12 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Drought Spectre Blights Recovery Prospects

ASSUMING that the 10-year drought cycle which the country has been experiencing since 1980 is now a permanent phenomenon, it would follow therefore that Zimbabwe is headed for more tough time ahead.

A failed 2012-2013 summer cropping season,coming exactly 10 years after the 2002 drought and 20 years after the devasting 1992 drought, would effectively dash Zimbabwe's hopes for social stability.

And with the country's livestock sector yet to fully recover from these devastating droughts that decimated the nation's cattle herd in 1992, the spectre of famine would dampen all prospects for any meaningful economic recovery.

Ironically, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the climate change phenomenon is a reality, it is business as usual for governments of poor and vulnerable nations.

In Zimbabwe, politicians who are the key policy drivers are currently seized with next year's general elections instead of preparing communities they represent to brace up for the likely devastating drought.

With the need to move away from the country's over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture to irrigation having been relegated to the periphery, droughts are set to continue to weaken Zimbabwe's economy which was once prided as Africa's bread basket.

Propped up by agriculture for generations, the country's economy has been tottering on the brink since 2000 when the ex-freedom fighters seized land from minority white farmers.

The perpetual poor performance of agriculture that followed the controversial land reforms coupled with the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns has been a thorn in the flesh for the troubled Zimbabwe economy.

"Socio-economic activities in many sectors in Zimbabwe are weather and climate dependent," says the Zimbabwe Meteo-rological Services Department (ZMSD) in its 2012-2013 rainfall outlook in which it further adds:

"At times severe weather or extreme climates events do occur such that there is either too much rainfall as to result in destructive and deadly floods or too little rainfall leading to prolonged droughts with attendant problems of hunger, water shortage and other related challenges such as conflicts over the scarce resources."

Despite ZMSD's role of providing seasonal weather outlooks that should assist the government and all key stakeholders in planning, it appears the Met Office's advice continues to go unheeded.

The information offered by ZMSD is useful in agriculture and food security to effectively plan for the season in terms of, for example, types of crops to plant, cultivation practices to be employed and planting time.

The Met Office's 2012-2013 rainfall outlook indicates that for the period October to December 2012 the country would receive normal to below normal rainfall over the southern parts (region 3) of the country while the northern and north-western parts (regions 1 and 2) would largely receive normal to above normal rains.

For the January to March period, normal to above normal rainfall will be expected for regions 1 and 2 while normal rainfall with a bias towards suppressed rainfall activity is expected in region 3.

In other words, region 3 which includes Masvingo and Matabeleland South provinces may once again experience food and pasture shortages.

Interestingly, the rainfall pattern in regions 1 and 2 has so far been below normal with the majority of farmers, who happen to rely on rain-fed agriculture, still to plant. And the first half of the rainfall season is almost coming to an end.

In parts of region 1 such as Mashonaland East's Mudzi District, the small community dams have dried up and pasture is so thin that cattle are straying into the landmine infested Mozambican border area.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that villagers along the border have over the past two months lost more than 40 herds of cattle to landmines.

In Mashonaland Central's Dande and Mukumbura communal lands, farmers are now downsizing their herds by selling off their cattle for a song as pastures become scarcer.

As farmers continue to hope for the best, ZMSD's role is increasingly becoming difficult because of the climate change phenomenon that is distorting weather patterns across the globe.

"Every day, we see evidence that our climate is changing -- and that we ourselves have significant responsibility for this... Time is running out on our ability to limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees centigrade," the United Nations secretary-general Ban ki Moon has warned, describing climate change as "the defining issue of our time".

"Our consumption, our production, our life-styles, our technologies, our choices as consumers and policy-makers -- all these are part of what is making climate change happen...It is clear that climate change affects us all, from Manhattan to Mumbai. We are all part of the problem and the solution. However, climate change does not affect us all equally. The poor, most vulnerable people, who have contributed least, suffer first and worst," said Moon.

Scientific evidence of climate change is unquestionable.

According to nature.com, a web-based organisation that publishes scientific research papers, since the late 1970s the Southern Hemisphere semi-arid regions such as southern-coastal Chile, southern Africa, and south-eastern Australia have experienced a drying trend, which has resulted in less rainfall and a pole-ward shift in the storm tracks is thought to be a prominent driver of substantial reductions in rainfall during the late 20th century.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), says the first 10 months of this year were the ninth warmest ever since recording started in the mid 19th Century indicating that for Zimbabwe the 2012-2013 rainfall season will offer its own surprises in the wake of global temperature shifts.

"The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth's oceans and biosphere. Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records," WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud, has warned.

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