El Nino: Spare a thought for children in SADC region

14 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views
El Nino: Spare a thought for children in SADC region UNICEF, in support of the Government’s initiatives and programmes to mitigate the impact of El Nino on children, is particularly focusing on children's nutrition


Ray Bande
Senior Reporter


AMERICAN Baptist Church minister, activist and political philosopher, Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said: “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools”.


Given the fact that the El Nino weather phenomenon has caused the worst drought in decades in the SADC region, the obtaining situation calls for an integrated approach in response, mitigation and climate-resilient initiatives.


The phenomenon, which started globally in July 2023, has led to a severe rainfall deficit across the Southern African region, with temperatures five degrees above average.


To put the collective dire situation into context, available data shows that the region experienced its driest February in 100 years, receiving 20 percent of the rainfall usually expected for this period.


Furthermore, rain shortfall took place at a crucial time for crop growth, leading to widespread harvest failure and livestock deaths across the region, where about 70 percent of people depend on rain-fed agriculture to survive.


Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia have declared states of national disaster because of crop failures, and millions could be pushed into acute hunger if urgent support is not mobilised.


In the midst of this quagmire, children are the ones that are more likely to face hunger.


They become severely malnourished or contract deadly diseases when they are cut off from nutritious food, safe water, sanitation facilities or healthcare.


UNICEF Zimbabwe chief communication, Mr Yves Willemot told journalists in Mutare last week that there is need for an all-embracing solution to this regional problem.


“Dealing with challenges facing Zimbabwe in isolation makes little sense when its neighbhours are facing the same challenges. The El Nino effects have been worsened by health emergencies such as the cholera outbreak. Children are severely affected by the climate change hazards. It impacts on the fundamental rights to health, access to water, sanitation and hygiene. It impacts on the nutritional status, and it also impacts on their education opportunities and the risk of abuse and exploitation. As we speak, here in Zimbabwe, the country is going, like other countries in Southern Africa, through a drought that is the consequence of El Nino,” he said.


The action


Top on the list of all interventions is a growing chorus that since extreme weather conditions are now part of everyday life and into the future, children need to be participants and beneficiaries of mitigation and prevention initiatives.


“We need to enable children to be participants in the climate change agenda. Let us not approach children as beneficiaries of Government or development partners programmes of intervention, but as actors.


“Education programmes should mainstream climate change through the school curricula. There is a pressing demand for increased investment in child-centred climate change strategies,” said Mr Willemot.


Save the Children, in one of its communique on the current El Nino crisis, raised a similar argument: “Put children at the centre. As children are always the most vulnerable in a crisis, they must be central to the design and implementation of all anticipatory action.”


Save the Children also argued that governments in the region should explore ways to amplify their voice to industrialised nations contributing the most to the climate crisis to commit new and additional funding to support countries at the receiving end of their actions.


“Governments from high-income countries that have contributed most to the climate crisis, must commit new and additional funding to support countries that have contributed the least, yet are being hardest hit by the devastating impacts of climate-related disasters,” said the organisation.


Mr Willemot further said there is urgent need to focus more on nutrition for children as a stop-gap measure to reduce malnutrition.


“The focus that we have as UNICEF, in support of the Government’s initiatives and programmes to mitigate the impact of El Nino on children, is particularly focus on nutrition on children.


“There is a sever risk for children. Due to drought, they might not get access to nutritious food that they actually need for their development. Drought has also made water and sanitation more problematic. Scarcity of good food and water is likely to push children into a status of malnutrition.


“Unless we act today, the situation will worsen. That is exactly what the Government, with the support of UNICEF and partners, is doing by scaling up initiatives at community level like the care group initiatives, where mothers are informing each other about how to maintain a diverse and nutritious diet for their children even in difficult circumstances,” he said.


Apart from the community level initiatives, cash donations have also assisted families in dire need, with about 120 000 children from 50 000 households – in both rural and urban communities – benefiting in Zimbabwe alone.


Much of the effects of El Nino will be felt up until March 2025.


There is also need to augment the village health worker initiative which serves as first line of response to malnutrition.


Mr Anesu Mvududu, a village health worker in Zimunya – who superintends areas like Chidziya, Gombakomba, Museta, Marware, Mukwecheni and Chendinofira – contributing to 210 households under his supervision, conceded that El Nino has greatly affected nutrition standards in these areas.


“It is very clear that we have had severe malnutrition cases in the areas I operate which has been worsened by the drought. I have noticed the significant increase in cases since the start of the dry period.


“We have done the daunting task of moving around, getting details on nutrition and actually carrying out tests on children malnutrition. The situation has been dire, but I am happy that we have done our part to bring desperate cases to the fore and some of them have actually benefitted big time,” he said.


Conclusively, the VHW initiative presents instant solutions to families in dire need for the benefit of children.


“We have had cases of extreme malnutrition that received assistance, and most of them are living happily with healthy children after getting assistance from us. The religious sects that do not recommend medical interventions have been a challenge, but we are happy that we now have ways to approach them, away from their leaders so that they get assistance,” he said.


However, with La Nina, which is associated with above average rainfall projected next summer, anticipatory action programmes must be strengthened to mitigate climate risks.


With extreme weather conditions a living reality, there is need for coordinated and integrated approach to mitigate the risks rather than react in response.


The impact (expected outcome)


It is beyond reproach that climate resilient structures will reduce vulnerability from adverse climate change induced weather patterns.


“If a school was destroyed during Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, the likelihood that the same school will be affected when the cyclone happens again is high, therefore we need to ensure that when that happens again we have resilient structures that will withstand the pressures more than they did in the past.


“If we had a water point that was polluted when floods hit a certain area, we now need a climate resilient approach to ensure that the same water point will not be susceptible to pollution when floods hit the same place.


“The cost of building and rebuilding is higher than building resilient structures for once. This is the message to all Governments, sub-Saharan Africa included,” Mr Willemot said.


Commendably, in the same vein, the climate-resilient initiatives dovetail into the Government’s ‘Build-Back-Better’ concept adopted in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai where the country’s central authority sought to put in place more resilient structures than what was in place prior to the tropical storm devastation.


These are fundamental notes that SADC states need to share as sister states for them to prosper collectively and avoid perishing like fools!


Such is the story of El Nino, its effects in the SADC region as well as possible solutions for a brighter sub-Saharan future!


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