Analysis: MATTHEW MUSHIKITI
THERE is a great urgent concern for climate change and Government has no option but to develop climate adaptation and resilience strategies to mitigate its impact on the poor.
Climate change is real and the rain pattern being experienced so far calls for standby strategies to attend not only to people, but livestock too, as the stress is cross-cutting.
Most rural communities lack climate resilience programmes, especially those lying on the ‘rain shadow’, in my own words. Places like Eastern, Southern, and Western provinces require resilient programmes if we are to strengthen adaptation capacities. We should come up with water harvesting schemes to protect lives not only for people but their livestock, too. There is need to also direct efforts and more allocation of farming inputs in areas that lie on rain belts, including Copperbelt, North- Western, Muchinga, Northen, Luapula and parts of Central Province. These places can be used for food production and be able to distribute to areas where rain-fed food production seems to be negatively affected by climate change. We need to segment agricultural production based on location production edge.
With the current dry spell being experienced in most parts of the country, without a clear road map on how to respond to food shortages, water shortages, and even boreholes running dry in areas where prolonged dry spells have pushed groundwater tables further down, entire rural livelihoods have been negatively affected. The picture is delicate and there is need to quickly move in and make communities climate effect-resilient.
Most maize fields, including those that had reached the tasselling stage, have dried up as though they were struck by lightning. Animals are likely to die due to lack of water, a situation which calls for concerted efforts from all stakeholders. Communities, on their own as they lack assets that can be used for alternative sources of income, are incapable of being resilient.
While everyone holds corporations and various industries accountable for most climate change effects, Government must be accountable to the people. We need no further delay in implementing programmes that should make rural communities resilient to climate change. We need to see budgetary allocation directed towards climate change programmes in rural areas, most of which solely depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
Climate change is real and its impact is being felt by poor communities that watch their crops wither helplessly. Cattle keepers helplessly watch their animals die, especially during water stress periods coupled with high temperatures. Subsistence farmers will not be able to produce enough to feed their families or get money which they should use to send their children to school. Hunger and diseases affect not only human beings, but also livestock, and aquatic creatures are quickly becoming extinct. We have even witnessed outbreaks of diseases that were not heard of in rural communities.
Focusing on rural communities, especially those without proper road infrastructure to access markets, information and communication services and other catalysts that should spur rural development, would make such places resilient as they would have access to outside options for their livelihood. Despite road projects currently under way countrywide, there are still many more places that need to be linked. Places that experience low food production should be linked to those where food is produced in abundance.
We further need to build institutional capacities at district level. There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the situation at hand. Most local authorities do not have strategic plans that respond to climate change effects, but it is just ‘business as usual’. There is need to provide leaderships that envision climate-resilient communities in their respective districts. There is need to have a district multi-sectoral approach in responding to climate change effects at district level.
Climate change effects, mitigation and adaptation should be top on every development agenda to achieve socio-economic development. Despite strong economic growth and Zambia’s status as a lower middle-income economy, widespread and extreme rural poverty and high unemployment levels remain significant challenges the country faces today. The high birth rate in rural areas, relatively high HIV/ AIDS burden and market-distorting agricultural policies that do not place rural areas on any positive ground, have greatly exacerbated the problem. Without a clear framework for climate change resilience intervention, rural communities may have their livelihood devastated.
Lack of clear policy direction and poor budget allocation towards climate resilience programme implementation may contribute to the weakening livelihood options for rural communities and may push them further beyond the already pathetic living conditions, where even the minimum measure of living below poverty datum line may not be applicable to describe the situation. The theme of inclusive socio-economic development without leaving anyone behind, as promoted by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, should be extended to hard-to-reach areas where the majority are socially and economically excluded. The President’s desire not to see anyone left behind in socio-economic emancipation should be every leader’s theme. There is need to invest in human development programmes if we are to create resilient communities to climate change effects and attain the middle-income status by 2030. What needs to be done is to integrate the five thematic areas of the Seventh National Development Plan in each district’s development plan and make them responsive to rural experiences. The 7NDP has the full package of aspirations and it’s how well we strategically domesticate it to different experiences of rural communities in the face of climate change that matters most. Decentralisation structures can be instrumental in realising all these aspirations.
There is need to provide leadership and build capacities especially to local institutions so as to make rural lives meaningful to citizens, particularly those in far and hard-to-reach areas. We need a local institutional leadership which is relevant, accountable, responsive and ethical in its discharge of duties at all levels; a leadership that identifies itself with the needs of the people, a leadership for the people, by the people and with the people. There is an urgent need to engage rural communities and share with them the need to change the way we perceive climate-related issues. To effectively and efficiently create resilient communities, rural settlement arrangements will have to be rearranged. Village groupings in this regard may be responsive to quality service delivery. Climate change should be a cross-cutting issue at any forum in order to create resilient communities. We must not fold our arms and wait for the worst to happen. Time to act is now. Failure to plan is planning to fail!
The author is a socio-economic planner.