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Zim ill-prepared for climate change

Panic is starting to grip the farming community as there are growing signs that the country may be in the clutches of yet another debilitating drought, even as the largely unreliable Meteorological Services Department continues to assert the country will receive above-normal rainfall this rainy season.

By Chipo Masara

Zimbabwe, like most southern African countries, experienced high rainfall in the 2016-2017 rainfall season — an occurrence which was highly welcomed and brought smiles to many as the country had previously experienced incessant droughts that had adversely affected people, plants and animals. Naturally, many had anticipated that the good fortunes would extend into the 2017-2018 rainfall season and hence farming activities took off at full throttle. That is why the unexpected dry spell that has characterised what is supposed to be an ongoing rainy season has left many worried and unsure of how to proceed.

Just as it was in times gone by, many — distraught by the lack of sufficient rainfall — have taken to blaming the dry spell on some supernatural forces, declaring quite confidently that God is not happy about something and has chosen to withhold the rain.

I sarcastically asked one such person if it could be that God was not happy with the manner Robert Mugabe was thrown off the throne last year, and he — looking quite serious — pointed out that I could be right.

Such is the level of ignorance in Zimbabwe around issues concerning the occurring climatic changes; more so among those people that are, ironically, the most affected by it, such as small-scale farmers and those living in remote areas and whose main source of livelihood is subsistence farming. It is then difficult to see how communities can become climate-resilient when they are not in the know about what is happening.

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia defines climate resilience as “the capacity for a socio-ecological system to: (1) absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of external stresses imposed upon it by climate change and (2) adapt, reorganise, and evolve into more desirable configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future climate change impacts.”

It is now a universally-acknowledged fact that climate change — the change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns, which often lasts for an extended period, or the change in average weather conditions — has become a reality that the world is now living with. In fact, global conversations are fast moving beyond how to stop climate change towards how to adapt to it through the creation of climate-resilient communities.

With temperatures rising, droughts and wild fires occurring more frequently, more erratic rainfall patterns, glaciers and snow melting, and the global mean sea level rising, among other equally devastating signs, there is no denying that climate change is a reality that is already happening.

But, despite it having been long established that it is developing countries like Zimbabwe (despite having contributed the very least to the phenomenon) that will be the most affected by climate change, the country seems unusually relaxed in its approach to the scourge.

While neighbouring countries like South Africa are fast rising to the challenge, with the country’s government treating the issue with the seriousness it requires, climate change in Zimbabwe remains a phenomenon that is a subject to mere workshop talk that is never translated into action. All the while, the ordinary man and woman on the ground has no inkling what it even means, despite being the ones most affected.

Under the new leadership of President Emmerson Mnangagwa — who would be advised to prioritise climate change concerns if his much-hailed command agriculture programme is to achieve long-term success — there is urgent need to guard the country against the devastating effects of this phenomenon. A good starting point would be investing heavily in better drought-tolerant seeds, expanded irrigation systems and improved access to seasonal weather forecasts. In arid and semi-arid regions, it is especially important to ensure access to freshwater supplies through capturing and storing available surface and groundwater resources. It is of paramount importance that no rain water is allowed to go to waste when it can prove very helpful during times of water scarcity.

To achieve climate-resilience, it is not only necessary for the government to prioritise climate change adaptation strategies in its budget, but to also ensure that any climate change-related grants that the country receives are channelled towards putting in place climate-smart technologies and other strategies that ensure poor communities are not as adversely affected in future as they are now — advice that comes amid reports that in spite of the government receiving climate change grants over the years, there is nothing on the ground to show for it.

l For feedback: acmasara@gmail.com

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