World Environment Day: “Dialogue for Sustainability”

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5 June 2019, Harare - By Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident Coordinator,

  • Your Excellency Mr. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Honourable Prisca Mupfumira, Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry
  • Honourable Ministers and other Senior Government Officials Present
  • Director of the Environmental Management Agency
  • Members of the Media, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
  • All Protocols Observed:

Allow me from the get go to congratulate Honourable Minister Mupfumira, the Environmental Management Agency and others for organizing this timely National Environment Summit under a localized theme “Dialogue for Environmental Sustainability”.

I feel honoured to join you in this great initiative and share the United Nations’ perspective on the theme.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Scientists have repeatedly and continue to warn that climate change, manifested by unpredictable weather phenomenon and global warming, is destroying livelihoods through devastating droughts, flooding, and destructive cyclones.

These devastations have been attributed to human activities manifested in unfettered, unrestrained and unsustainable exploitation of the ecosystem rendering detrimental blow to the environment including the the air we breath and the water we drink.

So, what is at stake?

Floods, droughts and cyclones have caused more than USD 1trillion in damages and affected over 4 billion people since 1990.

Without addressing climate change, the determination to end poverty, hunger and achieve the other global development goals and national development plans will not materialize unless we implement rapid climate informed development programmes.

The negative impact of climate change is not new to Zimbabwe and the Southern Africa Region. Since I have been here for the past close to five years, I have witnessed Zimbabwe being hit by severe drought in 2015/2016, by floods in 2017, another severe drought in 2018/2019 and a ravaging Cyclone Idai in 2019. 

Currently, some 5.3 million people in Zimbabwe are being affected by drought and 270,000 people by cyclone idai whom the Government, UN and other partners have been providing relief and recovery assistance, which will continue for a foreseeable future.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors to environmental degradation. Particularly in Zimbabwe as it is largely rain-fed and dominated by a single crop, maize for food security. Most of the population in rural areas (about 60%), in particular women, depend on the agriculture sector for their livelihood.

Crop and livestock production represent more than half of the total income earned by rural households. Rural livelihoods potentially suffer from food insecurity, which will further deepen the levels of poverty in rural areas. Women, who comprise most of the small-scale farmers, are particularly vulnerable. Access to food for rural households will be affected.

So, it must be our fundamental priority to safeguarding food security and ending hunger and address vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change by taking prudent policy and practical measures for environmental sustainability.

What are the current initiatives being undertaken to ensure environmental sustainability and mitigate the impact of climate change?

The United Nations in support of Government initiative has been engaged in the following areas to ensure environmental sustainability and cushion livelihoods by:

First, resilience building schemes to support 830,000 people in 23 vulnerable districts with on farm and off farm initiatives.

Second, community asset building through conservation agriculture where communities are helped with cash and/or food assistance to engaged in water harvesting and small-scale irrigation using simple infrastructure such as weir-dams and introduction of technologies such as solar powered pumps for horticulture, which is important for household food security and income generation.

Third, under solar for health, the UN has installed solar power in some 405 health facilities (with global fund support) contributing to enhanced maternal and child health services. This is one example that much more can be done to harness and expand solar energy by introducing favorable tax and non-tax incentives.

Fourth, promoting behavioral change to diversify crops among farmers to build adaptation capacity and ensure environmental protection through maintaining soil nutrients. Encourage farmers, through learning and appropriate incentives, to move away from reliance on maize to other crops such as sorghum, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, beans and soya beans which are more drought tolerant and expand this also to resilient livestock varieties such as small ruminants.

Fifth, I must commend His Excellency President Mnangagwa’s insightful initiative of clean-up campaign every first Friday of the month. This shows leading by example to inculcate a mind-set shift for clean environment which in turn will prevent water born-diseases, boost health, reduce cost and promote tourism.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to do more though. So, what more needs to be done?

  • The UN Secretary General in his statement on World Environment Day highlighted that to address environmental sustainability, governments must tax pollution; end fossil fuel subsidies; and stop building new coal plants. He called for a green economy not a grey economy. Zimbabwe has great opportunity to leapfrog to green economy as it undertakes a raft of reforms to turn-around the economy and achieve its vision 2030 to become upper middle-income country. In this regard, Zimbabwe must strengthen policy/legal frameworks in agriculture, land management including sustainable land use planning to include incentives that promote sustainable farming and agro-forestry.
  • We need to scale up successful resilience and community asset building initiatives and conservation agriculture pilots by providing targeted capacity building to increase climate resilient farming practices such as minimum tillage and promotion of water harvesting and management technologies. Investing in small-scale irrigation technologies and building capacities and opportunities for crop- and micro- insurance accessible to small scale farmers is essential.
  • The need to enhance research and development - agronomy and applied crop research to develop and introduce drought tolerant crop varieties, seeds and optimizing productivity per ha is critical for environmental sustainability. This will require transfer and access to adaptive technologies for small scale farmers.
  • Strengthening of early warning system and information dissemination to accurately predict and provide timely weather and climate data to farmers. This will require investing in ICT and making this information easily accessible, especially in rural areas.
  • When all said and done, it boils down to delivering on the Right to Food through local institutions. As such, the right to food should be an integral part of national legislation. Investing in climate smart and environmentally friendly local institutions including local market will have a direct bearing on achieving sustainable food security.

These tasks cannot be left to Government, however. We must ensure all-hands on deck and hence:

  • The Private sector can lead in changing the course of production and to invest wisely in a Greener Economy. Green economy is the next growth area including harnessing solar energy, as such investing now in the green industry will give the Zimbabwean private sector a competitive edge.
  • Civil society and the media can and must continue to play their critical role by independently monitoring the private sector, advocating for responsible production as well as raise public awareness on responsible consumption through the adoption of reduce, reuse and recycle and adoption of more social and environmental responsibility.
  • Lastly, the young people who represent the majority and the future must lead the way in the collective effort of ensuring environmental sustainability. Government, the UN, NGO and other partners must include youth in planning, implementing and reviewing environmental programmes.

On this note, let me end with a quote from 16-year-old young Swedish climate hero Greta Thunberg, she said: “Sometimes we just simply have to find a way. The moment we decide to fulfill something, we can do anything. And I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses." End of quote.

Let me assure you the United Nations System in Zimbabwe remains committed and understands the urgency of today to adapt and ensure environmental sustainability for current and future generations to thrive and achieve their aspirations.

Thank you.