How Climate Change Threatens Zambia’s Already Fragile Nutrition Record

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Southern Zambia, Oct 31 2015 (IPS)

It is slightly after 10 o’clock in the morning and 48-year-old Felix Muchimba of Siamuleya village in Pemba district has just finished having breakfast – a traditional drink called Chibwantu, made of maize meal and grit.

48-year-old Felix Muchimba sitting on a stool outside his house. Photo Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

48-year-old Felix Muchimba sitting on a stool outside his house. Photo Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Nutritionally, the drink does not offer much except energy for the day’s work. Normally, the next meal should be one o’clock, followed by the final meal of the day taken in the evening.

However, Muchimba and his six member family will be having their next and last meal of the day at four o’clock. Because of food scarcity, the family now takes two instead of three meals per day.

“I harvested slightly over 200kgs (4 by 50kg bags) of maize and this could finish in two months if we maintain the normal three meals per day,” said Muchimba, who has been living with HIV since 2007, told IPS.

Muchimba says, “My status as a bread winner has not changed despite my living with HIV. When disaster strikes such as drought leading to crop failure, we cope with the changed situation and have reduced our meals to two per day,” he said.

Muchimba’s family is among the over 133,000 households countrywide that have suffered crop failure due to drought and now require relief food assistance, according to the country’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) 2015 Food Security Map.

While Muchimba’s immediate concern is undoubtedly food availability, a more subtle problem in the context of sustainable development goals (SDGs) numbers 1 and 2 (ending poverty and ending hunger) is undernourishment. Muchimba and his 28-month-old child (born HIV negative) both need nutritious food continuously.

“Children who are undernourished suffer from a number of short and long term consequences. It is the long term effects that we are seriously worried of; poor development of the brain, leading to poor performance in school and even reduced productivity later in life,” Eustina Besa of the National Food and Nutrition Commission told IPS.

A typical meal in Zambia is a monotonous intake of key staples: Nshima (a hard porridge made of maize or cassava starch), usually eaten with steamed vegetables (rape or pumpkin leaves) and, not so often, chicken or meat.

According to HarvestPlus, a research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

maize – a staple food for more than 1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America – lacks essential micronutrients such as vitamin A. This common deficiency in the diets of poor malnourished populations leads to retarded growth, increased risk of disease and reproductive disorders.

With this background, Muchimba’s family is likely part of the larger world population still grappling with “silent hunger” – malnourishment that is serious enough to affect personal growth and development.

According to the World Food Programme’s 2015 statistics, some 795 million people worldwidee world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life with sub-Saharan Africa recording the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four on the continent is said to be undernourished.

Zeroing in on Zambia, the picture is not different. According to the 2014 UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) State of the Food Insecurity in the World report, the country was ranked second to the world’s worst case scenario in terms of undernourishment, rated at 48.3 per cent of the country’s population, better only than Haiti with 51.8 per cent.

However, with several multi-sectoral measures such as the First 1000 Most Critical Days campaign launched in 2012, the 2015 Zambia Demographic Health survey has shown some improvement.

“The survey has revealed that stunting has reduced to 40 from 45 per cent”, Eneya Phiri, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Civil Society Organisation for Scaling-Up Nutrition, told IPS.

Phiri added that “The First 1000 Most Critical Days programme has brought about a coordinated approach to the fight against under nutrition especially that the inter-ministerial committee is chaired by the Secretary to the Cabinet.”

But even with such progress, stakeholders are getting concerned with the frequency of climate induced disasters such as drought that have a direct bearing on both food availability and good nutrition.

“We are still concerned that climate change could reverse these gains. We are afraid for rural communities affected by drought for they may not be getting the right nutritional balance as a result of reduced meals which is usually their easy way out in difficult times,” said Phiri.

Eustina Besa, Head of Communications at the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC), says the programme has a set of priority interventions, also known as the minimum package, that aims to raise awareness of under-nutrition, increase demand for optimal nutrition and hold government leaders accountable.

In linking drought to nutrition, there is an emerging argument that climate-smart agriculture practices, such as crop diversification and planting drought tolerant crops, must be accompanied with nutrition smart technologies.

According to the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, an independent group of influential experts with a commitment to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security, the regions of the world facing the prospect of the most serious impacts of climate change are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia which already have the highest burden of malnutrition and where the poor rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods.

John Kufor, former President of Ghana and co-Chair of the Global Panel, believes the challenges of malnutrition and climate change come together as an opportunity in agriculture by integrating nutrition into climate-smart agricultural practices.

And HarvestPlus seems to have embraced this model by using conventional crop breeding techniques to develop five new Vitamin A-rich varieties of maize in Zambia.

The varieties produce orange coloured maize cobs, and in farmer trials they have been found to produce yields similar to hybrid white maize varieties.

“Zambia has made a lot of effort to address Vitamin A deficiency. However, regardless of all these efforts, we are still scoring high on Vitamin A deficiency. That is why HarvestPlus thought of an additional or complementary approach,” said Dr Eliab Simpungwe, the HarvestPlus Country Manager.

And backing the climate and nutrition smart approach, Emely Banda, the Programme’s Demand Creation Specialist, told IPS: “Our varieties were bred for drought resistance owing to challenges of unpredictable and erratic rainfall to tackle both food and nutrition security.”


Central America Seeks Recognition of Its Vulnerability to Climate Change

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the countries of Central America have borne the heavy impact of extreme climate phenomena like hurricanes and severe drought. Now, six of them are demanding that the entire planet recognise their climate vulnerability.

An initiative that has emerged from civil society in Central America wants the new binding universal climate treaty to acknowledge that the region is especially vulnerable to climate change – a distinction currently given to small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

In the climate Oct. 19-23 talks in Bonn, Germany, the proposal found its way into the draft of the future Paris agreement. If it is approved, Central America could be given priority when it comes to the distribution of climate financing for adaptation measures – which would be crucial for the region.

“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening,” said Tania Guillén, climate change officer at Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre.“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening.” — Tania Guillén

These contributions, the expert told IPS, “should go towards the benefit of vulnerable communities” in this region. But for now, only SIDS and LDCs have a priority.

Semantic disputes have taken on great importance, a month before the start of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, where the new climate treaty is to be approved.

That is because the language used will form part of the foundations on which the legal bases of the agreement will be set.

Central America’s 48 million people live on the isthmus that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea, along whose length stretches a mountain chain and an arid dry corridor.

Nearly half of the region’s inhabitants – 23 million, or 48 percent – live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The issue of climate vulnerability – the set of conditions that make a society or ecosystem more likely to be affected by extreme climate events – has been on Central America’s agenda for years, since Hurricane Mitch’s devastating passage through the region in 1998 forced a rethinking of risk management.

As part of this process, the Vulnerable Central America, United for Life Forum was born in 2009 – a civil society collective that has pushed for the region to be declared particularly subject to the consequences of climate change.

Over the last year, climate impacts have caused human and material losses throughout Central America, from the catastrophic mudslide in Cambray on the outskirts of Guatemala City to the sea level rise threatening Panama’s Guna Yala archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.

The most widely extended of these impacts has been the drought associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate phenomenon which complicated agricultural conditions in Central America’s so-called dry corridor.

The corridor is an arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is the norm and where rainfall was 40 to 60 percent below normal in the 2014-2015 dry season.

Central America accounts for just 0.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means it sees reducing its vulnerability to climate change as more urgent than mitigation measures.

If successful, the call for the region to be recognised as especially vulnerable would make it a priority for climate change adaptation financing and technology.

But it will not be easy to reach this goal in the negotiations, as it is hindered by other countries of the developing South and even by some in this region itself.

The tension first arose within the Central American Economic Integration System (SICA), which held three meetings during the October climate change talks in Bonn, but failed to reach a consensus on the initiative, due to internal opposition from Belize.

“It must be pointed out that (SICA members) Belize and the Dominican Republic are SIDS, which means that to avoid problems with that negotiating bloc they did not back the proposal,” Guillén said.

In his view, “the painful thing is what Belize is doing, because the Dominican Republic is in a different situation,” since it is not actually part of the Central American isthmus, but is a Caribbean island nation.

Although Belize is on the mainland, it joined the SIDS in the climate talks.

The head of the Guatemalan government’s delegation to the climate talks, Edwin Castellanos, confirmed to IPS that no consensus was reached within SICA.

For that reason, “the proposal was made by El Salvador, as current president of SICA, but it was not made in the name of SICA because member countries did not back the motion.” It was also signed by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Castellanos also noted that there are other countries seeking to be included on the list of the most vulnerable countries, an issue that was addressed within the powerful Group of 77 and China negotiating bloc, which represents the countries of the developing South.

“When Central America presented this initiative, Nepal followed it with a similar proposal for mountainous countries. The problem is that this starts off a list that could be interminable, and which already includes the LDCs, islands, and most recently, Africa,” the negotiator said.

He acknowledged that the initiative came from Central American civil society, and mentioned in particular the Mexico and Central America Civil Society Forum held Oct. 7-9 in Mexico City, ahead of COP21.

Alejandra Granados, a Costa Rican activist who took part in the civil society forum, told IPS that the proposal was set forth by Alejandra Sobenes of the Guatemalan Institute for Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (IDEADS), and that “each organisation sent it to the negotiators for their respective countries” prior to the meeting in Bonn.

The Central American countries that have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC agreed on including adaptation components to which governments have committed themselves.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have not yet presented their INDCs, the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming.

Granados said that, if Central America is recognised as especially vulnerable, the countries of the region will have to work hard together with local communities to improve their adaptation plans prior to 2020, when the new treaty will go into effect.

“This recognition is not an end in itself; it is a major responsibility that the region is assuming, because it is as if at an international level all eyes turned towards the region and said: ‘Ok, what are you waiting for, to do something? You wanted this recognition, now assume your responsibility to take action’,” said the Costa Rican activist, who heads the organisation

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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