At a public borehole in Zviyambe, a village in the backyard of Zimbabwe, approximately 250 kilometres away from Harare, the capital city, butterflies, goats, cattle and human beings mix and mingle in edenic fashion all in search of the precious liquid: water. Under a blazing sun, Sekai Mabika (not her real name) and her sister take turns to fill up buckets with water all the while shooing the goats away while the butterflies flutter hither and thither sipping at the water spilled to the ground and the cattle standby for their turn to drink water.
According to Sekai, she makes three trips everyday to fetch water at the public borehole, approximately four kilometers away from her homestead.
“It’s a painful trip, but it has to be done otherwise we will have no drinking water at home. All our homestead wells are dry,” she says, wiping sweat from her brow. “And, tomorrow, I have to do this again.”
The mid-afternoon sun, hot like a possessed devil, casts a shadow across her face as she balances the bucketful of water on her head and walks towards her homestead, her sister trailing her. Throughout the day the sun blasts across the landscape in this area literally skyrocketing daytime temperatures, and in the process, wilting young crops and drying up water sources, making subsistence farming very difficult.Many homesteads in this smallholder farming area are usually serviced by a private borehole or well but these have dried up in recent months forcing villagers to people to trek long distances to available sources of water.
“It last rained a long time ago, and it seems this didn’t have an impact on the water table,” said Cleopas Jeche, a subsistence farmer, “If the rains don’t come, we will definitely face a drought this season.”
The rainfall pattern in Zviyambe, as in many parts of rural Zimbabwe, has changed over the past two decades making the predictability of the rainfall pattern a thing of the past yet smallholder farming patterns have not changed. For subsistence farmers in this remote area, the whole debate on climate change is ivory tower gibberish yet the impact of climate change on their lives is a clearly visible matter of life and death.
In the past, Zimbabwe used to experience the rain season from October to January but, now, a blazing sun is what graces the sky for most days instead of rain clouds. Sometimes clouds gather in the sky but quickly dissipate dashing hopes and livelihoods. Subsistence farming, which provides most people of the area with their food, depends on sufficient rainfall, but as the heavens continue to be elusive, poor smallholder farmers will either have to adapt to new livelihood patterns or face starvation.
No-one calls the phenomena unfolding here climate change. In fact, many people think that God is laughing at them by withholding the rains. Communities are so desperate to the extent that they engage in both Christian and traditional prayer ceremonies in an attempt to invoke rainfall. To complicate matters, there is actually no terminology for climate change in the local language despite the fact that people are aware that the rainfall seasons have been jagged in recent years. The fact of the matter is that if the rains do not fall, people will not have food in Zviyambe, as in many parts of rural Zimbabwe. The ripple effects will be disastrous in a country that has experienced an economic fallout over the past few years. Zimbabwe, as many other southern African countries, is already over-burdened with HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. And food insecurity will only serve to compound these problems.
In Zviyambe, the wells and dams that are drying up are signs that something is amiss yet not much is being done to make people aware of the problem of climate change. Naming a problem is a key step to finding solutions. In many parts of rural Zimbabwe, identifying the recurrent erratic rainfall patterns as effects of the global impact of climate change would be welcome to help smallholder farmers who rely solely on rain-fed agriculture find alternatives to sustain their lives and livelihoods. For many of the smallholder farmers finding the right name for the phenomena of changing weather patterns that have resulted in water sources and wetlands drying up is an urgent imperative.