Monday, 16 November 2015

Zim 2015 Drought, Waiting for the Rain Minus an Urgent National Action Plan


By Takura Zhangazha*

The rains have sort of started falling in Zimbabwe.  The general public impression is that they are late. For many citizens resident in the Southern, western and south east parts of the country these rains are for the next harvest. Between then and now they are now already experiencing the effects of a drought. Food and water are becoming scarce and the grass is no longer green for livestock.  So once again the begging bowls are out in parts of rural Zimbabwe. The givers, mainly in the form of government and food aid agencies, are beginning to mention importation of grain but perhaps without as much urgency as those that are waiting for help.

Not that the drought is unique to Zimbabwe. Its predicted to affect much of Southern Africa with the region’s biggest economy South Africa already feeling its effects through water shortages.  In Zimbabwe the government has initially presented it as largely being the main cause of the sharp drop in water levels at Kariba Dam.

The reality of the matter is that it is not just about the electricity crisis as largely felt in our urban and industrial production sectors.  It is more about its debilitating effect on the lives of a majority of citizens who reside in rural areas.  Nor is it just about the vulnerability assessments undertaken by the Meteorological Department or the early warning systems of Fewsnet. Or grand ministerial statements confirming what is already being experienced across Southern parts of the country. 

Understandably government will want to demonstrate that it is not only in control of the humanitarian disaster the drought will cause but also the equitable distribution of food aid.   In this, it will seek to manage the food aid distribution as carefully as possible because essentially a drought is and can be a big political mobilization issue. Especially in our own local context where the opposition political parties have generally and not without some credibility, accused government of politicizing food aid.

The problem here is that this is no different a typical response from previous and recent droughts.  In fact the major problem has been that government appears to have a singular short term template to respond to our increasingly cyclical droughts.  This generally involves a broad and vague statement from the responsible minister, a mention of it from a presidential address, claims of importation of maize from a neighbouring country and then general chaos about the latter’s distribution.  In the end, it is food aid agencies that eventually fill the gaps amidst tight monitoring by government.  In between both, it is private players, either millers or their middlemen that enter the lucrative business of maize distribution and selling in the most affected areas.

To state the obvious, this sort of approach needs to be changed. In the first place a drought is a national crisis, not a selective provincial predicament.  The failure of crops in one part of the country inevitably affects all other parts and must therefore be handled through a national and symbiotic programme of action.

Because of their continual recurrence, these droughts require a much more urgent and  long term national strategic intervention that limits their impact on peoples livelihoods.  This is because we have to learn to accept their increasing permanence in our political economy.  That is why we should by now have a broader national drought strategy that addresses this particular natural problem in a truly integrated fashion. Not just from year to year but over longer periods of time and seasons. Especially given the data that we already have from previous debilitating droughts such as those of 1991-1992, 1994, 2004, 2012,  and now 2015 (the list is actually longer).

We need to shift from relying on colonial legacy infrastructure and plans such as the still to be completed Tokwe Mukosi dam which were intended largely for commercial agriculture.  This must be replaced by a much more people centered response that takes into account not only commercial/industrial priorities for water storage and consumption but also looks at those long neglected in long term central government planning for droughts, the rural and urban poor.

Furthermore, our climate change policies need to be more robust and with contextualized solutions that go beyond attending global conferences where again we rely on the biased knowledge production from the world’s worst polluters of the environment.  

As it it, we are not taking the drought as seriously as we should. Beyond the politics of succession, we have a bigger national crisis in the form of the drought that a majority of Zimbabweans are going to be negatively affected by. We need to talk about it and pressure government to do much more than it has previously done and press for longer term solutions that help all and not just the politically connected.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)