of the government and Ministry of Environment it is that these issues are not being communicated properly,” said Chemist Gumbi from the Forestry Commission.

Langen said the need for a sound monitoring network in understanding the extent and reach of climate change cannot be over emphasised.

“At this defining point in history, all efforts should be made to come up with a strategic framework that will monitor and evaluate data on the changing natural climate and change,” he said.

“In order for this to succeed, educational approaches that support a heightened risk awareness and risk perception, as well as the acquisition of suitable skills for readiness of catastrophes and disaster management must be established. “Both the governmental and civic players are equally in demand.”

He added that with KAF’s regional media programme based in Johannesburg, comes the opportunity to sensitise local journalists and to train them in news coverage of the these issues.