Monday, February 08, 2016

History Brings Us to the Edge. . . Adaptation Just Not Enough
February 8, 2016
Jeffrey Gogo
Zimbabwe Herald

HISTORY has once again brought us to the precipice. With the water crisis on the left, disease in the centre, and drought on the right, the socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe today is fluid.

As Zimbabwe goes through its worst drought in 25 years due to El Nino, key questions are beginning to emerge: whether coping with climate change is at all feasible, and if possible, can communities prepare adequately for its dangerous impacts, ever?

Evidently, adaptation is facing serious limits.

Otherwise, hundreds of peasant farmers nationwide could have avoided the loss of 16 700 cattle to the drought — either through own native knowledge or with external assistance. Further, had adaptation — human responses that limit vulnerability to climate change — been winning, there would be less hungry mouths to feed.

Instead, the number of people requiring food aid this year has soared 63 percent to 2,44 million — or 19 percent of the population — from a year ago, according to Local Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere.

Yet, authorities have since 2008 pursued a deliberate policy towards growing not only agriculture production and food security, but also building resilience within the communal and smallholder-farmer communities.

On the average, Government has delivered roughly $25 million inputs worth to thousands of households for free each year, but even then, hunger remains a major concern, as frequent climate-linked droughts and floods wreak havoc.

These interventions only scrap the surface.

The amount of work needed to adapt Zimbabwe’s social and economic systems to changing climates goes much deeper, from policy alignment to resource mobilisation to effective implementation — and success is not guaranteed either.

Farmers have received from Government fertilisers and seed, but not rain.

Authorities just cannot make it rain, and lack of rain has made the inputs support programme only a half response to tackling adverse climate change impacts.

Now, whereas El Nino is not necessarily climate change-related, it is one of the major sources of climate variability globally as it influences rainfall and temperatures.

It’s a close relationship with climate change should never be downplayed, however. New studies suggest that climate change will result in frequent, very strong El Nino events in the future, possibly occurring once every decade.

El Nino usually strikes once every 7 years but the most extreme occur in 20 years. The threat from frequent severe El Nino events combined with dreary climate change will likely make adaptation very difficult.

And it’s not as though things were easy going without the El Nino. According to the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (2014), the most authoritative work on the science, adaptation faces significant risks from climate change, the problem it aims to neutralise.

It said adaptation may not be enough to respond to climate change. That could mean actions that do not tackle the fundamental causes behind climate change — human-induced greenhouse gases emissions — may never suffice as adequately effective climate responses.

Global charity organisation Oxfam, said in a 2014 report that its successes on an adaptation project in the Masvingo Province was facing challenges.

It said the drought of 2012/13 caused significant water stress for the irrigation project, supporting nearly 300 families, but the heavy rains in that season damaged irrigation infrastructure, including the main pipeline.

The IPCC does not entirely discount the effectiveness of adaptive actions, but the report shows Africa and the rest of the world were ill-prepared for climate stresses, and that actions to adapt were coming under serious pressure from climate impacts.

This lack of preparedness, if ever one can be adequately prepared, is what cost the 16 700 cattle; what has contributed to the water crisis in Harare, and what has turned a backward but serious disease like typhoid into a perennial problem.

For how would the peasant farmers have responded — preserved fodder and water during times of plenty to nourish their animals at a time of drought when there is barely enough for themselves to eat?

No villager could have anticipated these things. And those in authority that did forecast the drought were not quick enough to prevent the disaster from happening.

That is the complexity brought on by climate change; many are caught unawares and those that are awake to the realities are facing increasingly limited options to helping those who are not.

Now, this year’s agricultural season has been declared a disaster by President Mugabe last week, effectively opening the doors to foreign aid.

God is faithful.

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