Lawmakers push for urgent climate policies

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
AS climate-linked extreme events escalate, Zimbabwean lawmakers have started pushing Government to speedily implement policies that strengthen the national disaster response.

Since the 1960s, Zimbabwe has experienced repeated extreme events including droughts, flash flooding and violent tropical storms, described by local scientists as evidence of climate change.

Among the worst was the 1992 drought that killed over one million cattle and hundreds of people. Experts blame the dire humanitarian situation, loss and damage arising from disasters on policy failure, which can neither anticipate, fund nor plan for emergency situations.

“We have begun to see more and more realities of climate change and climate variability,” Ms Annastacia Nhdlovu (MP), who chairs the Parliamentary portfolio Committee on Environment, told Parliament on January 29, as flash flooding battered Zimbabwe’s northeast and southeast for the third year in a row.

“Even now, we experienced a very late season. We went as far as beyond mid-December without receiving adequate rainfall. When the rains came, we witnessed floods and all those signs are symptoms of climate change becoming more and more a menace.”

Nearly 40 major disasters linked directly or indirectly to climate change have hit Zimbabwe in the 30 years to 2010, according to EM-DAT, an international disaster database, killing 6 500 people and costing nearly $3 billion in economic damage.

On average some 611 000 people have been affected by disasters during the past decade, EM-DAT says, and “drought has had the largest impact,” affecting 6 million people between 2004 and 2013.

The malaria epidemic of 1996 and the cholera outbreak of 2008 have very close links to climate change.

When sub-Saharan temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius or more late this century, as is largely predicted by the UN panel on climate change, the risk of malaria in tropical or coastal countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique will multiply by wide margins.

Rapidly changing climates are also seen worsening the availability of water for drinking and that for agriculture. The World bank estimated in a 2012 report that water in rivers, streams and lakes etc will fall by up to 50 percent by mid-century in the whole of southern Africa, creating an unprecedented water crisis.

This may escalate outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid. Now, Zimbabwean lawmakers are looking for policies that tackle in a comprehensive way climate change’s many faces from agriculture, energy and human settlements.

Ms Ndhlovu wants Government to put the National Climate Policy to sleep, urgently design and implement a national disaster risk reduction strategy and join global movements such as Globe International, hoping to leverage such relationships into building stronger domestic climate responses.

Globe International is a coalition of legislators from over 80 countries that aims to pass laws supporting sustainable development, climate change and forestry among others.

On February 10, Ms Ndhlovu moved another motion in Parliament seeking to compel Government to form a local chapter of Globe. She hopes the association with the global parliamentarian body will help “Zimbabwe to produce essential national legislation for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).” But the Zimbabwe Government may not be ready for such sweeping changes.

“It is very sad . . . that the phenomenon is moving at a very fast rate and is becoming more and more difficult for Government to cope,” lamented the Shurugwi South MP.

“I would like, however, to encourage all of us to come together and think on how best we can adapt to the challenge of climate change to ensure food security which, in my view, is under great siege . . . ”

Failures at policy level have in turn fed into national failures at climate change adaptation, she said, as crucial coping or mitigatory strategies such as water harvesting or clean energy use, particularly solar, have gone begging. Those Government departments charged with coordinating national responses to climate change-related disasters are poorly funded. Of the $3,5 million needed by the Civil Protection Unit each year to make effective “inroads into communities,” it got just $300,000 from the current National Budget.

The CPU’s director Mr Madzudzo Pawadyira told The Herald Business in a previous interview “not to bother talking about the Budget” because “the money we are given is peanuts and is gobbled by response issues.”

Now, the Unit has had to rely on funding from development agencies such as the UN Development Programme, which pours $400 000 into the CPU’s empty coffers every year. But even aid agencies have not found the going easy. Requests for aid have swollen to include perceived safe-havens such as the urban townships, where a multitude of weak housing structures unable to weather heavy storms have mushroomed.

“The effect of emergencies such as flooding on children is quite significant as it affects their regular lives,” said UNICEF’s Mr Richard Nyamanhindi by email, whose organisation puts children at the centre of its operations.

“Of great concern is the fact that schooling has been interrupted, families have moved and in some cases this has increased the risk of child abuse and exploitation.”

To those affected, including Tokwe-Mukosi victims, UNICEF has offered psycho-social support, established child friendly spaces and counselling.

In Harare the UN agency distributed water treatment tablets after being stunned by flash flooding this rainy season in poor suburbs like Hopley and Mbare that were already grappling with severe water shortages,.

“These families (in affected townships) were able to reduce their risk to diarrhoeal and other water-borne diseases,” said Mr Nyamanhindi.

The cost of adaptation in Zimbabwe is estimated at $10 billion between now and 2025, according to the National Climate Change Response Strategy. That strategy was completed last year but remains dormant due to procedural mishaps at the Climate Ministry.

The Ministry is now looking to finish the National Climate Policy by mid-year, which should operationalise the Climate Change Strategy. As the Strategy, which will mainstream climate change into national budgetary and developmental processes gathers dust on Government shelves, climate impacts have continued to bite hard, with deadly consequences.

God is faithful.

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