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Climate change: Time running out

With just a day before the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 kicks off in Paris, France, it is still unclear what those that have been entrusted to represent Zimbabwe at the crucial event have on the agenda.

BY CHIPO MASARA

While a decade ago, many might have gotten away with dismissing the climate change phenomenon as just another silly hoax, today the warning signs are no longer so easy to ignore. Temperatures are soaring like never before, there is a persistent drought and the rainfall patterns have definitely altered for the worst. When the rains finally do come, they are erratic, defined by long dry hot spells in between, while floods are fast becoming a yearly occurrence.

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What climate change means for the ordinary Zimbabwean, in simpler-to-grasp layman terms, is water scarcity — which will in a major way adversely affect food security — and a general occurrence of extreme weather conditions, with the most dreadful being the very high temperatures and recurrent floods.

Water scarcity is of much concern as Zimbabweans mostly depend on farming to ensure food security. Unfortunately, small-scale and subsistence farmers, who make up the bulk of the country’s farmers, do not have access to irrigation facilities. As such, they have to solely rely on rainfall, even as its patterns keep getting more erratic and therefore unreliable. As a result, not much yielding is happening for most farmers, resulting in a major food deficit. Zimbabwe has had to export much of its grain from neighbouring Zambia for the major part of the last three or so years. Although Zambia is facing the same climatic changes that Zimbabwe is, the country’s agriculture sector has been boosted by the coming onto the scene of white commercial farmers who can afford irrigation — the bulk of whom were chased from Zimbabwe at the height of the chaotic land reform programme.

As part of the solution, Zimbabwe’s farmers are being urged to switch to other food crops like small grains that, unlike maize, do not require too much water to thrive. There, however, seems to be resistance to make the switch, which means most farmers will continue to put money and effort into planting maize — the country’s staple food — in the end reaping very little, if anything.

While each Zimbabwean is fast experiencing the effects of climate change, the situation is considerably worse for rural-based people, most of who are impoverished and have no means to adapt to the adverse effects of the catastrophe. Without intervention, their suffering will most certainly be multiplied.

At previous COP conferences, representatives of African governments seem to have had one agenda — to convince Western countries that climate change is their fault since as they were responsible for emitting — through their vast industrial exploits — the greenhouse gases that brought about the problem, and that they should therefore pay.

While it is true that heavily-industrialised countries like China and the US are directly to blame, and it would only be fair if they would be the ones to pay for the damage, African countries would do well not to hold their breath. While some countries have proven somewhat cooperative and have vowed to cut on emissions and contribute towards the Green Climate Fund — meant to aid poor countries with their adaptation projects — countries like Australia do not want to play ball.

Unfortunately, while the “talks” that do not ever seem to come up with any legally-binding agreement at the end, continue to go on, countries like Zimbabwe, meanwhile, continue to sink deeper and deeper into the climate change abyss. In the meantime, countries like the UK, Germany, Russia and the US that are responsible for climate change, do not feel the effects as badly as does people in, say Tsholotsho — a dry rural area in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland region.

And even if climate change was to hit those in developed nations just as hard, they have the financial muscle to protect themselves, to a larger extent.

So if Zimbabwe’s representatives in Paris have the same agenda of playing the same old blame game that in the end does nothing to better the situation for especially the poor in rural areas, then it is just another waste of time and a display of their inability to handle a challenge of such great proportions. They would be advised not to take this event as simply another chance to enjoy the bright city lights in Paris, but as a golden opportunity to represent those whose voices are rarely heard even as they are the very people that can attest to the horrific reality of climate change.

Because it is increasingly becoming clear Zimbabwe has failed to put in place climate change mitigation measures, it is of paramount importance that the country finds ways to expedite efforts to put adaptation measures in place, failure of which will see the country bearing the brunt of the catastrophe in the worst ways imaginable.

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