Analysis: ANTHONY MUKWITA
WHEN you read the newspaper or switch on the radio and TV, our biggest sources of news today, the weather report is not good.
You read stories like “100 kilometre per hour winds bring down trees, kill four in Berlin, Czeck and Poland,” or “Hurricane Jane displaces thousands in Hawaii,” and the bad news continues.
In Africa, “South Africa has experienced the worst weather with temperatures to over 40 degrees,” while in, “Zambia low water levels have affected power generation at Lake Kariba and the power company is now being forced to ration power”.
It almost sounds like the end of the world as we have known it as the weather report is dished out.
‘Welcome’, as best-selling author Jonathan Tepperman aptly puts it in his book “The Fix”, to “the great unwinding”.
The bad weather is attributed to climate change that is affecting the earth adversely, hence the reason for events such as the COP 23, which Zambia is a part of in Bonn, Germany now.
The basic definition of climate change is simply a long-term change in the earth’s climate, especially due to an increase in the average atmospheric temperature.
The world is desperately looking for solutions to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change that affected southern Africa and in 2015 and 2016, leaving animals dead in the wild as streams dried up and the corn crop devastated as rainfall dwindled.
Zambia was lucky during this period that was the worst in the history of southern Africa as far as agriculture was concerned because, despite the low water levels, Zambia still managed to harvest over three million metric tonnes of maize.
The rest of the southern region reeled in food shortfalls and looked to Zambia for corn imports because, due to early planting and improved agriculture practices, Zambia managed to escape the wrath of harsh weather.
The energy sector nevertheless did not entirely survive the harsh effects of climate change as water levels drastically dropped at Lake Kariba Dam, the largest man-made lake in Africa that provides water to generate 90 percent of Zambia’s power.
According to Zambezi River Authority studies, Lake Kariba was created to operate between 475.50m and 488.50m, but the levels have presently dropped by 0.13m.
The drop in water levels led to power rationing in Zambia of unprecedented scores at a great economic cost, which saw the mining company reduce copper generation on the Copperbelt.
Because the mining companies suffered huge losses, with a drop, in copper production, they subsequently slashed some jobs and cut down some investment or postponed others.
The result of the adverse weather also meant at a domestic economic level, ordinary Zambians that operated small businesses such as barbershops and hair salons were also caught in the eye of the storm. They shut down business.
The bad weather affected everything including the treasury as President Lungu, in a bid to keep the industry alive and Zambians in jobs, nodded a treasury instruction to import power at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.
WATER LEVELS DILEMMA
Studies show that in Zambia and other sub-Saharan African countries, water levels have dipped down this year and the flows will continue to decline annually due to global warming.
Sixty million people in the sub region (Zambia included) were directly adversely affected by the effects of El Nino in 2015-2016 as Lake Kariba dried up and slowed power generation.
There is no specific cost of the effects of the climate change in Zambia during the period under review, but experts say it runs into tens of millions of dollars.
Africa is expected to warm faster than the global average levels due to greenhouse gas emissions, hence the need to step up efforts to plug the emissions and reduce them.
Historically, between 1960 and 2003, temperatures in Zambia rose by 1.3 degrees, according to studies, while conversely, rainfall temperatures have reduced by 2.3 percent in recent years.
“The rainfall season is shorter nowadays causing a further strain,” said Alex Simalabwi, who heads Global Lead: Water Climate Development based in Pretoria.
Simalabwi reckons that the energy crisis of 2015 brought about by low water levels might be repeated urging Zambia to raise money to boost the energy sector and invest in the future.
But it was not all gloom and doom for Zambia as bad weather ravaged the country due to climate change because many Zambians took the initiative to invest in alternative sources of energy such as solar.
The government is now exploring possibilities of investing in nuclear energy.
PRESIDENT LUNGU’S RESPONSE TO ENERGY SHORTFALL
It is also around the same period that President Lungu bit the bullet and allowed the Energy Regulation Board to remove the subsidy on electricity that has existed since independence.
It is not a popular decision but President Lungu made it, nevertheless, to make the energy sector more attractive for foreign direct investment (FDI).
In the long run, more private investment is expected to enter the Zambian market and push prices of energy down.
BEYOND ZAMBIA IN CLIMATE CHANGE
Beyond the borders of Zambia and the SADC region, climate change has continued to wreak havoc with hurricane-prone zones recording double the number of hurricanes than recorded since they started keeping records more than 150 years ago or 1851 to be specific.
In fact, studies show that in the hurricane zones, especially of the United States, 2017 has been the most destructive year since records were kept costing the entire hurricane zone more than US$316 billion.
It is for this reason that the UN Climate Change Conference being held in Bonn must come up with solutions of mitigating the adverse effects for the future as the earth warms up faster than ever before.
President Lungu has shown overt support for climate change solutions and initiatives by authorising his minister of Environment, Jean Kapata, to travel to Bonn to attend the crucial Indaba along with permanent secretaries Trevor Kaunda and Chola Chabala, who are providing the necessary technical support.
The embassy of Zambia in Bonn is represented by Ambassador Anthony Mukwita and Press Attaché Keliz Kaunda, while a dozen of Zambian exports and NGO leaders are also represented here.
Zambia has continued to be a crucial cog in international initiatives under President Lungu.
The southern African country, a signatory to the climate change pact signed in France last December, has widely been commended for embracing the scientific findings that state that the globe is warming up.
“Zambia, like other global players, believes that climate change is not a hoax. History is replete of the negative effects of the trend that goes beyond droughts and floods.”
The time to act is now.
The author is Zambia’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.