13 April 2013

Tanzania: In Focus: Climate Change From Local Perspectives

The destructive floods that occurred in Arusha recently remind of the importance of a climate change agenda from local perspectives. A local climate change agenda is important because it is widely acknowledged that adaptation to climate change to avoid its devastating effects on people will be successful only if particularly members of the community in rural areas participate effectively in adapting to climate change. Such agenda is also important because people in rural areas depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Lest we forget, climate change destroys natural resources.

There are challenges to overcome in order to enable members of the community to adapt to climate change. Most important is that members of community possess limited knowledge on climate change.

You think of pointing to the recent floods in Arusha and the frequent cyclones that occur at Oldonyosambu area to demonstrate the effect of climate change. Yet, it is difficult to link the floods or cyclones with climate change directly.

Specifically, it is difficult to enable members of the community to understand the effects of a rise in temperatures as a result of climate change. It is more so because experts speak of increase of average temperatures in the tune of "small" figures like 3 degrees. For example, a government commissioned study alerts that global warming which cause climate change will drive up average temperatures in Tanzania by 3-5 degrees Celsius and average daily temperatures by 2-3 degrees by 2075. But, many people cannot judge accurately the urgency of carrying out activities to adapt to climate change based on such "small" figures on temperature increase. That is, from community perspectives.

On their part, scientists inform that 3-5 degrees increase in water temperatures can have major effects on the environment. They explain that such increase may affect existence of particularly animals in fresh water bodies negatively perhaps through loss of oxygen in the water. As a result, many rivers and lakes may lose some of their economic value due to decrease in fishing activities. But again, it is challenging to demonstrate effectively to fishermen in Tanzania that a decrease in fish catch in a river is a result of a rise in water temperatures.

It is challenging to express visually to members of communities the change between the past and present vegetation in an area, let alone to enable members of community to imagine the change of vegetation as a result of climate change. It is even more difficult to explain the rise of sea water, decreasing amount of snow on Kilimanjaro Mountain, frequent droughts, frequent floods, shortage of water, poverty or destruction of forests as a result of climate change. Other challenges include convincing rural people that the negative changes on agriculture, ecology and socio-economy are a result of climate change.

Incidentally, scientists have developed techniques to determine change between the past and present vegetation of an area. The techniques involve collecting samples from selected sites to study pollen deposits that have been buried and fossilized in the soil over the years. Scientists mention use of another technique called carbon dating for the same purpose. Like for pollen, the scientists collect carbon deposits in the soil at selected sites. The scientists then analyze both pollen deposits and carbon dating records to determine the type of vegetation that existed in the area at different periods in time. Again, it will be challenging to pass on such information to members of rural communities effectively. The challenges on climate change adaptation continue.

There are challenges on how to enable members of rural communities to adapt to climate change after understanding climate change and its impacts. For example, it is difficult to convince members of community to plant crops like millet which are more suited to short rains which appear to be a characteristic of climate change at the moment. Members of community insist on cultivating maize instead.

Techniques like rainwater harvesting systems by using water tanks or modern drip irrigation systems to save water are adaptation measures which members of community in rural areas cannot afford. It emphasizes the importance of local programmes to enable particularly members of rural communities to adapt to climate change.

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