Poor climate adaptation creates mental health, nutrition challenges

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Wellcome Trust

A THREE-YEAR research commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in 2019 on the impacts of climate change adaptation strategies in Zimbabwe found that poor climate change adaptation strategies lead to psychosocial health challenges and poor nutrition outcomes.

The Admire Nyamwanza-led team of 10 researchers from Zimbabwe, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States embarked on a study to evaluate the climate change adaptation strategies undertaken by rural communities of Zimbabwe in Mbire district, Mashonaland central province.

Results indicate that poor adaption to climate change presents psychosocial challenges to people in Mbire.

The research found that 32% of people who resorted to planting drought-tolerant crops due to climate change reported that it made them feel nervous or anxious.

On nutritional health outcomes, the study shows that only 21,8% of the households had acceptable food consumption, while the majority lacked nutritional diets.

Poor food consumption patterns are a reflection of the adverse impact of climate change on the food security status of the surveyed households.

The 10 researchers who conducted the study are based at the Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences, Human Sciences Research Council and University of the Free State, Manchester University and Washington State University.

A full project report is expected to be made public by the end of September this year.

This is the first research of this nature in the country.

Most studies have been focussing on climate change itself, while this research analyses the impacts and outcomes of climate change response strategies employed by rural communities.

To date, not many researches have been done on the interaction between climate adaptation and psychosocial health.

Mbire district is situated in the mid-Zambezi Valley, an area classified among southern Africa’s climate change hotspots.

The study is timely given recent observed and projected climate trends in Zimbabwe and in the southern African region at large.

For instance, the 2016 El Nino effect caused the worst drought in 35 years in southern Africa.

In line with shifting global climatic patterns, southern Africa has been warming significantly over the last century, and trend analysis of the temperatures across the region indicate that temperatures have increased at a rate of 0,4°C per decade between 1961 and 2014.

In Zimbabwe, the frequency and incidences of droughts has increased, with severe droughts having been experienced in the 1991/2, 1994/95, 2002/03, 2015/16, and 2018/19 agricultural seasons.

Women and children have been the most vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity due to these persistent climate change-induced disasters.

This research points to the need of implementing climate change adaptation strategies that are nutrition sensitive.

There is an opportunity for the Health and Child Care ministry’s department of psychiatry to mainstream psychosocial health in its sectoral focus on disaster risk reduction in the country and possibly create a new programme portfolio on climate change adaptation and psychosocial health.

Lessons from the study are also expected to provide evidence-based insights towards assessing and dealing with differential health impacts of key climate adaptation pathways in other rural communities in southern Africa.