Zimbabwe: Tackling the Impact of Climate Crisis on Conflict in Zimbabwe

13 March 2023

Harare — The climate emergency clearly contributes to greater conflict, although through indirect channels. There are a variety of context factors, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC) - in particular, socioeconomic conditions, governance, and political factors - that interact and play a key role in translating climate change into conflict risks.

The Institute for Security Studies supports this notion. It says there is broad consensus that climate change is a  primary cause of violent conflict , and that poverty levels, economic possibilities, and unemployment are important variables raising the possibility of conflict.

While climate influences the likelihood of violence inside nations, as global temperatures rise, the likelihood of armed conflict is anticipated to significantly rise, according to IPS .

Related factors that lead to conflict – including competition for scarce resources such as land and water – are rooted in the absence of social justice, say peacebuilding scholars.

Mainstream approaches to preventing and ending conflict have not adequately addressed development challenges, said Dr. Norman Chivasa. " Simply because these peacebuilding interventions have been elitist – overlooking, and under-appreciating local peace initiatives, he said.

*Chivasa is a research fellow in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies  at the Department of Peacebuilding, International Centre of Nonviolence at Durban University of Technology.

in Zimbabwe, the likelihood of patronage, rent seeking, and resource rivalry among the elites may be increased and made worse by projected increases in temperatures, droughts, and floods, which may have a severe influence on agricultural and animal production and productivity and threaten food security.

Food insecurity and competition over access and use of natural resources could then exacerbate the root causes of conflict, according to the  Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) , a global partnership that unites international organizations engaged in research about food security. The repercussions of the climate crisis can have a variety of effects on the food, land, and water systems, diminishing their productivity and raising food poverty while also having the potential to spark conflict.

Meanwhile the existing water shortage in Bulawayo and Matabeleland North provinces may be worsened by the climate crisis, heightening existing tensions and inequality and raising the possibility of violent conflict between the ruling elites and the opposition.

"The provinces of Bulawayo and Matabeleland North have suffered from political, social, and economic marginalization which has fostered a distinct identity that overlaps ethnicity and political sentiments," reads a CGIAR  report .

Bulawayo and Matabeleland North are also two of the most vulnerable locations to climate change and harsh weather.

However, there is now a ray of hope that the struggle may be intensified with the rise of community leaders across the nation who are now taking the lead  in raising awareness among regular residents about the need for strategies for climate adaptation and mitigation. Such local peace initiatives need "resources for women and youth to engage in peacebuilding processes at the grassroots level", said Dr. Chivasa. Although they lack "the capacity to address entrenched power and gender norms, it is possible for local people to deal with local peace challenges provided the affected community is willing to take responsibility for its own peace and development".

Zimbabwe is combating the consequences of climate change, with the government working with farmers to increase output by extending access to mechanisation and irrigation, often through public-private partnerships. These programs include the Climate Proofed Presidential Inputs Support Scheme, the National Enhanced Agricultural Productivity Scheme, and dam building, with Marowanyati being the most recent.

Ecosystem restoration, according to environmental experts, can take many different forms, such as planting trees, greening cities, replanting gardens, altering diets, or cleaning up rivers and other bodies of water. According to them, helping ecosystems that have been damaged or destroyed recover and protecting ecosystems that are still present in the nation are the main goals of the restoration process.

The major goal is to sustain healthier ecosystems with a richer and more diversified biodiversity since this improves the quality of our soil, improves the yields of fish and other species as well as timber, and increases greenhouse gas storage. In northern Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, which is hidden away on the southern banks of the Zambezi River, climate change is now recognized as one of the  major threats to biodiversity, along with a large elephant population, land degradation, and habitat loss.

An invasive plant called vernonanthura polyanthes, sometimes known as the "Bee plant," is quickly encroaching on Zimbabwe's formerly pristine Eastern Highlands, cluttering productive croplands and cattle pastures as climate change drives plant species to new places.
Beekeepers are grateful for the honey the plant provides, but farmers want it destroyed.

No one wants to give ground.

The conflict over this tall, thick plant is intensifying since up to 70% of Zimbabwe's population is employed in agriculture and more than 50,000 of them are actively involved in beekeeping, according to Modern Farmer .

According to Oxfam , parts of Zimbabwe had their lowest rainfall since 1981 which has helped push more than 5.5 million people into extreme food insecurity. Meanwhile, Zambia's rich maize-growing area were decimated and exports are now banned, with over 2.3 million people left food insecure. The situation is worsening including in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Colonel Pierre du Toit, an Interpol regional specialist officer for the SADC, stated that  climate change is now a security concern  that poses hazards to regional economic development and security. But the how and why are some of the biggest unknowns.

According to a  UN report , civil war is much more likely when the economy experiences a downturn; the economy is more likely to experience a downturn when the agricultural sector is not productive; and the agricultural sector will likely be unproductive when temperatures are high and rainfall is low. This may be because climate change may result in economic shocks in the wake of a disaster or leads to failure of agriculture productivity.

Elsewhere on the continent, tens of millions of people are facing an environment that is becoming more unstable and difficult due to a combination of droughts, flooding, locust plagues, environmental degradation, and bad governance.

Climate change is  taking a toll right across the Horn of Africa, with increasingly erratic weather and low rainfall common in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia. According to the U.N., more than 2.5 million people in Somalia were forced from their homes by drought and insecurity in recent years and many are now at risk of starvation. Militants also exploited climate crises to win legitimacy and Al-Shabaab learned to take advantage of natural disasters by helping victims and legitimizing its power, according to  Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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