#CSW58 MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

By Rumbidzai Dube

The environment is our most valued/priced natural asset because in it exist all the elements that make our lives what they are; air, water, sun, wind, rain, food among others. The conservation of the environment is hence a priority area as failure to conserve it could spell our demise or extinction. Yet, more often than not, the protection of the environment is relegated to the least of our priorities. Even at the global level, recognition that environmental protection is needed is there but the political will to do so is as good as non-existent. The big powers, whose greed and reckless quest to grow their economies is largely responsible for the rut we are in with climate change, refuse to take up responsibility in mitigating further damage and stopping further degradation by reducing their emissions and giving financial assistance to the countries affected by climate change already to adapt to the current climatic trends.

Yet in all this, the poor suffer more. How, one would ask; climate change affects the environment and in doing so poses the biggest human security threat to the poor and the vulnerable. The majority of our women in Zimbabwe live off the land, vana gogo vanorima (women farmers), vana tete vanochera mbambaira (sweet-potato harvesters), madzimai emusika anotengesa maveggie (vendors), makorokoza echidzimai (female gold panners) they all live off the land.

Climate change could bring either droughts or floods. Droughts will mean that the farmers, who depend on consistent and sufficient rains, will be affected. The failure of the rains to come means their failure to produce food (crop failure); which means there will be food insecurity, which will bring hunger, which in turn causes malnutrition. Poor yield means increased poverty and with poverty come health risks. Droughts also mean less water available, the less clean water we have available, the more our chances of being exposed to contaminated water which will result in the contraction of terrible diseases like cholera and typhoid, something that Zimbabwe has already experienced.

Climate change could also mean floods. As the experience of Zimbabwe with the Tokwe-Mukosi disaster illustrated, floods bring many issues: displacement, homelessness, food insecurity, disease, poverty and a general drawback to the development agenda.

Our main energy source in the rural areas, firewood comes from the land and results in the cutting down of trees, the very same forests we need to mitigate against climate change. But what other alternative do they have; gas is expensive, electricity is scarce-and although solar is readily available and can be successfully converted for cooking, it is slow and is hardly a favoured option in many households.

What have we done well?

  • Although in the SADC region, Botswana, Mauritius, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Seychelles, Swaziland, Malawi and Lesotho are doing better than us, we are ranked number 100 in our carbon dioxide emissions. This makes us one of the lowest net emitters of greenhouse gases. One could argue that this is the case because we have no industry to talk about as most of our factories and plants have closed and are largely dysfunctional.
  • However, should we begin boosting our exiting efforts at adopting green energy, this could prove useful in maintaining our emissions really low and preserving our environment.
  • We are producing ethanol fuel which is home-grown and in the process creating jobs, developing our economy and preserving the environment.
  • We are improving our solar technology to reduce the use of wood in rural areas.

What have we not done well and how can we improve?

  • There is increased deforestation. This is because of the increased reliance on firewood for energy both in the rural and urban areas. With increasing power cuts, populations have turned to firewood for cooking. Until we address our energy deficit by increasing and improving electricity supply as well as exploring alternative energy sources such as gas, our forests will continue to deplete.
  • There is increased environmental degradation through veld-fires.
  • The existence of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in itself is a positive development. However, this government body is underfunded and is hence plagued by corruption. Anyone can pollute as long as they can pay some in the EMA.
  • There is increased poaching of wildlife in our national parks (especially in Hwange), and again this is being made possible by the rampant corruption in that sector. The lack of resources to patrol the parks makes poaching easier.
  • There is increased desecration of valuable environmental sites such as vleis, sanctuaries and wetlands. This cannot just be a case of ignorance of the need for environmental protection as most of the desecration is sanctioned by government. It is clear the problem is corruption; those who stand to benefit from the building of malls on wetlands or the allocation of residential stands on wetlands are the real culprits that need to be weeded out. (And I am glad that the ugly-Chinese-mall-built-on-the-wetland-is-cracking-up-proving-it-was-built-on-a-wetland).
  • Our water and sanitation situation is pathetic. The housing backlog and the overcrowding in urban areas does not help the situation either. And it must be pointed out that the housing problem is a man-made disaster, a consequence of the demolition of houses by government in Operation Murambatsvina in 2006 and the subsequent failure to replace those destroyed homes.
  • Climate change has begun to show its presence with seasonal changes and drastic changes to our weather patterns. The impact that this has on our environment and our food security is something that has little talked about. We need to increase dialogue around the meaning, cause, consequences and impact of climate change to improve our adaptation strategies.
  • We are destroying our conservancies (such as Save) all for the love of money. Are the diamonds not enough nhaimi?
  • We need to have more public-private partnerships on sustaining the environment. Most environmental degradation affects the public but is caused by corporates accessing resources be it minerals, land or forestry.
  • Above all, this goal needs us to do three things; the first is to deal with Corruption, the second is to deal with corruption and the third to deal with corruption. That green eyed monster called corruption that’s being passed off by those who practise it and being substituted with the s (for sanctions)-word which I dare not pronounce, needs to be dealt with effectively. Until and unless we do that, we are a doomed nation.

Water is not a privilege, it’s a Right!

Asked to name the basic human rights, people mention education, shelter, the right to vote, the right to identification and many others. Having any one of these human rights infringed causes people to take to the streets. The human right that only a few people have taken to the streets about is the right to Water – the right to clean, sufficient, safe, physically accessible, affordable water. Zimbabwe has had water issues for far too long and sadly the Unity Government has been doing nothing but tossing the responsibility for this problem around like a hot potato. Raw sewage is flowing into dams that provide drinking water. People have been resorting to storing whatever water they can get in containers, others are relying on boreholes. Most residents, especially in the High Density areas don’t have access to boreholes; they have to rely on other sources. Some neighbourhoods in Harare and Bulawayo have not had running water for months and other areas for years. For those that do have water it trickles out of the taps often mixed with a green sludgy substance; it is “coloured and flavoured” not to mention textured. It is a cocktail and we have no idea what is in it.

The water problem is an issue of no small magnitude which our Government and Local Councils do not take seriously enough .The related very serious health impact that the water problems have created is the increasing cases of cholera and typhoid. These water borne diseases have thrived in areas with little access to clean water. Water does affect our quality of life as a nation and Government has an obligation to address this issue and ensure that every Zimbabwean, regardless of their political affiliation or location has safe, affordable, physically accessible, sufficient water supplies and respectable sanitation. The Government is responsible for the way the Nation is run and it is accountable for the drainage systems, our sewage systems, the condition of our water pipes, quality of water and providing respectable, efficient sanitation. We need an accelerated pipe replacement programme complemented by swift reaction teams to repair burst pipes, boreholes are not a sustainable source of water for millions of residents. In the long term the water table will be depleted due to the drilling of so many boreholes and many of them will become dry. Government also needs to consider the impact this has on the environment in the long term. Boreholes are also difficult to manage because they must be regularly tested for impurities.

The sewage system is also in desperate need of rehabilitation and if this problem is to be tackled, there needs to be enough water available to enable the sewage to flow effectively. Not having a proper, functioning sanitation system and sewage drainage system alone is a health hazard.

Water has been politicised in Zimbabwe. As long as the local authority is not in a position to out-manoeuvre the water politics then the citizens have a big problem. Our Government cannot afford to pay for the water for its citizens but it should be able to provide clean water at an affordable price.

Women collecting water

The right to water is the right of every Zimbabwean, it’s everybody’s right to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use. It’s not a privilege it’s a right!

Sharing Towers

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has recently stated that they will make it compulsory for Mobile network providers within the country to share towers and infrastructure effective in 2013 as a prerequisite of the renewal of their operating licences.

POTRAZ director General, Engineer Charles Sibanda recently stated ” The work has been done, what is now left is the announcement by the policy maker and hopefully the announcement will be made soon.”

Initially, in the past two years, Econet and Telecel submitted complaints to parliamentary committees stating that state owned mobile operator Net-One refused to share infrastructure with them in the years when it had the largest coverage. More recently submissions by the Econet CEO now suggest Net-One is now complaining Econet is not prepared to share. This is starting to sound like a childish quarrel by two toddlers over a toy!

POTRAZ has recently clamped down on operators due to high costs to subscribers who are receiving generally poor service from all operators. POTRAZ Networks and Standards Manager, Mr Nicholas Muzhuzha said his organisation was acquiring surveillance equipment to monitor the operators for service delivery.

It seems that nearly every week a new tower is being constructed, often on private properties. Why can’t these operators put their differences aside and come to an agreement with each other for the ultimate benefit of the subscribers in the form of reduced costs, never mind the fact that the towers are an eyesore and also cause health problems for anyone living nearby.

When will the greed end?

The latest development in the Indigenisation/Land issue in Zimbabwe is the move by several high ranking ZANU-PF officials to take over the Save Conservancy, a world renowned wildlife conservancy in the South East of the country where one of the only remaining black rhino populations in the world still exists. Follow these links to find out more about this extremely sensitive issue:





Area labelled 7 is Save Conservancy

Here today, gone tomorrow…

We have all heard of the recent typhoid outbreak in Zimbabwe in areas like Harare and Chitungwiza.  In February 2012 at least 3000 cases of typhoid were recorded, and this forced some key institutions such as law courts to shut down temporarily. Within five months, the typhoid epidemic has struck again with at least 200 cases confirmed in the past week. We as Zimbabweans still bear the scars of the cholera outbreak in 2008/9 where an estimated 5000 people lost their lives.

Typhoid is easily preventable; sanitation and hygiene are the critical measures that can be taken to prevent it. It can only spread in environments where human faeces or urine come into contact with food or drinking water. To prevent typhoid it is crucial to wash your hands after using the toilet and before preparing food.

If anyone has ever been to Chitungwiza or many high density suburbs in Harare they will understand why there is such an outbreak. Raw sewage flows on the streets where children play, there is no running water and people have resolved to use primitive methods of acquiring water. Should we be shocked there is an outbreak when people go for days, or even months without water?

Children playing in raw sewage

The only consistent message from the government is that there are no funds to deal with these issues adequately. Just yesterday I read in the papers that the presidential motorcade has acquired brand new vehicles. I ask myself where  that money came from? The Prime Minister and other ministers have brand new Mercedes Benz cars, who funds these vehicles? The President went with a 92 member delegation to Rio which cost a staggering US 7 million dollars; again I ask where did that money come from? The Finance Minister acknowledged that a lot of the budget was going towards government trips! People are dying whilst they travel.

The 2012 census has a budget of about 37 million US dollars, one wonders why when at the rate that people are dying from preventable diseases does it make sense to count people when we are here today and gone tomorrow because of preventable diseases!

Why we love Zimbabwe.

In a recent discussion with some friends and colleagues and inspired by an article written by Vince Musewe which I read on Zimbabwe Situation (http://www.zimbabwesituation.com), we realised there are several reasons why many people have chosen to stay here against all odds since 2000. Here are a few:

Firstly, it’s the friendly camaraderie which exists across all cultures and races. In general, the people are genuinely warm and welcoming despite their backgrounds. They can still see the funny side of any situation even in the face of adversity.

Secondly, it’s their innovative ideas and their ability to always ‘make a plan’, a truly Zimbabwean concept. This has led to the many successful entrepreneurs that have sprung up in Zimbabwe.

Next, and although many of us may not even realise it, is the organic produce which is freely available from markets such as Mbare and street corner vendors selling fruit and vegetables. Many people also have vegetable gardens and keep chickens on their urban properties for both meat and eggs, often only using compost and manure as fertilisers.

Zimbabwean street stall

Zimbabweans are also determined to educate themselves and are always pursuing further knowledge. Rural and urban children from poorer backgrounds walk several kilometres to and from school every day often on an empty stomach. Even your local airtime/newspaper vendors who may be illiterate in other countries are often seen sitting on the side of the road reading the newspaper.

One very positive thing in Zimbabwe, due to the fact that we are still a mostly cash economy, is that very few people are in debt, a phenomenon in the first world which is causing untold problems as people live way beyond their means due to the easy availability of credit and loan facilities.

On a personal note, I love the wide open spaces, wildlife and nature that is within easy reach to all of us. How privileged I feel to be able to take my children to wonderful natural areas like Mana Pools (a World Heritage Site) to see animals that could be extinct in a few decades time because of the plundering of natural resources worldwide.

Our beloved country holds so much possibility and hope for the future. We are all watching keenly both within and outside our borders to see what the outcome of the next elections will be.

Samba or Sanitation?

What exactly is it that Zimbabwe is contributing at the Earth Summit in Brazil when it is a serious offender on environmental issues? Let me name a few:

-An outdated water system, with rusted pipes which regularly spring leaks which are left unattended for days, and sometimes weeks or months, resulting in the loss of thousands of litres of precious treated drinking water.

-Drilling of numerous boreholes due to the shortage of municipal water which will lead to huge reductions in groundwater levels.

-Widespread pollution because of littering and burning of garbage, including plastics releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

-Failure to educate the population on environmental matters resulting in the dumping of garbage in open spaces.

-Unreliability of the municipal garbage collection system resulting in massive litter dumps in residential areas and the clogging of roadside drains in cities.

-Widespread land clearing resulting in the chopping down of precious trees by newly resettled farmers on commercial farming land.

-The chopping down of trees for firewood as a consequence of regular power outages by ZESA. (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority)

– The pollution of rivers with effluent because of the inadequate sewage systems in High Density suburbs.

Garbage clogging a stream in Zimbabwe

These are only a few of the smaller activities which result in the degradation of the environment.

Some of the larger ones include:

-Development and building of residential areas and hotels on precious wetlands.

-Attempts to develop hotels and prospecting for minerals in precious national parks such as Mana Pools which is a World Heritage Site.

One wonders why such a huge delegation of 92 has travelled to the Rio Earth Summit which has cost Zimbabweans US$7 million.  What will that delegation achieve besides increasing the country’s carbon footprint by a significant amount due to the fossil fuels burnt in the planes transporting them? Imagine how the money would have been better spent had it been invested in improving our environment by cleaning up our filthy cities. Also, how much more so would our environment be improved had the money been put into policing industries that are dumping toxic waste into lakes and rivers? And how much more so would the state of our environment have been improved   had that same amount of money been invested into developing environment friendly systems of transportation?

Why has this delegation been allowed to travel? Is it because they are passionate about the environment, or is it just so they can sample the wonderful shops in Rio de Janeiro!