Continued Coal Mining in Hwange Exacerbating Climatic Effects?

The world is moving towards clean energy; while Zimbabwe may be unable to make a quick shift, the ‘dirty’ fossil fuel effects are already being felt. For many, not enough is being done to ensure a transition to clean energy soon.

Albert Shoko of Makwandara village in Hwange expresses displeasure over the unpredictable rainfall patterns in the last four years. When the rest of the country was receiving average to normal rains, Hwange was almost dry, with few incidents of heavy downpours accompanied by flash floods, a type of La Nina weather conditions.

Shoko sees unpredictable rainfall patterns as some effects of climate change. “It is becoming worse every year. Droughts, flash floods and heavy rains are common during the rainy season. Last year was a bit better, but not everyone had a good harvest,” Shoko says.

Hwange, situated under agro-ecological region four, is characterised by low rainfall, severe dry spells, and hot temperatures. Climate change, a global phenomenon, has its devastating effects felt in the coal mining town of Hwange. The community says the heatwave, in the recent past, has become common while families are always food insecure because of poor rainfalls.

Victor Banda, a Hwange resident, says the continued use of coal as a form of energy threatens local communities. “Climate Change is a national thing given the challenges we are faced with, droughts and unfavourable weather patterns. Big companies in Hwange are causing serious air pollution to the detriment of the ozone layer; thus, we are the most affected by climate change than other areas,” Banda says.

More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal in a deal announced at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, Scotland. But, like other biggest coal consumers such as China and India, Zimbabwe was absent from the accord.

Several Chinese companies are stampeding to mine coal in Hwange to boost the country’s electricity supplies. Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and phasing it out has been proposed as a key step to reducing emissions needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement to avoid the worst of climate impacts.

According to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development official statistics, Zimbabwe extracts between 2 to 3 million tonnes of coal annually. The country has an estimated 12 billion tonnes of coal reserves. India is the largest importer of coal from Zimbabwe. The Citizen Bulletin established that in 2019 India imported about 52 million tonnes, with limited coal exports into the region and China.

Hwange villagers remain exposed to coal mining-induced harsh weather conditions without a clear plan to migrate to renewable energy sources. Hwange Rural District Council Lukosi, ward councillor and Community Development Activist Ishmael Kwidini bemoans the continued unsustainable use of coal in Zimbabwe.

“As a country, we need to wean off our dependency on coal energy as it is the largest contributor of greenhouse gases. We don’t look to be ready for that, though. In light of our ill-preparedness, we need to ensure sustainable models of utilising coal and its by-products. It is also my wish that mining companies rehabilitate previously mined out areas and set solar farms in such areas,” says Kwidini.

Hwange-based Environmental non-governmental organisation, Green Shango Trust director Daniel Sithole expresses his concern over coal and its consequences to the environment, including climate change.

“Burning coal produces particulates that increase air pollution and health dangers. Burning coal melts large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causing global warming leading to climate change,” says Sithole.

The Zimbabwe National Climate Policy (NCP), the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS), the National Environmental Policy, Renewable Energy Policy and Forest Policy, among other instruments, seek to guide climate change management, scale-up mitigation actions, facilitate domestication of global policies and ensure compliance with international mechanisms.

Sithole proposes the implementation of mitigation measures to curb the effects of climate change.

“There are plenty of mitigation initiatives to add shock absorbers to the environment. As an organisation, we have planted 3020 fruit trees so far, conducting climate change capacity building and awareness, especially among youth and school children. Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) participation offers recommendations or rejections, and pollution awareness to all companies,” Sithole says.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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