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Zimbabwe prepared to Deal with the adverse effects of Climate Change


Zimbabwe prepared to Deal with the adverse effects of Climate Change - An introspection of Zimbabwe’s Adaptive Capacity

Weather and Climate Change has become a newsworthy issue in most countries and Zimbabwe is no exception. The issue has become so topical such that almost everyone calls himself a ‘climate change expert’ hence the joke that ‘if you throw a stone in any street of Harare, they are chances that it will hit a ‘Climate Change Expert’’. But do we really understand Climate Change, its relation with weather and are we aware of what it can bring or what it means for us, let alone prepare ourselves to deal with its adverse effects as a nation?

 

Zimbabwe prepared to Deal with the adverse effects of Climate Change - An introspection of Zimbabwe’s Adaptive Capacity

Weather and Climate Change has become a newsworthy issue in most countries and Zimbabwe is no exception. The issue has become so topical such that almost everyone calls himself a ‘climate change expert’ hence the joke that ‘if you throw a stone in any street of Harare, they are chances that it will hit a ‘Climate Change Expert’’. But do we really understand Climate Change, its relation with weather and are we aware of what it can bring or what it means for us, let alone prepare ourselves to deal with its adverse effects as a nation?


A picture of Zambara school in Kamutsenzere, near Mkumbura border post showing a classroom block whose roof was ripped off by the November 19 (2012) violent storm which also left more than 15 villagers injured and destroyed several homes in the Mount Darwin District. [Picture taken by Eng.  C Madhaure on the 10th of January 2013 on an AWS site-survey tour aimed at putting an Automatic Weather Station in the area as a way of improving the early-warning system

Over the past few years we have seen many parts of Zimbabwe experiencing extreme events. Our winters have become so severe to the extent that many people’s horticultural produce which is a source of livelihoods for many has on many occasions been completely wiped out. We have had situations where the whole banana plantations, tomatoes and other vegetables are destroyed overnight by frost. So bad was the situation in certain areas that even chickens and in worse instances cattle also became victims. Whilst frost has been occurring over the past years, it is its severity, frequency and at times prolonged occurrence which is now worrisome.

We have read reports of farmers who collapse in shock after their much awaited entire tobacco plant has been reduced to nothing by hail in a just a couple of minutes. Cases of people and cars being washed away by (small) flooded rivers and property being damaged by flash-flooding even in the CBDs are common nowadays. Incidents of bridges being swept away by floods (such as during Cyclone Eline) and other capital infrastructure being affected by other weather phenomena in the recent

 

past are still vivid in our minds. The 2010/11 season had some of the record rainfalls with Wedza recording as much as 147mm of rain in 24hrs (almost half of Beitbridge’s annual total). Just recently, Nyanga had 164mm and Mutoko over 93mm and in contrast most parts of Chivi had not had any meaningful rains as of early part of 2013.

Whilst 2011 saw the Met Office having some of the record low temperature it is interesting to note that Buffalo Range and Beitbridge recorded the highest temperatures to date in Zimbabwe (almost 45℃), in one of the heat waves we have had in the recent past within a few months after the extreme winter. Despite us not having as much air-traffic volume as other airports, there were some minor delays in the landing or taking off of aircraft due to extreme weather events in the recent past.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to tour Mt Darwin and Chivi s part of a team which was verifying some scientific facts on the   nature of violent storms which caused massive destruction to property, caused serious injury to persons and is also reported to have caused some loss of life in Mt Darwin area. Recent destructions in such areas as Umzingwani, Manyene (Chivhu) and other areas by violent storms are also well documented. It is disturbing to see the whole community’s investment in their children’s future like in schools, usually constructed through contributions of communities’ hard-earned monies over many years being `reduced to rubble in 5 minutes as roofs are blown off by the violent storms heralding the fall of the school’s entire infrastructure.

The increased crop failure due to the erratic nature of our rains, possible shortening of the rainy season, reduction in rainy days and the increased frequency of droughts and floods occurrence is also well documented. Unreliability of the rainy season has left the abstract atmospheric scientific community and Indigenous Knowledge system/traditional indicators equally challenged when it comes to producing accurate long-range forecasts. The poor distribution of our rainfall (spatially and temporally) has been one of the major challenges to rain-fed agriculture whose role in the economy and livelihoods cannot be over-emphasised. In view of all the background information given above, the grand question that remains is ‘how prepared are we as a nation to deal with all these issues? To what extend do we know the issues we have to be dealing with and how prepared are we as a nation? How confident are we in our preparedness. Do the most vulnerable communities know the issues and available adaptation options?

By any standard, January of 2013 has been unusually wet and will go in the records as one of the wettest Januaries ever since the recording of rainfall in Zimbabwe more than a century ago! The period has seen a number of the Meteorological stations breaking the record-falls ever received in 24hrs for that month. Nyanga received 164mm in 24 hours (which is 16cm of rain and three times the severe rainfall threshold of 50mm) thus breaking the ever-recorded January rainfall record since the station was opened more than half a century ago. Rusape, Mutoko, Mutare and the usually dry Beitbridge also had one of the highest January 24hour records as well. In just three days, most stations in Manicaland, Masvingo and Matebeleland South had recorded almost half of their expected seasonal total rainfalls.  Many other stations dotted around the country also received record high rainfalls. One striking thing about this wet spell is its prolonged life-span which naturally culminates into serious nutrient-leaching, lightning strikes as well as loss of life and property to flooding and drowning.

Whilst the nation was ‘early-warned’ of the impending falls which could trigger flooding and related disasters, Zimbabwe has unfortunately lost tens of souls in some avoidable instances mainly through drowning as people try to cross flooded rivers.  It seems either some of the people do not take these warnings seriously or simply do not know what to do in face of such extremes.  Others just do not value life including their subjects especially in commuter omnibuses resulting in these recently common but unfortunate incidences. We have read of incidences where some departments which are key in the national operations spent days ‘trapped’ outside town thus spending almost half  a week more in what was initially meant to be a day trip. Does this say anything about our disaster preparedness and national capacity to respond to extreme weather and the adverse effects of Climate Change? Could this be avoided in the future and was there no way of better-adapting to such wet-spells? Did the disaster management team do their best under the circumstances? Could the forecasts have been used any better to prepare for that ‘unplanned’ trip any better even on that short lead-time? I have seen people in the Northern hemisphere stocking foodstuffs in preparation for severe storms or adverse weather forecast to strike a couple of days later as they anticipate some ripple effects of the storms in their daily chores. In contrast to the local scenario, media reports that some of the travellers had not carried enough medication, sanitary wear, and clothing among other basic essentials to cover for an extra day.  ‘How and why’ they had to spend all these days ‘stuck’ in that region (before they got helped out) is a question which may need another separate piece of analysis but basically raise some questions on our preparedness or capacity to deal with weather and climate-induced disasters especially if they are widespread. Indeed the extent of the rains and subsequent flooding is quite unusual in comparison to recent past records/trends. What is however more critical to understand is that the atmosphere is warming and climate is changing, with numerous studies insinuating on high likelihood of increased extreme events  especially the intensity of storms and generally a shift in the rainfall patterns from the past situations. It is therefore imperative for all sectors of the economy, government, private sector and communities to put their thoughts and resources together in raising awareness and increasing everyone’s preparedness to deal with these unusual situations which are most likely going to become more frequent in the future.



A picture taken in Zvishavave showing a small van with 3 people inside stuck after trying to cross a stream which had over-flown the bridge in Zvishavane after a short-lived intense morning storm. Flash-flooding in towns due to blocked drains and people trying to cross flooded rivers is the contributor to loss of property and rising death-toll respectively. [Picture Taken on 12 December 2013 by Elisha N Moyo]


Was there any prior information on the impending extreme weather conditions of January 2013?


Whilst January recently used to have less rainfall than February, 2013 seem to have brought a completely new paradigm. Unlike 2012 which ended on a low note with some parts of Zimbabwe having received relatively little rains as was predicted in the 2012-2013 Seasonal forecast, the story changed completely in 2013. On January 4 2013, the designated authority on Meteorology in Zimbabwe - the Met Office, updated the seasonal forecast (following the SARCOF 17 regional seasonal forecast update meeting hosted by Zambia in December). The updated forecast went for a more promising last half of the season (JFM) where the whole country is expected to receive normal to above normal cumulative rainfall totals. This was a slight shift from an initially gloomy picture specifically for parts of the Midlands, Masvingo and Parts of the Mat South which in the August Seasonal forecast was expected to receive below normal rains in the last half of the season.  

A few days after the Seasonal Forecast update, in line with its motto of ‘minimising risk through science’, the Meteorological Services Department (Met Office)  predicted heavy rainfall and  went further to issue several heavy rainfall warnings on various media channels among them the radio, TV, Newspapers, Website and social sites. Related Climate Applications/impacts or implications as well as recommendations were also being issued with the forecast which the users can verify its accuracy. Although it is clear that the ‘urbanites’ got the early-warning, it may not be the case with the most vulnerable members of the community as most do not have access to these platforms. This may be explaining some of the related incidents being reported.

One of the key challenges being presented by Climate Change is the rapid development in the atmospheric systems, which coupled with relatively reduced level of scientific understanding of the atmospheric processed is making forecasting much more difficult. This also implies that nations are better off prepared for both extremes such as drought and flooding in the case of Zimbabwe. Members of the public must also take heed of the advisories issued and prepare accordingly even on short notices to save life and property.  The seasonal climate outlook forecast must guide our national actions and help in strategic planning and programing whilst the weekly and daily weather update and forecasts must aid tactical decision-making by the insurance industry, government departments, private sector, NGOs, communities and the policy-makers alike. Together, we can build a nation where all are prepared to Deal with extreme weather and the adverse effects of Climate Change thus ensuring sustainable development, attainment of the MDGs through reducing diseases as well as loss of life, shelter, food and property.

Elisha N Moyo is a Snr Meteorologist in the Met Services Dept. of Zimbabwe’s Climate Application Branch. Views expressed are purely of the author. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for feedback.



 

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