21 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Walking for the Love of the Environment

In Murewa, one could actually feel the denseness of the forests that surrounded the Culture Centre near Murewa Mission, but this woodland is getting depleted, leaving this self-sustaining arts facility without a cover.

In Mutoko, there is serious siltation of rivers threatening aquatic life in these natural bodies of water.

Behind all this man-made tragedy is chiefly the random cutting down of trees for purposes of energy.

Each district in Zimbabwe can attest to its own haemorrhage caused by the indiscriminate destruction of forests. The very same person that God gave dominion over his or her surroundings has turned into tormentor of the same environment he or she is supposed to watch over. What a crude twist of fate.

Consequently, an environmental disaster of unimaginable proportions is unfolding throughout the country with not many people bothering to do something about it.

Sixty years after Lake Chivero was commissioned to supply the capital city, Harare, with bulk fresh water, the reservoir is clogging because of siltation and sewerage waste flowing into this man made feature.

Harare city fathers are feeling the heat. They are currently using 14 different chemicals to make water drawn from Lake Chivero fit for human consumption.

Health experts have sounded alarm bells, saying this is not sustainable for a city with an annual population growth rate of five to six percent.

Harare is not alone in this: It is the same story for Bulawayo, Gweru, Chitungwiza, Masvingo, and other towns and cities battling similar tragedies.

The growth of Harare's population against constrained resources is therefore a microcosm of the tragedy slowly unfolding in the rest of the country because of human actions in the absence of environmentally sustainable policies or lack of enforcement of thereof.

For many years now, the country has been plundering its natural resources, in particular forests, which are supposed to anchor the country's future if they were to be exploited in an orderly and sustainable manner. But because they are not, one can only feel sorry for future generations that will inherit a disaster in the making if nothing is done to reverse the trend.

What has not helped matters is that a lot other things have gone haywire. For example, the flight of foreign direct investments, non-performing agriculture and manufacturing sectors, deteriorating infrastructure, a poor water and electricity supply system, illiquid market conditions and a rapidly changing climate have formed a deadly combination that is driving the country down the precipice towards an environmental disaster.

It is estimated that between 100 000 and 320 000 hectares of forest cover were lost per year between 2000 and 2008. At this rate, Zimbabwe could be turned into a desert in no time.

With no figures available on the status of the country's wildlife, reports on increasing poaching activities targeting many of the country's unique species such as the black rhino, pangolin, ant eater and leopard have put these magnificent wildlife on the verge of disappearing from the face of the earth.

The impact goes beyond wild animals.

According to the 2009 Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey, the proportion of people in rural areas with access to safe drinking water declined by nine percent from 70 percent in 1999 to 61 percent in 2009 while 69,5 percent of all rural households had no access to hygienic sanitation facilities.

The Department of Infrastructural Development has also noted that more than 65 percent of all rural water points are non-functional at any given time while the country's extensive rural sanitation programme has also experienced a sharp decline in terms of quality.

Zimbabwe has also not been spared by the effects of global warming.

Zimbabwe's 2010 Millennium Develop-ment Goals (MDGs) status report indicates that despite being a low greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, the country is getting warmer as the monthly highest daily maximum temperatures for most of the country are increasing by about 2ºC per century, while the percentage of days with low temperatures is decreasing at a rate of about 15 days per century.

Assuming that GHG emissions continue along the projected trajectory, it is predicted that temperatures will rise by between 0,5°C and 2°C by 2030, and 1°C and 3,5°C by 2070.

But what would be the impact on the rains?

National average rainfall has declined by about five percent between 1900 and 2000. The 1980s and early 1990s witnessed what could arguably be Zimbabwe's driest periods of the 20th century.

There has been a noted shift in agricultural seasons, as evidenced by late onset and sometimes late cessation of the rainy season, the MDGs report says.

Longer-term rainfall predictions for Zimbabwe are less certain. Various models predict that rainfall patterns are likely to change and that extreme events such as drought and floods could increase in frequency.

Certain models predict that there would be a 10-20 percent decline in rainfall by 2050, added the MDGs report.

As a signatory to the United Nations' MDGs, Zimbabwe pledged to achieve environmental sustainability through integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and significantly reverse biodiversity loss by 2015.

But much of the evidence on the ground points to a nation in reverse mode as no meaningful progress has been achieved to meet these MDGs targets.

Underlying this lackadaisical approach is largely policy inertia and to a larger extent the excruciating pain being inflicted on the environment by Zimbabweans themselves. The 2010 MDGs report makes this important point clear.

It says "...the major challenge that the country faces to ensuring environmental sustainability is the effective and timely implementation of the Environmental Management Act".

While the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) plays a key role in translating the objectives of the Act into reality, it lacks both human and financial resources to discharge its mandate effectively.

The low level of environmental awareness among key law enforcement agencies such as the judiciary and the police further hinders both the success of domestic self-financing mechanisms through fines and penalties to replenish the Environmental Fund and halt negative practices, the MDGs report also noted.

Although EMA has identified deforestation, drought, desertification, soil erosion, fires, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, water hyacinth invasion on lakes and dams, air pollution, poor waste management as well as land degradation as some of the environmental challenges facing Zimbabwe, no single individual or institution can win the fight alone without buy-in from all the citizens.

Friends of The Environment (FOTE) are alive to this mammoth challenge facing the nation and have lined up all their guns to fight deforestation in all its forms which we beileve is crucial in fighting climate change and global warming.

The fight is currently on and many people are being called to join FOTE in the fight to preserve our forests by planting more trees to replace those that have been destroyed over the years. November 28, 2012 to December 1, 2012 is yet another opportunity for all tree-loving Zimbabweans to join FOTE in planting trees and raise awareness about this worthy cause as we embark on our annual walkathon which starts from Harare, Newlands before concluding in Mutoko just in time for the National Tree Planting Day.

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