17 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Nation Facing Environmental Disaster

SEWERAGE waste and siltation continue to clog Lake Chivero, the main source of Harare's bulk water supply.

Sixty-one years after the lake was commissioned, the water reservoir has been shrinking in both size and usefulness due to pollution.

As a result, Harare city fathers are now spending much more on water purification at a time when the capital's revenue-generating capacity is constrained due to the economic crisis affecting its residents.

Council is currently using a cocktail of 14 chemicals to purify water from Lake Chivero before piping it to residential areas.

Health experts have warned that the water purification bill was unsustainable for a city with an annual population growth rate of five to six percent.

Harare is presently home to an estimated four million people.

But the disaster unfolding at Lake Chivero is just a microcosm of the tragedy unfolding in the rest of the country due to the wanton destruction of natural resources.

And yet the same natural resources should anchor Zimba-bwe's future growth and survival.

A cocktail of challenges have been fueling environmental degradation in Zimbabwe.

These include a flight of foreign direct investments; non-performing agriculture and manufacturing sectors; deteriorating infrastructure; poor water and electricity supply system and a rapidly changing climate.

Despite the stability brought about by the inclusive government and the adoption of multi-currencies, the coalition has not been singing from the same hymn sheet on many things, including its response to issues to do with the environment.

But while the bickering continues, the environment has been suffering much more.

It is estimated that between 100 000 and 320 000 hectares of forest cover were lost per year between 2000 and 2008. With no figures available on the state of the country's forests since then, it is anyone's guess as to how much tree cover is left out there.

With the status of the country's wildlife also unknown, increasing poaching activities are threatening with extinction many of Zimb-abwe's unique species such as the black rhino, pangolin, ant eater and leopard.

And underlying these environmental challenges is political lethargy that has resulted in the non implementation of environmental policies that are supposed to help sustainable development.

A 2010 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report on Zimbabwe says the major challenge facing the country is that of ensuring environmental sustainability and timely implementation of the Environ-mental Management Act.

The Environmental Mana-gement Agency (EMA), according to the report, plays a key role in translating the objectives of the Act into reality, but it lacks both human and financial resources.

"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 Environ-mental Fund and halt negative practices. The capacity to implement multilateral environmental agreements, as well as to coordinate the various actors on the part of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management is constrained," says the report.

Although EMA has identified deforestation, drought and desertification, soil erosion and 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 Zim-babwe, lack of robust political by-in and a clear and decisive government leadership have effectively rendered the agency ineffective.

Given this scenario, EMA has warned that the country is starring at major ecological and economic losses if these environmental problems continue unchecked, a situation that could easily trigger social and cultural shocks and hardship in affected communities.

"The cost of no action is high, for example the rehabilitation of decommissioned mines requires at least US$32 million," says an EMA statement.

Zimbabwe's 2010 MDGs report recommends that the country should prioritise the restoration of existing water and sanitation infrastructure in both urban and rural areas that would be accompanied by a large-scale sanitation behavioural change programme targeted at eliminating open defecation.

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 Infrastru-ctural 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 quality.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's 2010 MDGs 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 two degrees celsius 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 predicted trajectory, it is predicted that temperatures will rise by between 0,5°C and two degrees celsius by 2030, and one degree celsius and 3,5°C by 2070. National average rainfall declined by about five percent between 1900 and 2000 ... the 1980s and early 1990s witnessed what were most likely 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. 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 are likely to increase in frequency. Certain models predict that there will have been a 10-20 percent decline in rainfall by 2050," says the MDGs report.

As a signatory to the UN-set MDGs, Zimbabwe pledged to achieve environmental sustainability through integrating the principles of sustainable development into the country's policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources; significantly reducing biodiversity loss by 2010; halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation; and considerably improve the lives of its slam dwellers by 2020.

However, much of the evidence on the ground points to a nation in reverse mode as no meaningful progress has been achieved to meeting these targets.

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