7 January 2013

Zimbabwe: 'Communities Key to Adaptation'

INDIGENOUS knowledge and active community participation will be critical in any strategy that seeks to deal effectively with the impacts of climate change in Zimbabwe. These are the findings from a report, "Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation in Zimbabwe", released last month by the International Institute for Environment and Development. The paper strongly advocates a community-based approach (CBA) to climate change adaptation and in addressing vulnerability along with other climate impacts.

For effectiveness, it recommends that the Zimbabwe Government re-think participation in CBA projects as an instrument for empowering communities to influence policy-making at all levels as well as consider climate information including scientific data and local knowledge about trends and changes.

Drawing from practical vulnerability and adaptation experiences in several areas across Zimbabwe, the paper examines the impacts of climate change on vulnerable sectors including health, water, energy, agriculture, human settlement, gender, forestry and biodiversity and tourism. Adaptation projects have been piloted with measurable success in Chiredzi, Wedza, Shurugwi, Mberengwa and some sections of Matabeleland.

A key similar finding from the case studies was that climate change and variability was already impeding or reversing development, particularly in relation to poverty reduction, agricultural livelihoods and human health.

As key adaptation strategies on agriculture, the report recommended the usual -- optimisation of rain-fed crop production, improved short-season seed varieties especially for maize, and drought-resistant small grains as well as irrigation and efficient use of available resources.

Water harvesting and improved water use efficiency in agriculture are critical adaptive tools in the water sector, the paper said adding that Government needed to enhance the health delivery system including the development and designing of climate-proof settlements.

"A common lesson learnt was the importance of local content in developing adaptation strategies that build on local knowledge and cultural norms, practices and value systems," the report noted. "For example, Shangani inhabitants in Chiredzi district require permission from ancestral guides before they can till the land. As a result, many adaptation strategies (e.g. soil moisture management) are not appropriate during specific times of the year.

"Thus, on the one hand, indigenous knowledge offers a rich resource to draw on to informal local responses. On the other hand, local cultural norms mean that acting externally to impose adaptations may be disregarded or ignored by communities. The Chiredzi case provides a particularly good example of how local knowledge and cultural norms can be drawn upon to inform effective adaptations."

Zimbabwe faces a daunting developmental challenge, as a result of climate change.

Temperatures are seen rising a dreadful two degrees Celsius by 2080 with increased weather and climate extremes. This will greatly disrupt agriculture, the country's economic mainstay and threaten food security.

Other negative impacts will be felt on water, energy and health among other sectors. The IIED paper indicated that participatory methods were successful in three main areas - engaging traditionally marginalised groups, identifying the diverse needs of farmers and exposing them to as many adaptation options as possible, and then finally instilling a sense of ownership in the project among participants. This outcome was found to markedly increase the chances of project success.

CBA is based on the recognition that climate impacts will be experienced by vulnerable people least able to cope, which will require local adaptation planning and a greater focus on building adaptive capacity. The approach "is widely regarded as a significant improvement over top-down impacts-based approaches to adaptation, which typically entailed the provision of infrastructure to reduce exposure to climate impacts".

Further Recommendations for Building Climate-Resilient Communities

The paper suggested that Government developed policy frameworks that hinge on complementary and differentiated urban and rural development and adaptation policies. It said the potential of multi-level risk governance to support linked-up action between communities, civil society, the private sector and Government should be examined.

National responses to climate risks should actively seek out and include marginalised groups in more participatory and inclusive decision-making processes, it said, adding that planning procedures to ensure future climate policy responds to the vulnerabilities of women and men living in climate-sensitive regions must be implemented.

Planning should consider disaggregated data in order to highlight inequalities among women as well as other marginalised groups including children, the elderly and disabled.

Zimbabwe also needed to develop climate awareness raising campaigns aimed at Government (especially legislators), civil society and the general public targeting farmers as well as explore the potential of new adaptation funds such as those offered under the UNFCCC's Adaptation Fund to support innovative projects and programmes including capacity development.

"Overall, Zimbabwe requires a national climate change framework to guide co-ordinated action and investment. More attention must be paid to the institutional challenges facing effective climate governance to ensure that future policy will be planned and implemented successfully."

God is faithful.

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