Zim needs national drought policy

HARARE - The southern African region is facing an unprecedented drought this year due to El Nino weather phenomenon, but the effects would be dire in Zimbabwe mainly due to government’s failure to come up with strategies that mitigate droughts.

Since the turn of the millennium, when the Zanu PF-led government forced off the land close to 4 000 white commercial farmers to pave way for at least 400 000 landless Zimbabweans, the country has failed to feed itself — resorting to importing maize annually.

This happens at a time when the economy is struggling and facing a liquidity crunch and government is struggling to pay civil servants.

Despite growing concerns that droughts are increasing in frequency, severity, and duration given changing climatic conditions and documented increases in extreme climate events, our government’s responses to drought is generally reactive — poorly coordinated and untimely.

Over the past 16 years, history has taught us that the provision of drought relief by government to those most affected has increased vulnerability to future drought episodes by reducing self-reliance and increasing dependence on government and donor organisations.

Thus, it is imperative that emergency relief be provided in such a manner that it provides a safety net for those elements of society that are most vulnerable while promoting self-reliance and the principles of a national drought policy based on the concept of risk reduction.

Research has not only shown that agriculture is typically the first and most affected sector by drought, but also many other sectors, including energy production, tourism and recreation, transportation, urban water supply, and the environment, experience significant losses.

Our greatest let down as a country — despite the increase in droughts and spiralling impacts — is that we lack concerted efforts to initiate dialogue on the formulation and adoption of a national drought policy that provides a framework for a proactive, risk-based management for dealing with drought events.

Without a coordinated national drought policy that includes comprehensive monitoring, and information systems, impact assessment procedures, risk management measures, and emergency response programmes, Zimbabwe will continue to respond to drought in a reactive, crisis management mode.

Armed with a well-crafted and well-thought out drought policy, whose goal is to change significantly the way we prepare for and respond to drought by placing greater emphasis on risk management and the adoption of appropriate mitigation actions, the country would stop importing food and become self-sufficient again.

But this cannot be done in the absence of effective government leadership. Our current crop of leaders have repeatedly — in the past 36 years — shown us that they are bereft of new ideas and lack vision and direction for this great nation.

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