Impacts of climate change in urban areas

By Peter Makwanya

WHEN issues of vulnerabilities are being discussed, what quickly comes to mind are the rural areas.

Due to the fact that urban areas have been places to go, because of beautiful infrastructure, improved ways of living, coupled with bright city lights and efficient transport systems, among others.

Least did the majority of people know that urban areas suffer from significant pressure and stress due to the impacts of climate change, as everything bad and backward is always viewed with rural lenses.

People barely notice that towns and cities are vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

This is due to events such as flash flooding, water scarcity, damage of ecosystems and wetlands, posing risks on the infrastructure, the people’s health, sanitation and well-being, transport and energy sectors, among others.

The vulnerability of urban areas depends more on the history, than in the manner in which particular urban areas have been planned and developed, their potential to handle current risks and pressures emanating from negative impacts of climate change and population density.

When climate action is advocated as the path of achieving resilience through appropriate forms of adaptation, the majority of people still believe that the urban areas should not be cases in point.

This is due to the fact that the concept of smart cities and smart farming seem to be more detached to the realities of urban generations.

These green discourses or new climate change vocabularies are not carved here but elsewhere, hence it is difficult to factor them into their situations without experiencing challenges.

For the sustainable future that everybody wants, urban areas will be instrumental in defining the path to low carbon and emission free transitions.

Poorly performing macro-economics, run-away inflation and currency shortages are compounded by the effects of climate change, hampering agricultural production and infrastructural development.

This requires urban areas to embark on adaptation measures in order to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

Climate-induced problems of the 21st century include increased water scarcities, worsening water demands for both industrial and agricultural purposes.

Water and sanitation problems worsened by climate change contribute to health problems like typhoid, diarrhoea, malaria and poor nutrition in densely populated urban areas.

The resilient nature and capacities of urban areas are witnessed during extreme climate-induced events such as flooding, droughts, unregulated land use changes, over exploitation of natural resources and pollution, among others.

For these reasons, urban areas find it difficult to fight the impacts of climate change due to enormous costs involved. While the demands of water are increasing, electricity challenges are also perennial, leading urban communities to invade forests looking for firewood causing deforestation in the process.

Most urban areas in Zimbabwe are under water rationing for the greater parts of the week while the same or even worse is happening with electricity through load-shedding.

Some rural communities are also into cutting down trees for charcoal production in order to sell to urban dwellers trying desperately to avert the effects of acute energy shortages.

Unregulated land uses in the urban areas like building and farming on wetlands have contributed to depletion of ecosystems, dry landscapes, mudslides and soil erosion including pollution of water bodies.

These are also compounded by situations where resource demands no longer meet supply requirements including the population densities not commensurate with available resources, with obsolete equipment and pipes frequently bursting releasing sewage into human life lines like streams, rivers and lakes.

Adhering seriously to issues of urban governance is important in order to build resilience in urban areas but climate change as a major challenge and third force is making it difficult for urban areas to realise resilience.

The sinking of boreholes by non-governmental organisations across the country’s cities has never been the norm but now due to climate change accelerating water scarcities throughout the southern African region, urban areas rarely turn on their dry tapes.

Many urban areas are experiencing rapid urbanisation leading to ecosystem degradation which contribute to warming of the environment due to emission of more greenhouse gases.

It is important in this regard, for urban areas to seriously engage in urban development through climate conscious planning which contribute to environmental sustainability.

The concept of green infrastructure has been identified as one of the key strategies of sustainable development and its role in fighting the impacts of climate change is well acknowledged.

Green infrastructure is important in enhancing climate change mitigation and adaptation through instituting flood controlling mechanisms, sustainable water management and providing associated benefits to human populations.

Zimbabwean cities are already struggling to cope with the influx of people, lack of housing, water and energy shortages, poor waste management, health and social problems posing lots of challenges in resilience building.

Also, Zimbabweans are not into the culture of harvesting water maybe it is due to the history of water sufficiency in other areas of the country or the fact that many buildings and roads are not designed to harvest water.

Issues of circular economy are not invested in and seriously funded. There is also need to better manage community spaces for community recreation, convergence and social interaction.

Many of these impacts emanate from poor management styles, lack of funding or duplication of roles by local authorities, associations and ministries leading to absence of defined mandates for specific authorities, associations and ministries.

Who does what and whose mandate it is to manage wetlands has become a problem. Wetlands and urban agriculture should be managed.

Climate change is not the problem, but it accelerates what has already been poorly managed.

Poor resource management and uncontrolled growth remain present and future challenges of our time.

Solutions always come from new worldview and new ways of thinking about resources, cities and management.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity.

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