THERE is increasing panic on the country’s state of preparedness ahead of the potential return of El Niño, which is expected to have adverse effects on rainfall patterns this farming season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently confirmed a strong El Niño, potentially leading to drought conditions in Zimbabwe.
El Niño is associated with increased temperatures and low rainfall, which can significantly impact agricultural productivity. This comes at a time when Zimbabwe has, over the years, grappled with the repercussions of the climate change effects, which have led to erratic rainfall patterns characterised by either severe floods in some parts of the country or prolonged periods of drought.
As part of stop gap measures, there have been intensified calls for farmers to adequately prepare for irrigation mechanisms, intensify water harvesting, conserving and protecting wetlands to mitigate the effects.
While the weather in the country gets hotter and drier, the Zimbabwe Independent understands that the country now has almost seven ecological regions from the traditional five, with ecological 2B and 5B having been added.
Ahead of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai, which started this week, Zimbabwe's position paper is seen aligning to the need for stabilisation of found systems and ecology. Market watchers have expressed mixed sentiments on the state of Zimbabwe's preparedness ahead of the impending El Niño.
Economic analyst Chenaimoyo Mutambasere told the Independent that Zimbabwe seems to have not prepared adequately for El Niño, with the country having been put on the extreme hunger watch from February 2024.
Mutambasere said currently, little has been done to improve food security.
“Further to El Niño, Zimbabwe is going through a cholera crisis also compounded by political crisis,” Mutambasere said.
“These are the same terrible twins the country faced in 2008 with cholera eventually killing over 4 000 people. We don’t seem to have adopted any of the issues that were exposed during the recent Covid pandemic.”
She said many families rely on agriculture, a sector set to be hard hit by El Niño.
The country is already facing an acute maize shortage.
Mutambasere bemoaned the current persistent water crisis, which has seen several urban dwellers relying on boreholes.
“Public health systems continue to deteriorate, especially emergency response measures. Given the El Niño crisis, we should have a multi-agency platform facilitated by the government working together to devise solutions to create centres of resilience within our economic ecosystem,” she said.
“But instead the government is putting more effort in fanning political crisis to the detriment of its people.”
Reyna Trust executive director Sydney Chisi said as Zimbabwe looks through the lenses of climate change going to COP28, it was crucial to have conversations around food systems and agriculture ecology.
“It is also encouraging that the government, from its position paper that will be discussed, has such kind of conversations as part of negotiations that will carry the day in Dubai during the COP process,” Chisi said.
He said for nations to be able to respond to climate change disasters, there has to be climate finance that should come to countries in the global south, Zimbabwe in particular.
This, Chisi said, will allow the nation to build its climate adaptation and resilience capacity in the event of such a crisis.
“The government has used other mechanisms such as the carbon tax and the tobacco levy as mechanisms to mobilise resources into the public pot to mitigate disasters like drought,” he said.
“This pot is to ensure that Zimbabwe can import grain from other countries to feed its people. In the same vein, we need to understand that proactiveness is crucial.
“Zimbabwe recently has been able to acquire, through bilateral relationships with different embassies, in particular the Swedish Embassy, metrological equipment, which will give the country real time data on the status of weather and climate.
“When you look at mobilisation, there also has to be aspects of accountability in terms of how, not only the finances are being used but the manner in which grain is distributed to different communities, such that climate disasters cannot be abused as instruments for political patronage by different political groupings," Chisi added.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Obert Jiri, however, said there were plans to ensure that the country was food sufficient.
“The normal to below normal rainfall season does not affect a season which is starting. Secondly, the normal to below normal rainfall season does not affect food that is currently in granaries,” Jiri said.
“So, we plan and implement strategies to be able to produce food despite the prediction of the normal to below normal rainfall season.”
Due to the El Niño, regions with typically lower precipitation levels are susceptible to experiencing drought, which may result in widespread crop loss, increased disease incidences, crop pests, and challenges related to water, sanitation, and hygiene.
These challenges, in turn, can have cascading negative effects on nutrition and the broader economy.