Zimbabwe’s development challenges in 2021

Zimbabwe has straddled from cris to crisis in its four decades history as an independent country.

The first two decades of the 21st century have been challenging for Zimbabwe, it’s citizens endured the worst economic crisis since independence, the worst state sponsored violence since Gukurahundi and  several natural disasters induced famines. Most of the undying causes of these challenges did not go away, economic fundamentals are weak, opposition political victimisation threatens an all out conflict and climate change is pacing up threatening livelihoods.

Zimbabweans have proved to be resilient and they have learnt to survive with some of these challenges however emerging challenges directly caused by known socio-economic factors are popping and citizens have to pay attention so that they can push for change or adapt.

That being said here are the eight emerging challenges for Zimbabwe in the third decade of the 21st century.

1. Ecosystem breakdown

Biodiversity loss is occurring at an alarming rate in Zimbabwe. Main causes for the past few years have been an accelerated urban housing construction, expansion in agriculture and mining, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and deforestation.

Other economic and political pressures have relegated attention from the state of the ecosystems despite the fact that biodiversity is at the core of our economy.

In 2012 alone reserved parks and selected exportation of game products contributed $42 million to the economy creating an appetite to sell more and give trophy hunting licenses.

In 2019 98 elephants were airlifted to parks in China and Dubai were they were sold

Despite the elephant population declining 40% since 2001, the government plans to sell the right to shoot as many as 500 elephants in 2021.

If citizens fail to pay attention the deterioration of the ecosystem will come to bite them, the clearing of land has led to wild animals/human conflict, the killing of animals has reduced the ecosystem balance leading to weakened food security for the people. It may not be a pressing problem now however this emerging problem deserves attention before it’s too late.

2. Desertification

Closely linked to the ecosystem breakdown desertification is one of the most serious challenges that impact sustainable development in Zimbabwe right now.

According to FAO, agricultural dry lands constitute approximately 42% of the total arable land in Zimbabwe with large proportions of these dry lands subject to various degrees of land degradation such as deforestation and soil erosion.

Desertification reduces the social and biological potential of the land and increases the effects of climate change leading to poor agricultural productivity threatening the lives of many who depend on subsistence farming.

Intensive cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation are the major causes of land degradation in Zimbabwe. These activities are exacerbated by the underlying forces of a socio-economic nature such as general poverty and over-dependence on natural resources for livelihoods.

Since the underlying challenge is the socio-economic state of the country, the solution to desertification lies there too.

3. Water scarcity

Section 77 (a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment No. 20) guarantees the right to safe, clean and potable water however this right is constantly threatened and sometimes outright denied.

In rural areas boreholes which have been drilled in recent years are starting to dry up due to constant climate change driven droughts and it is projected that more water sources will be threatened by the changing climate in the coming half a dozen years.

Most residents in Chitungwiza have not had running water for years.

Harare and Bulawayo the two largest cities are constantly in water crises. As populations continue to grown in these cities there is a looming crisis which can quickly embellish into a health, political and economic crisis.

The main reasons why the water challenges were not addressed on time include, weak and fragmented institutions with poor technical and financial capacity and inadequate political and financial support.

To address the water crisis these shortfalls have to be addressed, if there is no political will citizens have to pressure politicians and bureaucrats to work.

4. Urbanisation

Urbanisation aught not to be a challenge, the general trend towards increasing urbanization could be exploited to address poverty reduction and drive development, however with poor economic planning and lack of policial will, the ballooning urban population in Zimbabwe is an emerging development challenge.

Unemployed, unhoused and unfed urban population can easily become a threat to development, these urban centres can become breading grounds for crime and disease.

Introducing affordable housing schemes, opening up for investment to create employment and creating sustainable food security mechanisms will be the foundations to ensure that this emerging challenge is addressed before it is too late.

5. Youth unemployment

The economic downturn in Zimbabwe maybe the major contributory factor to the unemployment of youths in the country however poor policies which followed are equally to blame.

Each year universities, polytechnics and vocational training centres produce work ready young people however the labour markets have not been able to absorb the youth, resulting in high youth unemployment.

The informal sector which has been an alternative for the unemployed youth is facing challenges due to poor policy decisions and most young people are becoming idle.

In addition to lost productivity, idle working age people often resort to illegal activities and drug abuse which is also a pressing challenge we are already seeing in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe does not afford to lose its young people because of policy failures. The creation of a conducive environment for investors and the opening up of alternative industries would go a long way to address this emerging challenge.

6. The Digital-Divide

As more and more social and economic processes move online we have to loot at the infrastructure which support connectivity as public goods.

Education, work and even play is moving online, as we have seen with the movement of education to online platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic control measures, those in rural areas and from poorer families were excluded and this in turn will limit their chances of success in the future.

By having an operational system which is exclusionary Zimbabwe has an emerging problem on its hands. If opportunities become available for a small number of people that means the majority which is not online will contribute less to our collective social and economic development.

To address this digital-divide the government has to invest in ICT infrastructure in all less connected parts of the country, this includes provision of technological tools to schools and communities to keep them online.

7. Climate change

The impact of climate change poses serious threats to sustained economic growth, poverty reduction and the quality of life.

Zimbabwe is expected to experience reduced average annual rainfall, increased aridity and droughts and more severe natural disasters.

We have already seen a surge in cyclones and droughts in recent years, we have seen how unpredictable weather patterns can affect agricultural output for the poor who do not afford irrigation and we have seen how droughts directly affect urbanites as their water sources dry out as we have seen in Bulawayo.

Since Zimbabwe is not a major contributor to green house gasses emissions the primary way to deal with climate change is adaptation however resources and political will remains scarce.

Climate change strikes food security first hence more investment by the state into improving food security, and building resilience for people whose lives and livelihoods are being put at risk in the face of climate risks and impacts should be a priority.

8. Food crisis

There is an emerging food crisis in Zimbabwe, constant famines most of which caused by natural disasters coupled with poor economic policies poses a serious development problem for the country.

Recently Zimbabwe was among a handful of countries which were designated as hunger hotspots by the WFP, The United Nations body was appealing for help to save lives.

Always being on the receiving end of food aid is a sign of a breakdown at the core of the country’s governance structures, purported good yields in 2021 are not enough to feed the over 7.1 million people who are food insecure.

Innovative green policies, sustainable economic planning and creation of employment opportunities can be the foundational directions the government has to explore because with no food the country can easily degenerate into a conflict state.

He it’s all being said, climate change, water scarcity, the food crisis, the energy crisis, and the financial crisis poses a serious threat to sustainable development in Zimbabwe. Worsened by lack of disaster preparedness plans the prospects of a catastrophy are higher, however highlights like this will help raise these issues before it’s too late, they help citizens to see beyond newspaper headlines and sensational stories and focus on key issues which are about to alter the course of their lives.

About Author /

[ Development Practitioner • IR Postgraduate Student • African • Queer • Anti-Poverty ]

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