guest column:Peter Makwanya

THE news currently filtering in from recent meteorological surveys indicate a looming drought in southern Africa due to a number of reasons.

News indicating an imminent drought in southern Africa, with Zimbabwe being the hardest hit, have sent shivers and shock waves down the spines of the majority of people who survive on rain-fed agriculture.

As the scourge which can culminate into a humanitarian disaster was communicated, it’s the nature of language use which was not palatable and unfriendly which proved worrying.

As usual, there has been these deliberate attempts to scare people through language, to sound too complex and knowledgeable, leaving out the most important stakeholders, who in this case are the laypersons and most vulnerable who will feel the impact of drought.

- Advertisement -

For this reason, communication had gone, making the whole discourse non-inclusive.

In such scenarios, people invest trust on scientists for outcomes such as these, but what do they get in return, communication and knowledge gaps, sufficient to scare and disempower them.

As usual, scientists specialise in metaphors of fear and panic, academic hedging and uncertainties, leaving out the ordinary person shocked stupid, instead of creating opportunities of character building, behavioural change and human preparedness to deal with the looming drought.

The audience requires empowering information which is inclusive and human friendly, motivating them to be able to survive within the drought of any magnitude rather than inducing fear and despondence.

In this regard, people should not continue to view climate change only as a scientific problem, thereby ignoring the environment, humanitarian and political aspects.

This communication dilemma continues to nurture gate-keeping of knowledge rather than knowledge sharing.

Now that the information on drought is in the public domain, it remains to be seen how governments prepared for this humanitarian disaster.

This scenario is not only about people requiring humanitarian aid, but also how they can absorb some climate shocks and achieve resilience.

Donor assistance will come to pass, but the people need to continue surviving by engaging in projects which cushion them and increase their coping mechanisms.

Drought is a natural and humanitarian disaster which affects both urban and rural environments.

Therefore, people concerned need to demonstrate at least few safety-net mechanisms which will enable them to survive when the drought is raging and also in the event that aid by-passes them.

The truth is that donor aid or strategic grain reserves cannot reach everyone due to corrupt tendencies of those who are in control of distribution programmes.

Therefore, information-empowered communities should be able to produce something that is drought tolerant to improve household food security. If people are not productive then they cannot adapt so they continue to be abused by the haves.

Memories are still fresh about people who lost cattle to fraudsters during the 2006-2008 drought period when a beast would be sold for a bucket of maize.

It is also common knowledge that during droughts, livestock and wildlife would die in large numbers.

Remaining with a few livestock means that owners may buy or prepare their own stockfeeds just to increase the chances of their survival.

In any drought situation, water is a major factor. Its scarcity presents sleepless nights to both urban and rural communities. In urban areas, water rationing can treble.

These are some of the projects that people can engage in, on small-scale basis just to survive and avoid climate inaction.

Issues of climate-induced disasters like droughts and floods are regular news features, but people are never fully prepared to encounter these scenarios.

Although the government has its strategic grain reserves situated at the Grain Marketing Board, oftentimes these are not enough.

People need to go the extra mile in mapping their own coping mechanisms just to be able to survive.

That is why people need to be sufficiently prepared in their mindsets, character, attitudes and overall behavioural practices through strategic communication so that they can move forward.

Strategic communication would improve people’s climate literacy and knowledge which would enable them to identify and interpret indigenous knowledge system indicators and scientific forecasters that contribute to early warning systems (EWS).

EWS are important in empowering people with context-specific knowledge of what their agricultural season would be like.

By so doing, the country and the people would be planning positively and for a sustainable future in which they would be active participants.