HARARE, Zimbabwe — Climate change affects poorer countries disproportionately to what they contribute to environmental degradation. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change. The relationship between climate change and poverty in Zimbabwe is a poignant reminder that the mode of consumption in the post-industrialized world does not go without consequences on humanity at large.
In Zimbabwe, the average temperature has risen up by .07 degrees Celsius (around 1.26 rise in Fahrenheit). The average rainfall also decreased by about 5 percent in the north and 15 percent in the south. Not only would these figures be causes for great concern in any country, the impact of such changes in Zimbabwe is accentuated by the fact that it is a predominantly agricultural nation.
The economic failure of Zimbabwe in recent years has been partially due to the sporadic and erratic rainfall and severe drought. In a country where 62 percent of the population lives in rural areas and a large sector of the population consists of smallholder farmers, climate change is both an economic and a human catastrophe.
Drought and the absence of rainfall have also caused a lack of water for drinking and for other usage. Thus, sanitation has been on the decline in certain parts of the country. Furthermore, climate change also inflicts a human impact on Zimbabwean society; many children in rural Zimbabwe have to walk many miles every day before leaving to school in order to fetch some clean water for their families. By the time they arrive at school, many children are too exhausted to learn and many have to drop out to help their families with their daily tasks.
Not only does climate change disrupt and hamper Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and its human resources, there is also a correlation between the rise in temperature and the frequency in the occurrence of natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. More than a decade ago, Zimbabwe was hit by a devastating cyclone—Cyclone Eline—from whose effects it has yet to fully recover. In affected rural communities, numerous schools are still without roofs, bridges still unrepaired, and other infrastructure still has not been fixed. This causes many trained teachers and business investors to avoid these areas, thus, further impoverishing these communities.
Lastly, as it is often the case, women and children are the most vulnerable preys of poverty. An estimated 70 percent of Zimbabwean women are in the farming sector and children are exposed to hunger and diseases as well as a lack of opportunity for education and displacement due to changing weather patterns. This circumstance deprives them of a chance to simply be children. In addition, because certain diseases spread quickly in warmer temperatures, infectious mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are on the rise in correlation to the rising temperature. The shortage of potable water also increases the risk of diarrheal diseases and cholera.
Thus, it is imperative that global consumers take into account the impact that the current mode of consumption will have in other parts of the world as well. Only because these catastrophic phenomena happen in other countries does not mean that responsibilities can be denied. In post-industrialized countries where people are no longer relying as much on agriculture, one may forget that there is a vast portion of the world’s population who still relies on it and who are not as sheltered from the weather. Lastly, it is distressingly unjust for those who are contributing very little to the current climate change to be suffering its consequences so disproportionately.