28 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Urban Areas Feeling the Heat, Too


GOVERNMENT should craft strategies and policies that address climate vulnerability for the poor in towns and cities. Urban areas are not what they used to be 60 years ago. More and more Zimbabweans have found their way into the city while more births are being recorded in our cities and towns. All this has piled pressure on existing infrastructure.

We are all affected in more or less similar ways by the impacts of climate change, particularly when it comes to provision of clean water.

This has largely affected the poor. A new paper published last week by the ZERO Regional Environment Organisation, a local NGO and the International Institute for Environment and Development of the UK, has challenged Government to distribute development and relief aid (for climate change purposes) between rural and urban areas equitably.

The "Climate Change Responses in Zimbabwe: Local Actions and National Policy" paper notes that rapid urbanisation had increased vulnerability in towns and cities, which needs the same attention that is afforded to rural areas.

"A continued focus on rural areas will mean that Zimbabwe will miss opportunities in urban areas and could face yet bigger challenges there, as climate change takes effect," the report said.

Zimbabwe's development policies have a strong rural bias greased by beliefs that up to 80 percent of the country's population live in the rural areas.

However, statistics from the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division show that the country's rate of urbanisation has spiked from 10,6 percent in 1950 to 38,1 percent in 2010.

At Independence in 1980 over 22 percent of Zimbabweans were living in urban areas.

Other analysts believe the level of urbanisation in Zimbabwe today may have reached 50 percent.

However, preliminary results from the 2012 population census estimated 12,9 million people lived in Zimbabwe with higher distribution in rural areas.

David Dodman, a researcher at IIED and co-author of the paper, says: "Climate change is a significant threat to Zimbabwe's development, but the country can take a number of steps now to help ensure it can adapt effectively to the changes ahead."

One of the biggest challenges will be to pay adequate attention to the needs of the urban poor.

He said the urban poor made up a growing proportion of the country's population but received only a small fraction of policy support.

"Ignoring their needs will create new challenges and could mean that Zimbabwe misses important development opportunities."

Across the world, over half of its 7 billion people now live in urban areas. Many live in makeshift houses in unplanned areas that often lack adequate water, sanitation and waste collection. Such areas face hazards - such as flash flooding - that may become more frequent or intense as a result of climate change.

The paper appears to suggest that civil society must play a bigger role in driving climate change adaptation in Zimbabwe.

For these efforts and more, it says NGOs ought to be rewarded by gaining "representation in higher-level decision-making processes and planning procedures in Zimbabwe".

However, while this sounds noble, the civil society sector does not exactly see eye-to-eye with the Government.

Government has generally treated NGOs with suspicion and mistrust accusing them of driving a foreign agenda, manipulation and political interference.

Except for a selected few, the rest of them were temporarily banned a few years back on account of the above allegations. It is crucial, therefore, that Government and NGOs develop a working relationship based on mutual trust and cemented by the common objective of building climate resilient communities.

Beyond that, Government is well aware of the important role that NGOs have been and are playing in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Government knows well that it would be extremely difficult to do the job alone for lack of financial capacity.

So NGOs can be expected to strictly toe the humanitarian line, show this to be true and leave politics to politicians; perhaps then, and only then, can they hope to assume influential positions in the bodies that make important decisions and policies on climate response.

"A growing number of Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations, which have come together to form the Climate Change Working Group, have a wealth of experience that policymakers can draw upon as they develop the national response to climate change," said Mr Shepherd Zvigadza of ZERO and joint author of the report.

"This includes strong connections with vulnerable communities and international research networks, as well as experience of the UN climate change regime and how Zimbabwe can benefit from it."

He said the knowledge and skills of the civil society and their connections with the most vulnerable communities - make them critical partners for policymakers to work with as they design, implement and evaluate climate change projects.

The IIED says through its exclusion from the LDCs, Zimbabwe is not providing its citizens sound climate-fighting benefits provided to similarly categorised countries, which include technical assistance, capacity building and IT exchange programmes.

"Although Zimbabwe is not officially an LDC, many of these activities are clearly relevant to the country, and there is the potential for these approaches to be adopted in policies and programmes that are being developed," said the report.

However, the Zimbabwe Government has previously rejected calls for listing as an LDC, and there is no reason to believe the position will change now because of climate change or because the IIED says so.

In Zimbabwe, climate change still remains peripheral in national budgetary processes yet there is a growing body of evidence elaborating the dangerous impacts of the science.

Those providing policy recommendations for coping with changing climatic conditions in Zimbabwe may have to do better than being LDC advocates.

LDC is a United Nations category describing impoverished nations struggling with social and economic development. Least Developed Countries are typically very poor, highly in debt and find it very difficult to borrow or to rely on themselves.

But the report stressed LDCs had generated many important lessons in how to plan for, and finance adaptation activities, and Zimbabwe could learn from these and other highly vulnerable countries to prepare more effectively for climate change.

God is faithful.


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