Climate change a burgeoning reality and emerging environmental risk factor

25 Mar, 2017 - 00:03 0 Views

The Chronicle

Gibson Mhaka
THERE is a strong consensus in the international scientific community that climate change is occurring and the impacts are already a reality in some parts of Africa where climate change mitigation, adaptation and environmental monitoring are now a priority on their development agendas.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation due to its strong dependency on the natural environment. The situation is further worsened by its poor state of economic development and low adaptive capacity.

Those in rural areas are hardest hit because most depend on natural resources and rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. They are also least able to cope with the shocks of climate change such as droughts, floods and other natural disasters.

These climate change-induced disasters are also threatening human security and thereby producing competition among communities and nations for resources such as water and land with potential negative consequences for political stability and conflict resolution.

From the above observation, climate change is no doubt a burgeoning reality and an emerging environmental risk factor in Zimbabwe. The country is indeed facing the challenges on both technical and institutional levels to measure, plan and act efficiently in order to prevent its adverse impacts in the medium and long term and to integrate it into national sustainable development policies.

According to climate change and environment experts, climate change related risks contribute to the global burden of disease and premature deaths. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 20 percent of mortality in Africa is attributable to environmental causes linked to climate change. This is a clear indication that climate change poses many threats to the health and well-being of people and some of these health impacts are already being felt in Zimbabwe.

This however, highlights the importance of improving action to combat environmental risks which are associated with climate shifts. And for this reason, climate change mitigation, adaptation and environmental monitoring are now among the priorities of the county’s development agenda.

Therefore, in order to improve the negative effects of climate change through environmental monitoring, there is no doubt that a network of competent and experienced partners is essential. The need for such a network is even more prominent in the case of monitoring that aims to identify environmental health determinants.

The selection of these determinants necessarily has to be the result of consultation with experts from both the environment and humanitarian sectors.

This apparently, brought together Environment Africa (EA) with other consortium members namely Zimbabwe Project Trust (Zim Pro), Dabane Trust and Practical Action to work with rural communities with the aim of directing initiatives and assessing exposure levels of the population to different risk factors associated with climate change and environmental degradation.

While each partner has a specific role within the consortium, EA’s role cuts across all the other partners’ work. Primarily, its responsibility is to advance the National Climate Policy development process by engaging different stakeholders such as parliamentarians and rural district councilors through lobbying and advocacy work.

EA country director Mr Barnabas Mawire said in addition to advancing the National Climate Policy Framework, they also give advice on responding to climate change in different sectors such as best practices in agriculture.

The information helps other consortium members who are on the ground implementing agricultural projects and ultimately the farmers themselves.

He said the organisation also gives and interprets information on the prospects of an oncoming rainfall season to help farmers make correct cropping decisions.

“Environment Africa assists its consortium members in identifying the wide range of causes of environmental risks. It helps modernise environmental policy at all levels, advises on regional environmental cooperation and develops strategies to embed environmental protection in other areas of policy.

“Global concerns such as climate protection, preserving biodiversity, protecting forests and combating desertification are a challenge to the community of nations. We support processes for developing the international environmental regime, and advise our partners in implementing it,” said Mr Mawire.

EA’s aim is, however, not only to increase knowledge on already known risk factors for people’s health, but also to study and analyse emerging risk factors, those related to environmental scenarios, so that environmental protection measures can be strengthened.

The broadening of knowledge concerning the potential environmental consequences of changes in weather and climate on health, well-being and survival is a fundamental step for EA and other consortium members particularly at this moment when the Government and other environment agencies are fully involved in developing a national strategy on adaptation to climate change.

Mr Mawire said conserving natural resources was a basic requirement for sustainable development and improving the quality of human life as well as to reverse the trend towards resource degradation.

Since rural communities face higher risks of environmental degradation mostly induced by climate change, they need to be equipped with adequate education and awareness of the causes and effects of climate change and sustainable mitigation measures that can be applied in daily life activities.

EA is assisting with technical competence in environment protection and preservation to communal farmers in Insiza District in Matabeleland South province.

Farmers who are into conservation farming, cattle and goat fattening, community gardens and water harvesting have since embraced these initiatives as a way of adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change.

As a plausible way to save energy for rural homes, which heavily rely on firewood for heating and cooking, villagers through funding from ZimPro are also building energy saving stoves.

The stove is built using locally available materials, channels smoke through a chimney outside cooking huts in the process helping thatched houses from getting soot and shielding women from indoor pollution.

According to a recent WHO report, smoke from domestic fires kills nearly two million people each year and causes health complications for millions globally.

“EA assists its partners like ZimPro in identifying the wide range of causes of environmental risks. It helps modernise environmental policy at all levels, advises on regional environmental cooperation and develop strategies to push in environmental protection in other areas of policy. Global concerns such as climate protection, preserving biodiversity, protecting forests and combating desertification are a challenge to the community of nations. EA supports processes for developing the international environmental regime, and advises its partners in implementing this,” said Mr Mawire.

Recent weather events in Zimbabwe have demonstrated that populations and health systems may be unable to cope with increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. These events can reduce the resilience of communities, affect vulnerable regions and localities and overwhelm the coping capacities of most societies.

For instance, the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in its 2016 report notes that climate change affects the agriculture sector in a multitude of ways, which vary from region to region.

Climate change increases temperature and precipitation variability, reduces the predictability of seasonal weather patterns and increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather-related events such as floods, cyclones and hurricanes.

The report also shows that climate change affects food availability through its increasingly adverse impacts on crop yields and animal health and productivity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where most of today’s food insecure live as well as limiting access to food through negative impacts on rural incomes and livelihoods.

ZimPro executive director Mr Tobias Chipare said his organisation was committed to assisting farmers in semi-arid areas survive the grim effects of climate change. “We’re committed to improving the livelihoods of communities that’s why we engage in such programmes. We train communities on conflict transformation, leadership among other aspects.

“The idea is to capacitate communities to live off their own resources and not rely on handouts. For example, we operated in six wards in Insiza District over the years assisting farmers with various projects such as irrigation schemes, pass-on-goats and cattle schemes, conservation farming, water harvesting, save-and-lend schemes as well as community and nutrition gardens,” said Mr Chipare.

Councillor for Insiza District Ward 16 Luke Dube commended initiatives by EA and its consortium partners saying implementing an effective, sustained response to climate change in agriculture in terms of both adaptation and mitigation would help minimise food losses and waste, as well as promote healthier diets that also leave a lighter environmental footprint.

Also, climate change expert Mr Collen Mutasa who said environmental preservation is intricately linked to climate change emphasised the need for communities to come up with methods of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

“This is so because any measures aimed at addressing climate change are invariably linked to environmental preservation. Practising good farming methods as a climate change adaptation strategy also protects land from erosion and land degradation. Desisting from cutting down trees also has the same effect in addition to militating against climate change. Avoiding the use of nitrogen based fertilisers results in less nitrous oxide being emitted thus protecting our environment. Desisting from using chlorofluorocarbons protects the ozone layer which shields us from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Proper disposal of refuse reduces methane emissions thereby preserving our environment. Promoting and adopting renewable energy also protects the environment from pollution resulting from fossil fuel emissions,” said Mr Mutasa.

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