Most rural communities in Zimbabwe are severely affected by the impacts of climate change which include heat waves (with evidence of around 0.4°C average temperature increases) and rainfall variability as shown by increasing frequency and severity of droughts and floods. These conditions are projected to continue severely affecting rural communities with reduced agricultural productivity and shortages of water resources. As a nation, Zimbabwe will face increased food insecurity, economic decline, and reduced potential for hydroelectric power generation. Notwithstanding these problems, there is great potential for building resilient communities thereby reducing the impacts of climate change. On aspects of agro-ecology, successful natural resource management and climate change resilience projects that include the use of catchment-based approaches and integrated water resources management. After Cyclone Idai in 2019, there is evidence that those areas which were practicing agro-ecological land management principles showed good resilience to recovery from the cyclone. These are examples of good practices happening in some parts promoted through the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF) within communities along the Zambezi Valley, but they are not being systematically adopted in some areas or promoted and lack active youth participation. Studies and advocacy initiatives on youth inclusion and participation in community development in Zimbabwe especially resilience building has shown that even though youths constitute 61% of Zimbabwe’s population, this demographic group is least engaged in the design, implementation, follow up and review of resilience-building goals and strategies. In this article, I look at the importance of active youth participation and youth networks in building sustainable and resilient communities.
Understanding climate-resilient and sustainable communities with a youth factor
Zimbabwe has been exposed to several socio-economic and environmental setbacks such as food insecurity caused by poor harvests particularly in regions IV and V over the past few years and most of these are attributable to the effects of climate change. Building resilience of these most vulnerable communities is therefore indispensable for sustainability of humanity. Climate resilience is the ability of a system, community, or society to pursue its human, social, ecological, and economic objectives, while managing the impacts of climate change over time, in a way that is mutually reinforcing. Resilience is needed when preparing for the changes and in dealing with them. This can be done through enhancing absorptive capacity, adaptative capacity and transformative capacity among the individuals, households, and communities in understanding the underlying changing conditions to come up with alternatives in handling such circumstances.
The framework proposes the need to engage all stakeholders especially government through implementation of sound socio-economic policies that will create an enabling environment and functional institutions for the youths to participate in building resilience of their communities. However, the actors are to be well equipped with the knowledge in connection with a particular type of disturbance in building resilience since it is a multi-level process and is system based. Progress towards societal goals means better adapting and managing the risks of climate change and vice versa. The concept of disaster resilience has evolved through the work of many scholars and practitioners.
The active and meaningful engagement of youth in the design, implementation, follow up and review of climate change adaptation projects and strategies, at national, regional, and global levels, has been repeatedly echoed as a top priority and crucial. This is particularly relevant as youth development is a cross-cutting issue of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Similarly, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Compact on Young People in Humanitarian Action recognizes young people as key partners in advancing resilience to ensure disaster preparedness, reduce risks when disaster strikes and as key contributors in all phases of humanitarian response.
The Zimbabwe’s revised National Youth Policy of 2013 aims at empowering youths by creating an enabling environment and ensuring the provision of resources necessary for undertaking programmes and projects to fully develop youths’ mental, moral, social, economic, political, cultural, and physical potential to improve their quality of life. The Policy recognizes that youths are a key resource and a national asset for the creation of a democratic, productive, and equitable society. This indicates the need for youths to be actively involved in building strong resilient communities
For many years, the Zimbabwean government has been preparing and implementing various plans aimed at bringing about economic, social, and cultural development of communities. However, the cost of continuing to implement these plans and improving socio-economic services has been rising too fast in relation to government budgetary capacity. It is for this reason that youths should be engaged in community development projects to improve their welfare and bring about social and economic development in their respective areas. The development of a community is a dynamic process involving all segments of the locality, including the often-overlooked youth population. With poverty levels stubbornly high at 63 per cent nationally and 76 per cent in rural areas, through youth participation we must build resilience to address the root causes of unemployment and under-employment more firmly, inequalities, food, and nutrition security as well as the effects of climate change.
Involvement of youths in resilience building
Studies have shown that climate change has caused shifts in the agricultural sector with much emphasis on farming activities where smallholder farmers have largely been affected as Zimbabwe is known to be an agriculturally based nation contributing about 70% income, sustenance and 13% of the annual GDP. Some of the challenges include limited resources, technical capacity, and access to information in preparation for the upcoming disasters. Several success stories across the county confirms to the fact that young people are an important component for building resilience in communities against climate change. A case in point is that of Cyclone Idai which hit the Chimanimani area in 2019 and adversely affected the livelihoods of many individuals who managed to survive. Also, of note is the Shashe initiative, which set up irrigation systems for the Shashe farming community in the Maramani Communal Area (4,000 people in 20 villages in Beitbridge District in Zone V). Youths have been actively involved in the cultivation of more than 22000 oranges on over 90 hectares of communal land. Through an innovative Private Public Community Partnership (PPCP) for the marketing and product management, linking young farmers to commercial fruit juice producers and national markets. The success of this project was largely through its inclusivity approach and massive youth involvement who were driving adoption of the new technologies. A commercial industry of citrus was set up although small-scale citrus cultivation has not been successful, but this demonstrate how engagement of young people is key to build such sustainable intervention into the future.
Young people are involved in livelihoods and income-generating projects which have the potential of reducing deforestation and poaching as several cases reported in most rural areas have been perpetrated by these same young people. Besides this, another point in case is the implementation of sustainable projects in several rural communities of Zimbabwe mainly in the Zambezi Valley being facilitated through the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund Project. More than 10 186 youths are actively involved in resilience-building projects for community development and employment creation in three districts of Mbire, Kariba and Binga participating in the ZRBF project . This has bridged the gap of youth participation in viable community sustainable projects such as farming as a business, livestock production and crop farming. Through this initiative, youths are no longer rallying behind elders as was the norm but are now steering the community resilience building wheel. Furthermore, skills such as carpentry and building have been extended to young people resulting in most of them in the ZRBF targeted areas being contracted by their Rural District Councils.
Enhancing absorptive capacity focuses on the ability of communities to help themselves for a short time when a disaster has occurred instead of relying on humanitarian services. This is inclusive of disaster risk reduction strategies and social capital which can be attained through collective action and community organization. There is, therefore, need for the youths to collaborate and engage with the communities at their local level in coming up with ways of risk reduction such as bringing awareness to the community on foreseeable risks. Furthermore, the youths should be knowledgeable on some of the Indigenous knowledge systems which have been undermined by technology but have proven to be useful in time immemorial in promoting climatic resilience in some communities. This is further supported by Section 16 of the Constitution which calls for the upholding of cultural values and practices. The statutory Instrument 61 of 2009 aimed at protecting the rights of local authorities and communities to their resource-based knowledge. A case in point is that of the BaTonga people Binga community which still uses the IKS to predict changes in the climate such as the absence of flowers by the Mukololo tree symbolizes drought or famine whereas the presence of many flowers can represent heavy rains. All these have acted as the early warning systems for farmers in knowing when to start farming activities. This has helped in creating sustainable livelihoods for the locals. Hence, the need for the government, organisations, academics and youths to embrace indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) in efforts to climate adaptation.
Adaptive capacity mainly aims at promoting activities that encourage the expansion of youths and other individual’s aspirations in making a change in their communities through access to information and financial services for them to develop mechanisms to strengthen their communities for adaptation. Farming activities such as climate-smart agriculture are part of the adaptative strategies which are mainstreamed in Zimbabwe’s Climate Smart Agricultural Manual and National Agriculture Policy Framework (NAPF). However, a gap has been noted in the involvement of youths in programs designed to combat climate change due to several factors which include self-exclusion because of lack of motivation or knowledge. For example, the pfumbvudza/ Intwasa a smart agricultural project which was introduced to ensure increased yields despite the climatic changes largely involved older women, which therefore shows that so much work is needed to engage youths in such activities. Lack of financial support and assistance from the government and businesses especially banks have also largely influenced non-involvement of youths in building sustainable communities. The Youth Empower bank for instance has tried to offer loans to young people who are willing to start their projects, but most of these banks are in Central businesses least to mention the associated collateral requirements hence youths in remote areas are left marginalized.
Accessing information is a key aspect in ensuring that youths are not left out in climate change projects, a constitutional right substantiated in Section 62 of the Constitution which guarantees access to information and within the National Climate Change Learning Strategy Pillar on Communication and Advocacy. In every, district of Zimbabwe there is an appointed representative of the Ministry of Youth who should engage with the local leaders such as the Councilors or Chiefs to make sure that information reaches the youths in remote areas. Another technique that can be utilized in disseminating information is the use of social media platforms such as creating WhatsApp groups in every ward with their Councilor as most of youths are active in those platforms. This has proven to be much effective with regards to the novel Corona Virus where gatherings have been banned. The government of Zimbabwe has recognised the power social media has especially in this phase of covid 19 as an information dissemination tool. Within their local context young people have been able to embark on social media campaigns to drive climate resilience and sustainable development. Different youth-led organizations have social media handles especially Twitter which they are capitalizing on for civic engagement and targeting decision making bodies on disaster risk response and reduction. These targeted advocacies by youth and youth groups can promote sustainability. During 2019 when the government had issued a special grant for mining in Hwange National Park, we saw the #SaveHwangeNational Park campaign which pressured the government to pronounce a ban on mining in protected areas although without a legal back up for that position. As such youths are probing for environmental responsive policies.
Transformative capacity is also a critical factor that consists of the role of the government working with local institutions in investing in human capital and creating an enabling environment for the youths to contribute towards sustainable and resilient communities. It seeks to promote the provision of basic services through responsive governance and empowerment to the largely affected populations. This can be achieved by advocating for representativeness within the structures of the government. Numerous examples of youth organisations and networks involved in environmental initiatives and with different community structures in several districts of Zimbabwe include Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association Youth Network, Zimbabwe Youth Network for Biodiversity, African Youth Initiative on Climate Change-Zimbabwe amongst others. These are leading to several formal engagements with government departments and agencies such as the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Hospitality Industry (METHI). In addition, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association has proven to be effective in embarking on advocacy campaigns, educating and engaging young people in open dialogues where they get to share their views and ideas on how to adapt to climate change such as encouraging active participation of youths in environmental policy formulation. A Campaign was held in 2020 with the theme #MyPlanetsMyrights focusing mainly on the Rights of a Child in the environment including the youths also as enshrined in Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. It advocated against pollution of the environment which contributes to climatic changes and inclusion of corporate governance principles set out in the Constitution under the Environmental Management Act [Chapter 20:27]. The National Development Strategy (NDS1) which was introduced in 2021 has already outlined some of the measures or guidelines in relation to climate change as a means of attaining the 2030 Vision of an Upper Middle-Income society. This is a macro-based approach that seeks to include everyone in the developmental process with the theme “living no one and no place behind”. Which therefore means that the youths must be at the forefront in developmental projects and programmes acting as the major drivers towards building resilient and sustainable communities in the wake of climate change. Some strategies expected include establishing climate change information centres, education, awareness, and training sessions. This came at a time when there were changes in the rainfall patterns in 2019 that resulted in a decline of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) as most farmers and communities were affected in accessing water which is very essential in most human activities.
Nevertheless, some major and persistent challenges remain. With poverty levels stubbornly high at 63 % nationally and 76 % in rural areas, there is need to build resilience to address root causes of un- and under-employment, inequalities, food, and nutrition security more firmly, as well as the effects of climate change. Through the Climate Change Response Strategy, we have the collective responsibility to sustain, enhance and replicate the admirable progress made in certain sectors over the past few years, while promoting partnerships for youth participative sustainable and climate resilient communities building
- There is a need for capacity building on the development of bankable projects by youths so that they can secure climate finance and scale up the initiatives they are involved in for sustainable communities.
- Broadening research on how other countries have incorporated youth participation to deal with related climate crises and utilize the information in developing concrete strategies for climate resilience building.
- Government should adopt a climate governance-oriented approach that focuses on building and strengthening relationships between a broad range of youth and youth networks with the public and private actors at different levels (households, communities, systems) to achieving climate resilient and sustainable communities.
- International funding should be harnessed to complement domestic efforts in climate resilience and sustainable communities building.
- Providing climate change information to the youth sector and communities to encourage and assist adaptation activities. This is especially important for local authorities and other government tiers.
- Youths should partake in the local budget planning processes to be able to hold their authorities accountable and ensure issues to do with resilience building are financed.
- Adriana Keating et al., Operationalizing Resilience against Natural Disaster Risk: Opportunities, Barriers, and a Way Forward. Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, 2014
- Brazier, 2017. Climate Change in Zimbabwe: A Guide for Planners and Decision-makers, 2nd Edition. Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Unganai, L., Gwitira, I. and Manzungu, E. 2020.
- Understanding climate risks over Zimbabwe. A report prepared for the Climate Change Management Department. Government of Zimbabwe.
- CESVI rehabilitates nine irrigation schemes | The Herald
- Climate-Smart Agriculture Manual for Zimbabwe, Climate Technology Centre and Network, Denmark, 2017
- Feresu S.B. (ed.) (2017). Zimbabwe Environment Outlook 2: A Clean, Safe and Healthy Environment. Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Harare, Zimbabwe
- Government of Zimbabwe (2013b). Constitution of Zimbabwe. Amendment (No 20) Act 2013.Government Printer, Harare
- Government of Zimbabwe (2014) ‘Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy. Harare: Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.
- Government of Zimbabwe (2014). Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy. Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Harare
- Government of Zimbabwe ,2018. Reimagining Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Policy Framework 2019-2030
- Government of Zimbabwe ,2021 National Climate Change Learning Strategy| 2020 – 2030
- Government of Zimbabwe 2015. ‘Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity: www.cbd.int/doc/world/zw/zw-nr-05-en.pdf
- Government of Zimbabwe 2015. ‘Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity: www.cbd.int/doc/world/zw/zw-nr-05-en.pdf
- John Twigg and Margherita Calderone (2019) Building livelihood and community resilience: Lessons for policy and programming from Somalia and Zimbabwe cesvi working
- The ZRBF programme in the Zambezi Valley which focuses on increasing resilience capacities of communities in Binga, Kariba and Mbire Districts to protect their development gains and improve their well-being in the face of shocks and stresses edified youths in the Zambezi Valley.
- World Bank. (2019a). Climate-Smart Agriculture. Available online at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/ topic/climate-smart-agriculture
- Zimbabwe Resilience Strategic Framework March 2015
-  Government of Zimbabwe (2014) ‘Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy. Harare: Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.
-  Brazier, 2017. Climate Change in Zimbabwe: A Guide for Planners and Decision-makers, 2nd Edition. Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Unganai, L., Gwitira, I. and Manzungu, E. 2020. Understanding climate risks over Zimbabwe. A report prepared for the Climate Change Management Department. Government of Zimbabwe.
-  Feresu S.B. (ed.) (2017). Zimbabwe Environment Outlook 2: A Clean, Safe and Healthy Environment. Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Harare, Zimbabwe
-  The ZRBF programme in the Zambezi Valley which focuses on increasing resilience capacities of communities in Binga, Kariba and Mbire Districts to protect their development gains and improve their well-being in the face of shocks and stresses edified youths in the Zambezi Valley.
-  Zimbabwe Resilience Strategic Framework March 2015
-  Adriana Keating et al., Operationalizing Resilience against Natural Disaster Risk: Opportunities, Barriers, and a Way Forward. Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, 2014
-  World Bank. (2019a). Climate-Smart Agriculture. Available online at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/ topic/climate-smart-agriculture
-  CESVI rehabilitates nine irrigation schemes | The Herald
-  John Twigg and Margherita Calderone (2019) Building livelihood and community resilience: Lessons for policy and programming from Somalia and Zimbabwe cesvi working
-  Government of Zimbabwe 2015. ‘Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity: www.cbd.int/doc/world/zw/zw-nr-05-en.pdf
-  Climate-Smart Agriculture Manual for Zimbabwe, Climate Technology Centre and Network, Denmark, 2017
-  Government of Zimbabwe ,2018. Reimagining Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Policy Framework 2019-2030
-  Government of Zimbabwe (2013b). Constitution of Zimbabwe. Amendment (No 20) Act 2013.Government Printer, Harare
-  Government of Zimbabwe ,2021 National Climate Change Learning Strategy| 2020 – 2030 Zimbabwe National Climate Change Response Strategy, 2015
Source: Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association