columnBy Jeff Gogo
THE fast growing cities of sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly becoming vulnerable to the impact of climate change and variability.
In Zimbabwe, the risk is still low but the threat of economic and social disruptions arising from climate disasters remains real.
The most vulnerable sectors would be urban infrastructure and services, especially water supply, sewerage, solid waste management and electricity, which are already existing nightmares for cities like Harare.
Housing and urban planning will suffer, poverty and disease will worsen, and ecosystems and land use disturbed.
Food will become scarce, and rapid urbanisation will multiply pressure on all essential town services.
Vulnerability is the extent to which a city system, including its natural and social sub-system, is susceptible to climate damage, according to Dr Kenneth Odero, a climate change and regional planning expert at Climate XL Africa in Harare.
In the context of climate change impacts, it is important for Zimbabwean cities to increase resilience by facilitating and mainstreaming adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures in planning and development.
Dr Odero said all local cities and towns faced uncertain economic and social futures because they were, to some degree, vulnerable to short-, medium- and long-term climate impacts.
Such exposure called for smart local action, he said, advising that cities "seriously re-evaluate their land use and zoning policies".
"Cities of the future must be driven by production and consumption patterns tuned to low-carbon sustainable growth," Dr Odero explained.
"Unlike the cities of today that are energy inefficient and promote conspicuous consumption, the next generation of cities should be based on green economics and will be ecologically sustainable.
"We need decision makers versed in science and scientists versed in policy."
The concept of building clean, climate smart and resilient cities is a new fast growing approach to sustainable development.
Cities contribute significantly to the production of greenhouse gases, the biggest cause of climate change.
Conversely, they have now started to feel the dangerous impacts of their own actions, which are premised on explosive manufacturing, transport, consumption and construction activities, big sources of carbon.
These sectors and others like waste management will require rigorous reform to improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
In a city like Harare, solid waste management is already a serious challenge.
The city struggles with effective waste control, filling landfills with mountains of garbage, a source of deadly methane gas, one of the key drivers of global warming.
Harare's water infrastructure is already in shambles.
Many townships go for days and months without running tap water and in 2008 more than 4 000 people died in a cholera outbreak.
Now these inefficiencies are only a result of poor strategic planning, when climate change strikes the script will worsen.
Moreover, the loss of wetlands in Harare due to poor council construction decisions has pushed the water table 12 metres deeper to 30 metres.
Dr Odero highlighted the importance of the use of science and scientific information to help manage cities better.
This way "we can work to estimate risk better than we have in the past when it comes to extreme events".
Across the world, over half of its seven 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.
A paper released last December by the International Institute for Environment and Development of the UK and ZERO Regional Environment Organisation, a local NGO, challenged Government to distribute development and relief aid (for climate change purposes) to rural and urban areas equitably.
The "Climate Change Responses in Zimbabwe: Local Actions and National Policy" paper said rapid urbanisation had increased vulnerability in towns and cities, which needed attention much as afforded to rural areas.
"A continued focus on rural areas will mean that Zimbabwe misses opportunities in urban areas and could face yet bigger challenges there as climate change takes effect," the report said.
God is faithful.