31 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Africa Shortchanged in 2012

Photo: Emmanuel Gbemudu/IRIN
Women with a dug-out canoe in front of their flooded homes in Toru-Orua in Bayelsa state, Nigeria after the worst floods in 35 years.


The year 2012 could have been a better year. Now we fervently await 2013 to change our environmental fortunes. The most topical issues on climate change and sustainable development in 2012 were dealt with in half measures at Doha and Rio de Janeiro respectively.

Both events succeeded in saving the process of international negotiation open but faltered on satisfying immediate African expectations.

The critical extension of the second Kyoto commitment period was reached for a further eight years beginning January 2013, but was very weak on ambition.

Climate finance never received the attention it deserved at the UN annual climate negotiations held this year, in the Qatari capital Doha.

However, the Doha meeting managed to bring finality to the twin track Bali Roadmap, and strengthened prospects for reaching a new universal agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2015, only becoming effective after 2020.

Overall, Doha significantly underperformed African expectations, and left the continent uncertain whether the challenge of climate change would be effectively dealt with at a global scale.

Yet as the world vacillated on a functional global deal to effectively curb carbon emissions, seen growing 2,6 percent in 2012, the science turned darker.

"Turn Down The Heat", a report released by the World Bank in late November predicts an unsustainable warming of four degrees Celsius or worse by the end of the century if no concrete measures were implemented now to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Regrettably, most of the dangerous impacts of a warming earth would be felt in poor developing countries, Africa being a prime region, even when they are the least contributors to climate change.

World leaders meeting for the 20th Earth Summit in the Brazil capital of Rio de Janeiro in June reiterated the importance of sustainable development through the emerging concept of the green economy, but equally remained vague on necessary strategies needed to achieve similar targets.

Locally, the National Tree Planting Day celebrated every December 1 for the past 30 years is very important on the Zimbabwe environmental calendar and was no less monumental in 2012.

The event may have not managed to entirely replenish the more than 50 million trees lost since Independence, but remains crucial in the country's afforestation efforts.

And in 2012, Government, the private sector and the public pulled in the same direction. The tree planting target was set at 10 million trees of the red mahogany species, an indigenous hardwood suitable for furniture making. The target should be exceeded, as has been mostly the case over the years.

However, the major challenge remains that of nurturing the planted trees to maturity, which in essence remains the heart of any successful afforestation project. Trees are most crucial in removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the major catalyst for global warming and climate change.

In the year, grave danger continued lurking in other animal conservation efforts.

One of Africa's Big Five, the rhino remains greatly endangered, in red territory. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature congress held in Korea in September, however, passed an important resolution that called for a collaborative approach to rhino conservation worldwide.

The IUCN resolution advocated stronger measures to be taken to conserve the remaining 29 000 global rhino population, as well as for increased control of illegal hunting and trading activities.

The call was made on the back of rampant and increased poaching in Southern Africa, particularly South Africa where over 600 rhino have been killed to date for their horn. In Zimbabwe, at least 17 rhino deaths, 95 percent of which was a direct result of poaching had been recorded by June-end 2012.

Calls grew louder and louder for effective rhino conservation, which is also a key tourist attraction and revenue earner for some Southern African countries. On water, as a critical variable in the climate change-health-agriculture nexus, the resource continued to elude many homes and farms.

The provision of safe, clean drinking water in the major cities of Harare and Bulawayo remained a nightmare as was the case with sanitation.

Typhoid-related deaths were reported in Harare and Chitungwiza after residents drank contaminated water and hundreds more were exposed.

The situation was not expected to improve, as the availability of fresh water will remain under serious stress going forward, as a result of climate change. Water for agriculture could not have been sufficient in 2012 due to increased rainfall variability and late onsets.

By November end, the bulk of the maize crop planted with the early rains had completely perished or was on the point of failure after rains disappeared in most areas, particularly those in the dry hot regions like Mutoko and parts of Masvingo.

Inadequate rains may spell doom for Zimbabwe's food situation, which has remained under pressure in recent years. Lighting up what greatly remained an uninspiring 2012 for the environment, which saw major polluters like the cities of Harare and Chitungwiza getting away with murder was the announcement to establish the Climate Change National Response Strategy. The climate change policy was due for implementation by end of December 2012.

Many have viewed the policy as a critical link in mainstreaming climate change into national development and budgetary processes.

The policy was also expected to provide direction for co-ordinated and planned national responses to problems posed by climate change such as frequent and severe droughts or floods.

While Zimbabwe largely remains awake to the challenges facing the environment, and those factors fueling climate change, the country needs to implement stringent laws and strategies that adequately deal with forest loss, water and land pollution, as well as encouraging sustainable farming and mining practices.

The country is one of the few in Africa that possess laws aimed at promoting prudent environmental governance practices, even though prosecution is far from pleasing.

God is faithful.

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