CLIMATOLOGISTS have warned that the El Nino weather phenomenon, caused by the warming Pacific Ocean, is expected to devastate eastern and southern African nations, including Zimbabwe, this year and in 2016.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
Unicef already says about 11 million children in eastern and Southern Africa are facing hunger due to one of the strongest El Nino occurrences in decades. It says El Nino will cause droughts and floods resulting in untold suffering among children who will be vulnerable to diseases like malaria, diarrhea, cholera and dengue fever.
According to State of the Environment in Southern Africa, done by Sadc, between 1800 and 1992, Zimbabwe experienced 16 devastating droughts.
Between 1981 and 1983 most of Southern Africa experienced drought; 1983 was particularly bad for the entire African continent. From 1991 to 1992, Southern Africa, excluding Namibia, experienced the worst drought in living memory.
A dry year can result in large-scale crop failure, food shortages and in extreme cases, famine. Trees and grasses wilt and die and animals perish from hunger and thirst.
Subsistence farming, which provides rural Zimbabweans with food, will be in ruins. Drought, associated with suffering and loss of crops, livestock and wildlife, also causes people to trek for long distances to the few sources of water that may still be available.
During such hard times, some people — waiting for the rain or dreading the coming of the dry season, to borrow from award-winning writer Charles Mungoshi’s prominent titles — would pray for rain both in traditional and christian ceremonies, and the onset of the rains is often viewed as the single most important event of the year.
In Zimbabwe people used to make a pilgrimage to the Njelele shrine located in the Matobo Hills in Matabeleland South province just outside Bulawayo between August and September annually to pray or do rituals for the rain.
Of course, there are modern methods of trying to counter and minimise the impact of drought. El Nino is caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean and not climate change though there some believe that this weather condition may be intensifying due to global warming. Climate change is a controversial subject as there are contending schools of thought on what causes it.
Based on extrapolations of the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee results of 2015, approximately 1,5 million Zimbabweans (16% of rural households) are likely to be unable to meet their food needs during the 2015/2016 hunger season.
While the drought has impacted the entire country this year, regions most affected by food insecurity include Matabeleland North, Midlands, Matabeleland South and Masvingo. Food shortages have badly affected communities in those regions, especially vulnerable populations. Government interventions have not been enough.
Drought has direct and indirect economic, social, and environmental consequences. Some of these problems are difficult to avoid, even with early preparation.
However, others are avoidable, especially those stemming from poor economic planning and a delayed drought response. For Zimbabwe, poor planning and delayed response will expose people and the economy to serious damage by the looming drought. The economy is already imploding and drought will just make things worse.
Drought-induced economic problems include those resulting from diminished dairy and beef, crop, timber, and fishery production; lack of power for industrial use; decline in agriculture-dependent industries; increased unemployment in agriculture and other drought-affected industries; strain on financial institutions (capital shortfalls, credit risks); loss of revenue to state and local governments (from reduced tax base); reduced navigability of waterways; and increased costs for transport of water and development of new sources (Wilhite and Glantz, 1985). Such impact is felt across the economy by municipalities, business and industry, agricultural enterprises, households and individuals, and government.
In 1992, Zimbabwe’s GDP fell by 8% in real terms due to drought, with the agricultural sector shrinking 3%. Because countries like Zimbabwe are driven primarily by agriculture, the economic mainstay, effects of droughts are direct and can be devastating.