Zimbabwe Grapples with Climate Change as State of the World Population Report for Zimbabwe is Launched

– Heat exacerbates maternal and neonatal health outcomes, increasing the likelihood of stillbirths, UNFPA has warned.

John Cassim

Harare, Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwean government has revealed its ongoing efforts to strengthen emergency preparedness and response to climate change-induced disasters, which have continued to disrupt access to health services.

Zimbabwean Health Minister Dr. Douglas Mombeshora hinted at these efforts during the 2024 State of the World Population Report launch in Harare this week.

From shifting temperatures and weather patterns to more severe cyclones and rising sea levels, the impacts of climate change are intensifying and becoming more evident.

“Climate change is a global emergency and one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today,” conceded health experts.

Even five years after the victims displaced by the 2019 Cyclone IDAI, which devastated Chimanimani District and parts of Manicaland and Mozambique, are still struggling to fully recover.

These displacements have created inequalities, hindering access to health services.

Subsequent climate change-induced disasters, such as the current drought, have left several Zimbabweans vulnerable. Therefore, Health Minister Dr. Douglas Mombeshora stated that the government is working to counteract these effects.

“Of late, we have been hit by natural disasters, including Cyclone IDAI, the COVID-19 pandemic, the current Cholera outbreak, and the El Niño-induced drought. We therefore need to continuously strengthen our emergency preparedness and response,” Dr. Mombeshora said.

The government has implemented legal statutes, including the Civil Protection Act, the Public Health Act, and the Environmental Management Act, among others, to create an enabling environment for disaster risk reduction initiatives.

Additionally, these statutes facilitate a comprehensive and strategic approach to climate change adaptation, mitigation, financing, and environmental education.

Dr. Mombeshora called on Zimbabweans to take advantage of this phase as the government strengthens emergency preparedness and response and builds a resilient health system.

Climate change has emerged as a major threat to the vision of human-centered sustainable development outlined in the ICPD Programme of Action reinforced by the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25.

It exacerbates existing health vulnerabilities, including insufficient access to safe water and improved sanitation, food insecurity, and impacts on access to health care and education.

According to the UNFPA Representative, Miranda Tabifor, climate change will impact everyone, especially those who are already vulnerable and have limited resources to adapt. Women and girls, in particular, continue to be left behind.

“Despite the progress we have made, collective action and solidarity are still needed to address these issues of inequality,” Ms. Tabifor said.

The rapid pace of climate change in the next decade will make UNFPA’s three transformative results of ending preventable maternal mortality, ending unmet need for family planning, and ending gender-based violence and harmful practices difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Climate change will have a serious impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights, despite the gains attained in Zimbabwe so far.

Heat exacerbates maternal and neonatal health outcomes, increasing the likelihood of stillbirths.

The risk of negative maternal mortality outcomes will be further exacerbated by increased poverty and food insecurity resulting from the climate-related loss of livelihoods.

With increasing drought, women and girls are expected to travel longer distances to collect water and firewood, exposing them to sexual and gender-based violence. In some cases, this loss of livelihood leads to increases in transactional sex and the risk of teenage pregnancies.

During times of disaster, health services are often limited or unavailable, leading to more women giving birth without the necessary medical support.

The disruption of health systems leads to a lack of commodities, including contraception, increasing the risk of early, unintended pregnancies.

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