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Zim: Climate change puts Muzarabani on knife edge

Standing under a Musawu tree, in the middle of her homestead, three months pregnant, Muchaneta Kagodo, is terrified, as changes in climate have spelt misery, loss and hunger. Kagodo is from Kairezi village in Muzarabani, Zimbabwe.

In recent years, climate induced floods pushed rivers in Chiwenga, Chimoyo and Kairezi villages near the border with Mozambique towards maximum capacity. This led to her village to experience 10 hard years of floods, droughts, famine, diseases and sanitary problem.

Despite Kagodo not knowing much about the scientific elements related to climate change, she knows how it is affecting her and the community at large.

“We are no longer sure when the rains will come and in what quantities, making growing seasons unpredictable.

“In extreme cases, we can expect more droughts and floods. These changes not only wipe out crops and leave a trail of hunger, but also help spread water related diseases,” she says.

In the past, people in Muzarabani could tell when the rains would fall, from how the winds would be blowing.

“We used to buy seeds and other agricultural inputs from September and the rains used to come during the end October or beginning of November.

“But things have changed now. We are having more warm nights. During the day you can see the heat waves rising as if we are in the middle of summer. And it's now the norm, if it rains, the floods will wash out everything in the fields,” Kagodo says.

From her experiences, sanitation and hygiene have deteriorated quickly. Health centres are damaged. Hectares of standing water become breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread malaria.

“This has increased opportunistic infections especially to HIV/AIDS patients,” she says.

Muzarabani used to receive very low rainfall.

The change in the climate has given farmers in the area a short, unreliable and unpredictable rainy growing season, bringing frequent droughts.

“Our rains have been confined to three months a year, resulting in severe thunderstorms and floods. Then it gets dry, leaving crops to wither because of a lack of water,” says Muzarabani Member of Parliament, Edward Raradza.

Raradza says small-scale farmers in the area have historically been able to adapt to normal climatic variability with creative and indigenous practices.

“However, the recent droughts have affected these traditional systems and thrown farmers into a state of confusion,” he says.

But for Kagodo, floods have not only brought hunger. In 2007 she gave birth in a tree after her village was submerged in water. Now her daughter, Mercy is two years old , but due to her pregnancy, she is terrified.

“I think the timing of this pregnancy makes me terrified more. I fear history will repeat itself. I spent two terrible days in this thorny tree before I was rescued,” she says.

Muzarabani experiences floods every year because of its low-lying terrain.

Ironically, the name "Muzarabani" means "floodplain".

Kagodo's village is one of those located between Dande, Musengezi, Kadzi, Hoya, Ruya and Nzoumvunda rivers, which flow into Lake Cahora Bassa in Mozambique about 30 kilometres away.

Water from the rivers is forced to flash back against the superior current of the two big rivers, when the dam level rises. This results in the flooding of the villages.

With a population of 111 000 people, most of which are peasant farmers, the government is still to establish a well functional preparedness.

“We are always in the dark each year as to how the weather outlook is going to be. No information regarding the dangers of floods or droughts is communicated,” she says.

Communication in the area is very poor. Telecommunication is malfunction and in some villages none existing. The roads are poor and no radio signal.

Already the area over burdened with HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, unprecedented droughts and floods have, pressured the area in to a begging district. Relying mainly on donor organisations such as Red Cross.

According to Raradza, Muzarabani's economy relies on rain-fed agriculture, “this roller-coaster ride has hurt us whose lives depend on a small piece of family land and rely solely on rainfall for our water needs.”

These extreme climatic conditions have hurt the development prospects of the area making its vulnerability being shaped by its poor economic, political and institutional capabilities.

Climate-induced floods, famine, drought has reverse recent gains in reducing poverty in the area.

The recent shifts in the rainfall patterns have made it difficult for farmers to plan on which crops to grow, explains Farid Abdulkadir, Johannesburg based regional disaster management coordinator, with International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“In recent years, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the numbers of floods along the river basin.

“For many communities, these events are now annual crises , leaving them in an almost perpetual cycle of disaster, displacement and recovery,” continues Abdulkadir.

He says his organisation has launched the Zambezi Initiative which aims to help communities be prepared for these disasters, and to encourage them to take steps to reduce the devastating impact that they have on their lives.

He says early warning and action can save thousands of lives and livelihoods, reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience.

The initiative also seeks to address the broader vulnerabilities of communities as well, including HIV, exposure to water and vector borne diseases, and the compounding aggravation of weakened community structures.

“Climate change,” he says, “has robbed Africans of traditional knowledge systems to predict the weather.”

Abdulkadir says Africa is in dire need of better monitoring and forecasting systems.

“Mozambique has the best preparedness,” Abdulkadir says. “In 2001, 7 000 people died in floods. In 2007 just over 50 deaths were recorded, while in 2008 there had been less than a dozen.”

He says as Copenhagen approaches funding for making small and remote rural communities, like Muzarabani, more adaptive and resilient to climate change must come from rich countries, like the US, Germany, Britain and Japan.

“Our future rests on a knife edge. There might be need for timely response to these disasters, but this change in our climate spells disaster for us every year,” Kagodo says.

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