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Environmentalist Says Water, Forests Key Economic Empowerment Tools

Bush dogs are seen in this camera trap photo taken in the wet tropical forests. (Ricardo Moreno)

An environmentalist says forests and water play an important role in contributing to sustainable development in diverse ecosystems.

Dr. Thomas Chiramba, senior Human Settlement Officer for United Nations Habitat responsible for Eastern and Southern Africa, made these remarks at a time when the world has been recognizing the role played by water and forests in people’s lives.

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22nd as the first World Water Day. Twenty three years later, the day is celebrated around the world annually.

The United Nations General Assembly has also designated March 21st as the International Day of Forests in an effort “to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests”.

According to the United Nations, the past few days were expected to have great impact on various communities worldwide as they highlighted the importance of forests and water in everyday life.

Some nations, including Zimbabwe, joined other countries in marking World Forest Day and World Water Day. This global celebration of forests and water provides a stage to raise consciousness of their significance. They provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-water dependent communities.

Dr. Chiramba, who is also an environmentalist, says people, including Zimbabweans, cannot be adequately empowered without water and forests.

He says, “Forest and water conservation plays a critical role in improving the lives of Zimbabweans, especially at a time the world is struggling to tackle the prevailing negative effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon.”

Dr. Chiramba says Zimbabwe used to have good systems in place and a lot of investment was channeled towards water supply and sanitation in an effort to improve living conditions of communities in various areas but “this has, however, over the years deteriorated very much contrary to the global trend.”

He says, “Lack of investment in water and sanitation has resulted in the dilapidated infrastructure. Kunzvi Dam that was on the table was needed to augment water supplies to Harare (but) has not been completed. It’s been locked. This is an indication that investment has not be forthcoming into the water sector in general be it water resources management, or sanitation or regular water supply.

“Zimbabwe and South Africa used to be the leading countries in the construction of small dams. A lot of farmers used to irrigate their farms. That investment has since stopped in Zimbabwe … ”

He says promoting good catchment management is needed in the country. “The lack of investment has done a lot of damage in the country; maintaining of the forests, the infrastructure, to collect water, and storage of water. If there is no investment in water that impacts water supply. Not to speak of improving agriculture inputs and jobs related to that.”

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa noted in his 2016 national budget statement that the water sector continues to face many challenges, chief among them being the erratic power supply which continues to affect treatment and pumping plants, as well as insufficient financial resources to implement all the required projects.

“As a result, a large number of our people remain unserved, drawing water from unsafe sources, while the sanitation infrastructure is failing to cope with the ever increasing demand. Our 2016 priorities in the water and sanitation sector will be anchored on consolidating and sustaining the gains achieved so far. Focus will be on scaling up efforts towards completion of on-going projects, while also supporting targeted new projects.

“In this regard, the budget, therefore, provides for investments amounting to US$77.3 million, with US$25.9 million being channeled towards dam construction and US$51.4 million for rehabilitation and upgrading of water and sewer infrastructure. The lack of investment has done a lot of damage in the country; promoting good catchment management is needed - maintaining of the forests, the infrastructure, to collect water, and storage of water.”

Protection of forests in areas processing tobacco has also been worrying government as this leads to the depletion of the natural vegetation, including trees.

Chiramba said, “Tobacco faming has been one of the biggest economic activities that has contributed significantly to the deforestation due to activities of small scale farmers.”

Interview With Dr. Thomas Chiramba, senior Human Settlement Officer for United Nations Habitat
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