Small Events, Big Losses: The hidden cost of climate change in Zimbabwe

Diana Tsitsi Harahwa

Around 6 PM on Thursday, November 24, 2023, a homestead in Angwa Ward 11 of Mbire district, Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe, was battered by strong winds impacting the livelihood of Rose, the head of a female-led household.

Rose Chisunga had gone to church, leaving her son and grandson at home. She received a call from her son informing her that a strong wind had caused extensive damage to their house and livestock shelters. Rushing back, she found the rooftop had been torn off, leaving the house cracked and exposed.

She recounted her losses – blankets, clothes, six 50kg bags of maize, a radio, a solar panel, and a smartphone were all destroyed. The strong winds had also devastated her livestock shelters, killing 36 chickens and six goats. This disaster severely impacted her household, which heavily relied on livestock rearing and crop production as their main source of livelihood.

Fortunately, Rose’s participation in an Internal Saving And Lending Scheme (ISALS) provided a financial safety net, buffering her against the financial shocks from the whirlwind. However, this incident reduced her capacity to cope with the El-Nino-induced drought.

By February 2024, Rose managed to rebuild her house, spending $20 on a door frame, $18 on a window frame, $5 on wire, and purchasing three bags of cement.

She also bought three chickens, but now lacks the funds to continue with ISALS. These few chickens are insufficient to mitigate the impacts of the whirlwind and the El-Nino-induced drought on food security, exacerbating her vulnerability to long-term climate changes.

Climate change disproportionately affects women in rural areas, as their capacity to react and adapt to extreme weather events is unequal.

Rose’s story is just one of many. A total of 50 households were affected by the whirlwind, all facing similar losses and struggles. Many households are worse off due to chronic illnesses, age-related disabilities, or larger family sizes, averaging five members.

These social differences significantly impact rural people’s vulnerability to the climate crisis. This situation calls for policies and programs that address the multidimensional climate vulnerabilities of rural people, including their limited access to productive resources. Strengthening social protection programs that encourage adaptation is crucial.

In addition to individual household damages, the strong winds destroyed rooftops, livestock shelters, food granaries, and essential sanitation infrastructure, increasing health risks like cholera in the already vulnerable community. Furthermore, an egg incubator funded by the Zambezi Valley Alliance (ZVA) project was destroyed, affecting the livelihoods of more than 50 farmers participating in a poultry scheme.

Compounding these issues, the district is also suffering from an El-Nino-induced drought. The 2023/24 farming season looks bleak for communal farmers in Mbire, who rely on rain-fed agriculture. The President of Zimbabwe declared a State of Disaster on April 3, 2024.

While much attention is given to major climate change-related events like Cyclone Idai of 2019, one of the biggest challenges in addressing loss and damage is the lack of accurate and comprehensive data on small-scale events like the one in Rose’s ward.

These small-scale climate-related events often go unreported or are overlooked, making it difficult to understand the full scale of loss and damage. This lack of visibility not only undermines disaster risk reduction and mitigation efforts but also distorts the true extent of climate change impacts and masks the disproportionate effects on vulnerable communities

There is a greater need to invest in the collection and disaggregation of disaster data to capture these small climate-related events and identify vulnerable populations. This need is further emphasised by recent decisions on Loss and Damage at COP27 and 28, which recognise the importance of data-driven approaches to address the impacts of climate change.

COP28’s call for the operationalisation of the loss and damage funding agreement, including a fund to address and respond to the economic and non-economic impacts of climate change in particularly vulnerable developing countries, underscores the critical role of robust data in supporting climate resilience and adaptation efforts

As Zimbabwe works to implement its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and enhance its early warning systems and climate-related disaster risk reduction efforts, aligning it with the Sendai Framework (2015-2030), it is crucial for the government to finalise the Disaster Risk Management and Civil Protection Bill. This will ensure a coordinated approach to understanding disaster risks and improving disaster governance, as committed to in Zimbabwe’s NDCs.

The Angwa Ward case serves as a stark reminder of the hidden costs of climate change and the imperative for comprehensive data collection and collaborative partnerships with the private sector and civil society to inform effective disaster management policies. By prioritising disaster preparedness and risk reduction, Zimbabwe can build resilience and protect its communities from the devastating impacts of climate change

Diana Tsitsi Harahwa is the Team Leader for the You(th)Adapt Project and an ecofeminist.

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