Political Meddling behind Zimbabwe’s Environment Challenges

“We are not interested in wildlife; we do not want to learn about the business. We want cash.” argued former Masvingo provincial governor, Titus Maluleke

ZIMBABWE, like any other country in the world, is facing extraordinary and multidimensional environmental challenges. The environment is an inseparable sector from the economy and food security, which is why it is important for the people of Zimbabwe to promptly address environmental challenges. The problem of environmental degradation is far more complex than originally perceived.

With the abundant natural resources in Zimbabwe, there is a great potential for economic development and eventually poverty reduction if resources are used in a sustainable manner.

The underlying causes to the environmental challenges in Zimbabwe include poorly crafted legislation and little to no enforcement of existing legislation that is underpinned by corruption.

Poverty and Environment

Citizens who occupy the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy heavily rely on the natural environment. This directly causes deforestation in Zimbabwe as people require firewood for cooking energy and it inturn leads to vegetation destruction.

Despite Zimbabwe’s long history of biodiversity preservation, the abundant biodiversity is being lost mainly due to habitat destruction from expansion of agricultural lands, timber logging, wood fuel collection, poaching, and invasion of alien species, droughts, fires, and high elephant densities.

The distribution of people and productive agricultural resources is uneven, leading to problems of land degradation, where large numbers of people and livestock are concentrated on marginal lands.

Clean Water Provision

Zimbabwe is a semi-arid country and water, which is a key resource, is unevenly distributed in time and space. Groundwater drawn from underground streams and aquifers make provision for both rural and urban areas, although water availability remains an increasing problem.

Reduced water availability is caused by over-extraction due to population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation, resulting in increased competition between water using stakeholders. Despite high rainfall amounts received by the country during the 2016-17 rain seasons, many Zimbabwean cities continue to experience acute water shortages.

In his State of the City address of 2017, Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni of Harare metropolitan bemoaned the state of Harare’s environment as far as clean water provision and distribution is concerned, citing political interference with Harare City Council (HCC) affairs and functions.

A recent report said that Harare residents should brace for more water cuts as pumps at the city’s water treatment works constantly break down. These problems are not unique to Harare City Council but are a daily occurrence in almost every city in Zimbabwe. Harare City Council’s waste water treatment plants have a capacity of 220 mega litres a day but are currently producing only 132 mega litres. Water supply and treatment systems have of late been characterised by obsolete infrastructure, and 55% of water is lost through bursts and illegal connections. Harare City Council alone requires $178 million to fund the replacement of its water piping and network rehabilitation.

Water pollution

Surface water and ground water pollution is emerging as a major concern, worsened by water waste. Water pollution is mainly caused by inadequate or non-existent treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater, and is increasing due to population growth.

Key sources of water pollution include mining activities, industrial and manufacturing works, poorly maintained sewage treatment works in urban areas, partially treated sewage effluent, leachate from landfills, soil erosion and siltation, and fertiliser and pesticide use, intensive urbanisation, increased industrial activities and high exploitation of cultivable land.

Climate Change

Climate change is likely to result in hotter days and fewer colder days than before. The warming trend is already established, with increased annual mean surface temperatures. The timing and amount of rainfall is becoming increasingly uncertain, and the frequency and length of dry spells during the rainy season have increased. Incremental temperatures of around 2.5°C by 2050 have been projected, and rainfall is predicted to decrease in all seasons.

ICT Revolution

The recent surge in the use of electronic services and gadgets poses a great threat to biodiversity. Weak regulatory guidelines for safe disposal of the burgeoning electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) have the potential to accentuate environmental degradation. The migration from analogue to digital technologies poses a threat to the environment if disposal of old generation sets is improperly handled.

There is need to institute a regulatory framework for management of e-waste as well as take back programmes. Fiscal incentives must be initiated to encourage entire life cycle e-waste handling, encompassing the transportation, sorting, fraction recovery and disposal stages of electronic waste.

Political Dimension Of Organised Hunting

Organised hunting and poaching has become a means for the politically connected to earn scarce foreign currency. Zimbabwe’s wildlife is under threat with incidences like the Hwange National Park, where about 100 elephants succumbed to cyanide poisoning.

And similar but smaller incidents have been reported across the country at Gonarezhou, Mana Pools, Zambezi, Charara, and Matusadona national parks. The politically connected are also reported to be operating hunting and commercial bush meat operations on protected lands.

Recommendations

Recommendations on the above environmental challenges are as follows:

  • Look to community based governance and partnerships; ensuring effective governance at grassroots level gives communities stature and ultimately lead to effective policy changes on a national scale.
  • Promulgation and enactment of better policies and regulations; the government of Zimbabwe needs to redefine its role in safe water provision.
  • Holistic management of ecosystems; environmental management requires a practical, common sense approach that takes into consideration the economic, cultural and ecological goals.
  • Build international frameworks and institutional cooperation; being a difficult task as it may, policymakers and environmental advocates need to build international accords for natural resources.
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Post published in: Environment