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Zimbabwe’s environmentalists pile pressure on government for change

The Southern African nation has seen some of the worst effects of climate change, with prolonged droughts and floods taking a toll on crops, infrastructure and the lives of many people in the past decade.

In 2019, Cyclone Idai hit the eastern parts of Zimbabwe killing more than 300 people and destroying infrastructure worth $622m.

Innovative solutions are possible when people are educated on climate change issues.

We meet two young Zimbabwean climate change activists who are trying to steer the future of their country towards a greener path.

Begin with the policymakers

Natalie Gwatirisa, a 23-year-old Zimbabwean climate advocate, says climate education and awareness should start with the policymakers themselves equipping them to come up with the best climate change laws.

Natalie Gwatirisa, a 23-year-old Zimbabwean climate advocate speaking at a climate change conference in Harare. Courtesy of Natalie Gwatirisa

“To some point, yes, climate change is becoming a priority to the Zimbabwean government, but even if you are to deliver a petition to the Parliament, how many parliamentarians understand the issues to do with climate change?” says Gwatirisa, a founder of All For Climate Action, a civil society organisation established in May 2021.

“Again, it comes back to the issue of educating these parliamentarians who make the laws so that they understand the urgency of the issue to do with climate change.”

We can not take solutions that have been practised by different countries and bring them here because how we are affected by climate change is totally different.

Gwatirisa, who hails from Gweru in Central Zimbabwe – about 276km from the capital Harare – says the first step is to educate the masses, raise awareness and encourage more localised innovative solutions to reduce the effects of climate change.

“Everything lies behind education. When people are educated they know what is bad and good. This is where innovation comes from. Even if we are to talk about localised climate action, for one to come with ideas on how [to] adapt and mitigate climate change in Zimbabwe specifically they need the knowledge,” she tells The Africa Report.

“We can not take solutions that have been practised by different countries and bring them here because how we are affected by climate change is totally different. We need public access to information, more research and public participation, of especially women and young people.

Circular economy is the way forward

Christabel Clotilda Mhiribidi, a 24-year-old climate change activist, says the Zimbabwean government should consider giving incentives to cities that are clean.

Christabel Clotilda Mhiribidi, a 24-year-old Zimbabwean climate change activist. Courtesy of Christabel Clotilda Mhiribidi

“l propose that the State considers rewarding the cleanest cities after a certain stipulated interval, for instance, quarterly. This will encourage residents to be more responsible for their environment,” says Mhiribidi who is studying Geography and Environmental Studies at Midlands State University.

In particular is the issue of plastics, which are a health hazard to humans, particularly when burnt. And if they’re not burned but buried, some items can take hundreds of years to decompose and eventually find their way into rivers and dams.

Illegal dumping sites have become common practice in most Zimbabwean cities, with the reckless disposal of plastics causing a major headache.

Research shows that plastics break down into more methane and ethylene, which are greenhouse gases that worsen climate change.

More support should be given to recycling companies and young innovators who are repurposing waste.

Mhiribidi says there is a need to shift from a linear economy to a circular one where nothing goes to waste. “More support should be given to recycling companies and young innovators who are repurposing waste.”

She says the government should make it mandatory for communities to plant trees at least once every three months.

Climate change advocacy

Gwatirisa’s work has been focusing on climate change education and empowerment.

She volunteers with various civil society organisations, such as Save Our Environment Trust and Advocates4Earth, to advocate for climate action.

In March this year, she visited Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge, about 445 kilometres from Harare, to raise awareness on climate change among people participating in sports.

“We have the sports for climate change. With this, we are just bringing awareness and taking advantage of the gatherings. This is more of like an edutainment programme and also promotes sports. We did a workshop educating people about climate change,” she says.

Gwatirisa, who draws her inspiration from climate change solutions being implemented in other African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, that she has visited, says she is campaigning against single-use plastics.

“We have tried to educate people and also sowing bags made of other durable material as a way of offering alternatives to the single-use plastic bag,” she says.

We are pushing for the government to ban plastics, but as per our research it seems most people, including the business community, are not ready to stop using plastics.”

Gwatirisa, who often plants trees in her home area of Gweru, says she has changed her lifestyle at a personal level in an effort to protect the environment.

“I try by every means [to] avoid single-use plastics. It is hard especially when you are in Zimbabwe. For instance, when I am buying ice cream I buy the one with a cone so that nothing goes to waste,” she says.

“When I go to a retail outlet and someone offers me a plastic [bag] I tell them that I do not use plastics because they are not environmentally friendly.”

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