The Herald, Zimbabwe
By Tsitsi Makwande
If you are one of the many Zimbabweans who do not know or do not care too much about climate change, perhaps it is time to think again. Climate change has become a global challenge and was the most contentious topic at this year's G8 Summit held in Japan.
Of course, the Western media's attention was on what the G8 would have to say about political developments in Zimbabwe and so many people missed the fact that the meeting was mainly about climate.
Our own Ministry of Environment and Tourism and relevant stakeholders continue to talk about this global challenge yet the ordinary person remains oblivious to the fact that our very existence is under threat.
A survey carried out by The Herald revealed that many Zimbabweans do not know about climate change nor are they aware of its disastrous effects on our environment and, by implication, our economy and livelihood. The main reason is probably that it is a subject that many people not only find boring, but also too complicated for their understanding.
This means that Government and relevant stakeholders still have a big role to play in enlightening members of the public on this important issue through means that appeal to the ordinary person in easy-to-understand ways. Another major reason why people still remain in the dark about climate change is that Zimbabwe is among the many developing countries that have contributed least to this problem.
So we find ourselves in the unenviable position where we suffer from a problem that has been created by industrialised countries far away from us. It really is difficult for one to know about a problem they did not cause. The largest contributors to climate change are the G8 nations themselves, which collectively are responsible for about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Sadly, Zimbabwe, like other Third World nations, will suffer the greatest damage as a result of climate change and this is why our people need to be informed about it so that they too can play their part in safeguarding themselves against its effects. According to the 2007-8 United Nations Development Report, which has the theme "Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity In a Divided World": "The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer the most damaging setbacks even though they have contributed least to the problem."
Although this may be unfair, it is the reality of the world we live in and it is a problem that requires urgent attention, especially from us as the victims. We are the ones who will feel the pinch and so we must know what we are faced with. The effects are already there and everyone in Zimbabwe is aware of them though they may not know that it is climate change at work. Already, we are experiencing the pinch of frequent droughts that have come with the changes in weather conditions.
In 2000, Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe were hit by Cyclone Eline which left thousands of people homeless and in need of food relief. It is also feared that climate change is likely to have consequences for Western Cape's ability to resist sea flooding along its 307km of coastline. This places an unwelcome likelihood of another tsunami, this time too close for comfort. Such natural disasters remain a never-ending threat to us if we do not tackle climate change head-on.
So grave is the problem before us that President Mugabe spoke about it at the 2007 United Nations General Assembly, saying: "Climate change is one of the most pressing global issues of our time. Its negative impact is greatest in developing countries, particularly those on the African continent.
"We believe that if the international community is going to seriously address the challenges of climate change, then we need to get our priorities right. In Zimbabwe, the effects of climate change have become more evident in the past decade as we have witnessed increased and recurrent droughts as well as occasional floods, leading to enormous humanitarian challenges." Unfortunately, Zimbabwe, like many other Afi-ican countries, has an agro-based economy, meaning that climate change poses a serious threat to food security. According
to the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Cde Francis Nhema, the impact of climate change, which if left unchecked, could do serious damage to tropical agriculture, especially in Ahca and South Asia, which would result in an additional 1,s billion people to feed by 2050.
As such, we have the more reason to be educated about climate change so that we can do our part from an informed perspective.
Tragically, climate change not only threatens our environment and subsequently our agricultural output, but our health as well.
Research carried out by the World Health Organisation reveals that climate change directly contributes to changes in the geographical distribution of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, menengococcal meningitis, Rift Valley fever and cholera. Currently, malaria kills 3 000 children each day in sub-Saharan Africa and one can only shudder to imagine how many more of our children will perish if climate change is not dealt with.
Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change. We cannot afford to stand by and wait for richer nations to take the lead in combating a problem that they have created and shown great reluctance to deal with by reducing their greenhouse emissions.
In as much as the G8 nations have endorsed a target to halve global emissions by 2050, they have stressed that they cannot do it alone though they largely created the problem alone. As we are more at risk from climate change than they are, we have to take the initiative and safeguard our environment and health. Understandably, Africa, unlike the G8 nations, is financially weak in tackling the challenges of climate change.
However, it would make a great difference if members of the public and relevant stakeholders play their part, no matter how small, in the fight against climate change. Our thrust should be to avoid clearing the green lands and forests that we currently have as these go a long way in combating the effects of greenhouse emissions. The challenge for Government becomes to ensure that people have access to reliable sources of heating and energy so that they do not have to resort to cutting down inordinate hectarages of trees.
The onus is also on those who would like to see industrial expansion to find means of setting up their business operations in ways that do not threaten the ecosystem. More money should be invested in industrial technologies that cut down on the amount of pollutants that are released into the atmosphere and into water bodies.
While this may seem expensive, the long and short of it is that it will be cheaper to invest in green technologies than to try and deal with the disastrous effects of climate change later on.
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