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IRIN - Zimbabwe





 



Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: The Cheat Sheet

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 11:10:27 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector   By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.   While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.     Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 links. Oxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".   Iraq’s long road ahead   This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.   In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”   More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties.  allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="450" id="datawrapper-chart-zX0CZ" scrolling="no" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/zX0CZ/3/" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;"> Coates noted that while progress has been made on access to improved WASH services over the yea[...]



New e-book released: IRIN’s reporting on climate change and food security

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 07:59:16 +0000

Over the last two decades, 200 million people across the world have been lifted out of hunger. But as climate change brings more frequent and severe weather shocks such as droughts and floods, and makes rainfall patterns less predictable, these gains are under threat. Throughout 2017, IRIN has been exploring the impact climate change has had on a large group of people who are extremely vulnerable to its effects and yet play a negligible role in causing it: smallholder farmers in Africa. Agriculture is Africa’s biggest employer. But mean temperatures are expected to rise faster in the continent than the global average, decreasing crop yields and deepening poverty. IRIN has now completed a reporting project – conducted with support from the Open Society Foundations – to outline the challenges that global warming is triggering, and to explore what local communities are doing to adapt and reduce their vulnerability. The project covers four countries – Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zimbabwe – with the goal of sharing lessons learned so that small-scale farmers everywhere can be better supported as their challenges multiply. It provides a platform for policy discussion, and for the voices of those men and women on the front lines of climate change to be heard. We have compiled all the articles into an e-book, which you can download here. It contains field reporting on: climate-related problems and threats such as desertification in Nigeria, soil salination in Senegal, and the lack of technical support available to smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe; the range of responses and solutions adopted by farmers and governments; and how livestock-raising communities in the Kenyan county of Turkana are facing up to one of the worst droughts in living memory. The document also includes three fact files full of key information about how adaptation finance works; the relationship between climate change, food security, and adaptation; and the specific climate challenges faced by pastoralist communities. am/ag maize_oxfam.jpg Special Report Solutions and Innovations Climate change Food New e-book released: IRIN’s reporting on climate change and food security IRIN PARIS Africa West Africa Senegal Nigeria Southern Africa Zimbabwe Kenya Français [...]



Agriculture a hard sell for Zimbabwe’s youth

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 15:47:29 +0000

Laiza Mukute’s 14-hectare plot is a pale shadow of what it was 10 years ago. The Mukute family – 43-year-old Laiza, her husband, and three sons – obtained the plot in 2001 under a land reform programme that saw thousands of commercial white farmers evicted and their land allocated to black Zimbabweans. Laiza’s husband was killed by lightning in 2007. Her sons have all moved to the capital to eke out a living as street vendors, leaving their mother only with their younger, teen-age sister. Like many young Zimbabweans, they see no future for themselves in the troubled sector. Agriculture in Zimbabwe has long suffered from meagre state investment, poor training, and limited access to farming equipment and credit – not to mention the effects of climate change in a region that has repeatedly been struck by devastating droughts and floods. About 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s population of 16 million is under the age of 24. “My sons won’t hear anything about farming. They would rather be in the city even though life is also tough for them there,” Mukute told IRIN at her farm in rural Mazowe, some 60 kilometres northeast of Harare. This youth disillusionment is a phenomenon that extends well beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, according to Peter Wobst, who works on rural poverty reduction at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. “Africa’s rural youth face particular barriers to accessing productive employment: young women and men tend to encounter challenges in accessing adequate knowledge, information, and education,” Wobst told IRIN. “They have insufficient access to land, inputs, financial services, markets, and, ultimately, limited involvement in policy dialogue.” This is despite the fact that the almost 200 million people in Africa aged between 15 and 24, as the FAO puts it, represent “a large potential reservoir for the growth of the agriculture sector”. Different aspirations Mukute is barely making ends meet. She can’t afford to replace her dilapidated ox-drawn cart and has sold off most of her livestock. Only her 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, helps her in the fields, “Who knows, she may also join her brothers one day and leave me too struggle on my own,” she said. These are well-founded fears. “I can’t remain stuck here farming because it comes with hard labour,” Elizabeth told IRIN. “If I pass my O-level [exams] next year, my mother and my brothers will have to find money for me to go for A-levels and, after that, university. I want to be a lawyer and I will employ someone to come and help my mother with work on the plot.” Whereas the larger Mukute family used to grow maize, groundnuts, and tobacco on the full 10 hectares, now only two hectares are under cultivation. Food security at stake Many families in Mazowe and rural areas across Zimbabwe have seen a similar exodus of younger members to cities, gold and diamond mining areas, and other countries. Wonder Chabikwa, head of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union, said the future of farming and food security in the country will depend on the commitment of young people to working the resettled land. “Most of the youths seem not to have a conviction for farming, and the majority of those that will remain to till the land will do so because they have limited options,” he told IRIN. This sentiment is echoed on the website of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, a separate association, which recognises that “the future of agriculture lies in the hands of the youths, and therefore there is [an] urgent need to unleash their potential and energy in that direction.” To this end, for the past five years, ZFU has organised a Youth Agripreneurship Summit, which brings hundreds of young farmers together to acquire leadership skills, network with key players in the sector, and learn about new technology. One school of thought is that there might be more interest from young people if they could be encouraged to drive through commercialisation in the sector that would help [...]



Bumper Zimbabwe harvest prompts bigger bet on “command agriculture”

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 15:13:51 +0000

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest 2.1 million metric tonnes of maize this year after good rains followed successive El Niño-induced droughts. For the first time in many seasons the country will be able to feed itself and not require commercial imports or food aid. But is this the result of good fortune or good policy? The Zimbabwean government is convinced it has found the secret to food security after the biggest maize harvest since a controversial land reform programme was launched nearly two decades ago. It’s ignoring the critics who say success was mostly due to the better weather and who worry about the scheme’s gaps and longer-term returns. New President Emmerson Mnangagwa is doubling down on “command agriculture”, a major private sector-backed subsidy programme in which farmers are provided with seeds, fertiliser, fuel, and chemicals – on loan, with repayment made with a portion of the harvest the following season. Some 50,000 small-scale and commercial farmers working 160,000 hectares of maize in “high potential” areas benefited from the programme and are expected to sell a hefty five tonnes per hectare back to the state-run Grain Marketing Board as part repayment on their loans. Happy farmers Simpson Mukari from rural Goromonzi, 50 kilometres southeast of the capital, Harare, said he harvested an average of seven tonnes per hectare after being provided with fuel and tillage services. “I cultivated 20 hectares under command agriculture and what I harvested exceeded my expectations,” he told IRIN. “I have repaid the loan in full, set aside enough maize to last a year for my [six-member] family, and might not need another loan since I made a good profit.” After repaying the loan, he was left with a net harvest of 40 tonnes of maize worth more than $15,000. Command agriculture is being repeated with even more ambitious targets this year – and extended to include wheat, soya, and livestock. Maize production will cover 220,000 hectares – 60,000 hectares irrigated and the rest rain-fed – at an anticipated cost of $213 million. A fuel supply company, Sakunda Holdings, among other private firms, is financing the programme on behalf of the government, although details are vague. Command agriculture was “designed to solve a fundamental problem facing our country in the aftermath of the land reform, that of mobilising sustainable and affordable funding for our agriculture,” Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa wrote earlier this year. “The 2016-17 harvest sets the stage for achieving this goal.” A difficult road to food security Zimbabwe has tried a number of schemes to kick-start agriculture since the disruption of land reform in 2000, in which white-owned commercial farms were seized without compensation and redistributed to landless Zimbabweans. The economy was hit by a lack of foreign investment as a result, with successive droughts also undermining production. In response, in 2005/6 the army ran Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, which forced farmers to surrender their maize surplus, but this was deemed a failure. IRIN Newly installed President Emmerson Mnangagwa is doubling down on "command agriculture" In 2007, the Reserve Bank introduced a Farm Mechanisation Scheme, but the equipment seemed to go mainly to the well-connected, was widely viewed as corrupt, and again failed. Mnangagwa, as vice president last year, championed the command agriculture contract farming system. In his inauguration speech as head of state last month, he prioritised food security as a government goal. Underlining the determination, he appointed Perence Shiri minister of agriculture. A former air force commander, Shiri, like Mnangagwa, won notoriety for his role in a government crackdown on dissidents in the 1980s that killed more than 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland. At the core of Mnangagwa’s command approach is the centralised planning and development model b[...]



Is Zimbabwe’s new president up to the task?

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 12:56:47 +0000

After a tumultuous two weeks of political brinkmanship, Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in today as Zimbabwe’s new president, replacing the ageing Robert Mugabe who has led the country since independence. In his inauguration at a packed national stadium, Mnangagwa delivered a positive speech promising to "rebuild our great country", to crack down on corruption, strengthen the “pillars of democracy”, attract foreign investment, and to hold elections as scheduled in 2018.  “He gave reassurances that he would re-engage international partners," said political analyst Ibbo Mandaza. "That is all because the international community is insisting on that because it's backing him.” But how much change is really on the cards and what are the major challenges ahead? Mnangagwa, 75, will lead a deeply divided party, seemingly bankrupt of fresh ideas, but with the weight of the country’s hopes for better times on his shoulders. Mnangagwa served Mugabe for four decades as his enforcer and heir apparent, but after a spectacular falling out and dismissal as vice-president, he left for South Africa until a palace coup cleared the way this week for his return. He arrived in Harare on Tuesday to rock star status as jubilant crowds cheered Mugabe’s resignation – but it was novel celebrity standing for a man more usually feared as a former spy chief and ruling party hardliner. Mnangagwa himself seemed swept up in the moment. He told supporters at ZANU-PF party headquarters: “I appeal to all genuine, patriotic Zimbabweans to come together; we work together. No one is more important than the other. We are all Zimbabweans.” Despite trying to cultivate a new, kinder image, the lawyer and former guerrilla leader repeated the same old revolutionary slogans at party headquarters, including “Pasi nemandu!” or “Death to the enemy!” “Mnangagwa has a lot to prove,” said Kuda Hove, a Harare-based lawyer. “People are already sceptical, because it’s still ZANU-PF in form and deed.” Mugabe’s exit “certainly represents the end of a painful era, but then it is also possible that Mnangagwa’s entry could usher in a new error”, he added. National unity? ZANU-PF looks set to govern alone. Mnangagwa has now spurned calls for the repeat of a coalition with the Movement for Democratic Change that led to a period of economic stability after deeply flawed elections in 2008. The country’s trade union movement and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a 115-member civil society grouping, had both urged the creation of a broad-based transitional administration until fresh elections. “It is time to open a new page,” said trade union secretary-general Japhet Moyo, and condemned what he fears will be the retention of “career ministers” by Mnangagwa, some of whom were well known “thieves and thugs”. Will next year’s elections be free and fair? “The military has helped steal elections before and there is no reason to suspect that it will not help [to do so] in future elections, whenever they are held,” noted Mandaza. Opposition MDC spokesman Obert Gutu said political reforms are urgently needed to remove the “pillars of repression and oppression” put in place by Mugabe, but added that he was “cautiously optimistic” that this could be achieved. University of Zimbabwe political science researcher Eldred Masunungure told IRIN that any changes, especially to the working of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, would need time to be “internalised and institutionalised”. He said he feared Mnangagwa might “put big and heavy spanners in the reform works”. Elections next year could not come at a worse time for the MDC. Veteran leader Morgan Tsvangirai is gravely ill, and the succession issue within his party is far from settled. Celebrating Mugabe's downfall The economy The biggest challenge for Mnangagwa is the state of the economy. Zimbabwe has been in crisis for cl[...]



Rohingya death count, war games, and a non-coup in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 15:27:22 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Plus ça change in Zimbabwe   It all started with tanks; except the military vehicles globally reported on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday evening weren’t tanks at all, but infantry fighting vehicles. Anyway, things like tanks on the streets, the president under house arrest, a man in uniform on state TV insisting it’s all a temporary measure, everything will return to normal shortly. Has to be a coup, right? Not so fast. It’s increasingly apparent that Zimbabwe’s army has no intention of effecting fundamental political changes. It may have determined it’s time for President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1980, to leave office, but they haven’t actually yet deposed him, and still refer to him as the head of state. And, as this article published by African Arguments postulates, what’s really been happening in recent days is a “realignment” and an “internal settling of scores” within the long-ruling ZANU-PF party. “This is no revolution giving the power to the people. The army has done its duty in giving power back to the party,” it concludes. For more on life after Mugabe, read our recent analysis (Not that we’re claiming we saw this coming).   Libya’s descent   Libya is hell for migrants, with rape, extortion, and imprisonment rife. Utter chaos has allowed smugglers – allied with some of the country’s militias and competing political forces – to run rampant. Two months ago, the UN launched an action plan to get an “inclusive political process” going again and establish some sense of stability. But Ghassan Salamé, the UN’s special representative in Libya, hinted in a Thursday briefing to the Security Council that it would be a complicated and long road ahead: “Elections should not take place until we are certain that they will not add a third Parliament or fourth government.” It’s in part thanks to political instability that Libya’s economy is in a bad way. Despite a small rebound in oil outputs, inflation is rising and the country is unable to fund much in the way of food imports or defend its foreign reserves. On the ground – with many going unpaid and food prices rising steadily – some Libyans are getting desperate. Reuters reports that in Tripoli, people are selling foreign currency and jewelry to pay for medical care. Whose fault is the economic collapse? According to Libya’s Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir earlier this week: “everyone”.   Tracking deaths in Bangladesh’s swelling Rohingya camps   Health authorities in Bangladesh are investigating a measles outbreak in the crowded Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, to where more than 620,000 refugees have fled since late August. In that time, there have been at least 611 cases. Aid groups have warned that disease outbreaks are likely in the makeshift camps, where authorities have struggled to keep pace with the swelling refugee numbers and even basic water and sanitation systems are severely inadequate. Ongoing tests of drinking water sources in the camps, for example, found 83 percent tested positive for faecal contamination. It’s forced health authorities and aid groups to keep a close eye for early signs of problems. Health providers have set up an early warning reporting system in Cox’s Bazar, tracking everything from severe diarrhoea and respiratory infections to a recent, worrying uptick in cases of “unexplained fever” – there were more than 49,000 reported cases as of mid-November. This surveillance system is also a thorough, if dispassionate, record of what’s killing people in the camps, which now have the population, but none of the infrastructure, of a bustling city. Until 12 November, the system recorded 199 deaths since the most recent influx began. For more, re[...]



Seed banks help Zimbabwe’s farmers tackle climate change

Tue, 07 Nov 2017 16:13:30 +0000

“Seed security is food security” is something of a mantra in developing world agronomy circles. In Zimbabwe, the adage is gradually being put into action by promoting the use of indigenous small grains threatened with extinction by the dominance of maize, both in fields and on dinner tables. This dominance has left indigenous small seeds such as millet, cowpeas and sorghum as bit players in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, despite their greater resilience to weather shocks such as drought, which are occurring with increasing frequency and severity in Zimbabwe because of the effects of climate change. Such small seeds also tend to require fewer of the expensive inputs required by commercial hybrid maize. John Misi, the administrator of Mudzi District, in Mashonaland East Province, explained that getting farmers to use small grains “has been a challenge as maize is our staple food, and as such people are used to planting maize in this community.” For example, most of the land farmed by Jameson Sithole, a smallholder in a marginal and dry area of Chipinge, in Manicaland Province, is planted with maize. He sows just two of his 17 hectares with indigenous small grains. “Maize is a cash crop such that I am able to sell without challenges, helping me to send my 10 children to school and buy equipment for my farm,” he told IRIN. “With small grains it’s different. But l need to supplement my maize stocks when they run out and feed my family during drought.” One hurdle standing in the way of greater use of indigenous seeds is their relative lack of availability.  Whereas farmers tend to buy maize seeds from commercial suppliers, 95 percent of all other kinds of seed are obtained from their own crops or those of fellow farmers. Community spirit Seed banks can help to solve this problem. Community seed banks tend to work along the same lines as money banks: farmers take out loans of seeds, which in many cases are donated by the local community, and then repay the loan in kind with interest after they harvest their crops. Seed banks typically consist of small dark rooms protected from the heat of the sun and filled with shelves of pots and bottles containing a wide range of indigenous seeds, including, in the case of Zimbabwe, millet, cowpeas and local varieties of maize. According to an April 2017 paper on the evolution and role of seed banks in several countries around the world published by Development in Practice, such facilities help “enhance the resilience of farmers, in particular of communities and households most affected by climate change.” This is because they can “secure improved access to, and availability of, diverse, locally adapted crops and varieties, and enhance related indigenous knowledge and skills in plant management” – including seed selection and distribution. Jameson Patricia Muchenje, a smallholder farmer in the district of Rushinga, in Mashonaland Central Province, is a case in point. “In our community we are working towards keeping and protecting our small grains from disappearing through our community seed bank,” she told IRIN. “We have been working together, teaching each other on planting the right seeds and use the best farming techniques.” She added that she and other farmers in her neighbourhood were soon hoping to sell seeds from the seed bank “to enable us to get some income, which we can use to upgrade our seed bank infrastructure or start our income-generating projects such as market gardening or poultry projects." Marjorie Jeke, a farmer in Murehwa District, in the neighbouring province of Mashonaland East said: "In the event that there are floods and our crops don’t do well in the field, the seed bank becomes useful as I will go back to the seed bank and retrieve my seeds for free to replant. “I don’t have to struggle borrowing from neighbours, or to bother my children with money bec[...]



Zimbabwe: What happens after Mugabe?

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:30:19 +0000

At the ripe old age of 93, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s long-serving president, has offered himself as the candidate to lead his ruling ZANU-PF party in elections next year.   In power since independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe would be 99 should he win the 2018 election and complete a five-year term. He has boasted that he will live – and rule – until he is 100.   His wife Grace, a political power in her own right, has gone even further. Speaking at a rally organised by ZANU-PF’s Youth League last year, the First Lady addressed her husband saying: “We want you to lead this country even from your grave.”   Mugabe has always been respected and feared rather than loved. But his cabinet, stuffed with loyalists, relatives, and praise singers, is now outdoing itself in pushing his cult of personality into overdrive.   Behind the public scenes of loyalty and adulation is an intense power struggle, as Mugabe’s physical frailty becomes evident. Factions are looking for his endorsement in the battle underway over his succession.   His public stumbles (fodder for an irreverent social media) and frequent absences from the country for medical attention, are all the more concerning for party apparatchiks as there is no obvious heir apparent.   “Mugabe wants to die in office and is not interested in seeing his successor,” said Pedzisayi Ruhanya, the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute. “He is not a student of democratic processes.”   There are no threats to his rule from outside the party. He is accused of stealing elections (although he commands support in the rural areas), brutalising the electorate, and infiltrating the ranks of the opposition to sow confusion. Age is his only real challenger.   Mugabe Memes in Zimbabwe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/o7N8f2WTEeU?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Le déluge   But the jockeying for power is dangerous. The military and veterans of the guerrilla war against white minority rule have been the power behind Mugabe’s throne. And they want to pick who will replace him.   Over the last year, influential members of the War Veteran’s Association have been expelled from the party. They publicly declared their support for Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa – heresy while Mugabe still lives.   In July, Mugabe accused his commanders (who are all ZANU-PF members) of interfering in the party’s internal politics, which he said was tantamount to a coup. A few days later, soldiers rampaged through central Harare beating up the police.   “We are being threatened day and night that if so-and-so does not succeed Mugabe, we will kill you with guns,” the First Lady said last week. “The president sleeps with one eye open.”   This week Mugabe made his move. He sacked Mnangagwa as justice minister in a cabinet reshuffle that has strengthened the position of Grace – Mnangagwa’s chief rival.   The political tussle is being played out against the backdrop of the hardships faced by the vast majority of Zimbabweans. Buoyed by a good harvest, Zimbabwe’s economic growth has climbed to 2.8 percent from 0.7 percent last year, according to the IMF.   But the economy is not keeping pace with population growth. Zimbabweans face shortages from electricity to water to fuel. Banks ration cash withdrawals. Poor service delivery and unemployment adds to the despair. Economic growth is projected to slip back to 0.8 percent in 2018 and turn sharply negative by 2022.   The spending habits of the Mugabes, with money seemingly to burn, is a subject of endless public fascination. Last year more than four million Zimbabweans were in need of food aid, and the government was appealing for $1.5 billion in relief support.   Yet the First Lady’s recent [...]



Don’t ignore the one group that can make climate action happen

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 07:25:27 +0000

Last year, the planet suffered the terrible impacts of one of the worst drought and hunger crises seen for decades. At the end of 2015, 30 percent of the global land area was in drought conditions, one of the highest figures since modern record keeping began.   As many in the humanitarian sector will already be aware, this deep and extended crisis was brought on by a disastrous combination of climate change and the 2015 to 2016 El Niño cycle.    In Southern Africa, which was one of the hardest hit regions, countries faced their worst drought in 35 years. National emergencies were declared in Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, eight out of nine of the country’s provinces, which collectively produce 90 percent of the country’s maize, were affected.   This time last year, 18 million people in Southern Africa were estimated to be food insecure.   While El Niño is a naturally occurring global weather cycle that takes place every three to seven years, many scientists conclude that it and climate change combined last year to create new and extreme impacts.   This was the year in which the Earth’s atmosphere experienced its highest ever level of greenhouse gases. It was also the hottest year on record, the third record year in a row. Last year’s El Niño was also one of the strongest events on record, as well as one of the longest lasting.   And as anyone working in the humanitarian sector will know, the effects of this drought have been devastating. The impacts of El Niño went beyond causing immediate hunger, jeopardising the longer-term prospects for farming and often wiping out livelihoods in the process. These long-term impacts of the crisis continue to affect many people today.   The most vulnerable   The drought felt across Southern Africa has had particularly damaging outcomes for women smallholder farmers, who make up 43 percent of developing countries’ agricultural labour force.   As with any kind of disaster, women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts. Being a woman will often mean additional work and social burdens, but lower status and fewer privileges when disaster strikes.   Negative “coping mechanisms” commonly employed by women and girls became much more widespread as a result of the El Niño drought. For example, women frequently put their children and husband’s nutrition first during disasters, and were often the last to eat, if there was any food left for them.   Women and girls reported needing to walk for several hours longer each day to find scarce water, thus missing out on education, income and rest opportunities.   In Malawi and Lesotho, reports from communities working with ActionAid, the anti-poverty NGO, indicated that some women were resorting to sex work to make ends meet, putting them at higher risk of violence and HIV & AIDS. Child marriages were also reported to be on the increase.   These trends threaten women and younger girls' well-being, and can further hold them back from taking part in activities that could improve their own status and human rights, their resilience – and that of their family and community – in the longer term.   Fortunately, Southern Africa is now in a recovery phase. This is a long and slow process, because the extended drought has taken a severe toll on communities’ incomes, livestock, land, savings, education, health, and more.   But with climate change worsening, we know that extreme weather events are becoming increasingly frequent and severe. Any recovery and rebuilding efforts must have an eye on the future, and the climate change impacts that will likely continue to affect the region.    Recovery efforts as well as ongoing programmes in development and agriculture in the region must therefore prioritise adaptation, disaster prevention, and preparedness. Amid t[...]