Climate Change: A Tale of Weather Extremes with Mixed Fortunes for Zambia

Planeta Hatuleke, a small scale farmer of Pemba District in Southern Zambia, stands in a maize field. This year, she hopes that she will not be one of the country’s 2.3 million food insecure people thanks to the climate smart agriculture techniques she implemented while planting her crop in November. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA and PEMBA DISTRICT, Zambia, Jan 15 2020 (IPS)

It is early Saturday morning and Planeta Hatuleke, a small scale farmer of Pemba District in Southern Zambia, awakens to the comforting sound of rainfall. As the locals say, the “heavens have opened” and it is raining heavily after a prolonged dry spell. 

“This is welcome after two weeks of a dry spell,” says Hatuleke with a sigh of relief. “The rainfall pattern has not been consistent so far; we could be headed for a repeat of last season” she adds pessimistically.

  • The 2018/19 farming season was characterised by drought and prolonged dry spells, which, according to the government Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), left 2.3 million people severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian food assistance.

Hatuleke along with her 8-member family members are part of the hunger stricken population. Last farming season, the family harvested only five 50Kg-bags of maize, 10 short of their annual food requirements.

“It has not been easy to feed my family since the five bags finished. I am grateful to government for relief food support but for big families like mine, we have to supplement through other means,” says the 55-year old widow. “As a family, we have been surviving on sales from our gardening activities.”

  • Statistics from DMMU show that at least 70,000 metric tonnes of relief food (maize grain and maize meal) has been distributed to the affected people between September 2019 and January 2020.
  • According World Food Programme (WFP) country director for Zambia, Jennifer Bitonde, the United Nations’ food agency “requires $36 million to effectively support the government in responding to the crisis.”
  • WFP is currently supporting the government’s response by delivering government-supplied maize meal, as well as by procuring and delivering pulses to ensure a nutrition-sensitive food basket. WFP is also working closely with partners to monitor food distributions and guarantee that resources reach those most in need.
    • In a statement after receiving a contribution of $3.39 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help meet the immediate food needs of drought-affected people in Zambia, Bitonde added that “USAID’s contribution represents approximately 10 percent of the total needs and will allow WFP to ensure that drought-affected people will not go to bed hungry during this year’s lean season.’’
    • Other partners who have made a contribution to WFP Zambia include the Swedish government, which has contributed $2 million, and the Italian government with a contribution of $ 610,000.

Last October, the three U.N. food agencies—the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and WFP—called for urgent funding to avert a major hunger crisis and for the international community to step up investment in long-term measures to combat the impact of climate shocks and build the capacity of communities and countries to withstand them.

They warned that a record 45 million people across the 16-nation Southern African Development Community would be severely food insecure in the next six months starting from October 2019.

At the time, they reported that there were more than 11 million people experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Phases 3 and 4) in nine countries: Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho. 

“Late rains, extended dry periods, two major cyclones and economic challenges have proved a recipe for disaster for food security and livelihoods across Southern Africa,” said Alain Onibon, FAO’s Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa.

“As it could take many farming communities at least two to three growing seasons to return to normal production, immediate support is vital.  Now is the time to scale up agricultural emergency response. We need to ensure farmers and agro-pastoralists take advantage of the forecasted good rains, assuming they happen, as this will be crucial in helping them rebuild their livelihoods.”

While Southern Africa has experienced normal rainfall in just one of the last five growing seasons, persistent drought, back-to-back cyclones and flooding have wreaked havoc on harvests in a region overly dependent on rain-fed, smallholder agriculture.

Interestingly, Zambia is experiencing both climate extremes at the same time. While farmers in the southwestern parts of the country are anxious about the rainfall pattern that has been erratic so far, their counterparts in the northeast are battling flash floods, adding pressure on the already overstretched resource base.

Over 300 families have been reported as being affected by floods in the Mambwe and Lumezi districts of Zambia’s Eastern Province.

And Zambian President Edgar Lungu, continues to urge government technocrats to work at finding a lasting solution to the climate problem.

“So as we provide relief, I think that we should put our heads together. My Permanent Secretaries are here so we can work together to find a lasting solution,” said Lungu when he toured and interacted with flood victims on Jan 9.  

  • It is unanimously agreed globally that climate change is due to human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment. Such activities include overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and deforestation, among others.

Experiencing a critical energy deficit, with over 2 million food-insecure people to feed due to a climate-induced droughts and flash floods in a single year, are key lessons for leaders and ordinary people alike.

This December, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), Zambia’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Ndashe Yumba highlighted the adverse effects of climate change on his country’s natural resource-sensitive sectors, such as energy and agriculture, and how the country was moving away from a business-as-usual approach.

“There is still increasing evidence that climate change is negatively impacting critical sectors of our country,” said Yumba during a high-level event at COP25.

“In the recent past, drastic reduction in precipitation and rising temperatures in Zambia has led to a reduced agricultural productivity by about 16 percent and subsequently slowed down our economic growth. While Zambia is still pursuing her aspirations on socio-economic development, it is mindful of the need to maintain a healthy environment in order to achieve sustainable development…a recipe to a healthy climate is a healthy environment,” he added.

Back in Pemba District in Southern Zambia, Hatuleke is hoping that climate smart agricultural principles which are routed in sustainable environmental management, and which she has recently implemented, will bring her a better harvest this year. 

“I ripped my field and planted early; just after the first rains in mid-November and as you can see, my maize is at tussling stage,” she says. “I am hopeful of a good harvest, provided it consistently rains in the remaining half of the season.”

Is Iraq Now a Virtual “US-Occupied Territory”?

A U.S. soldier stands watch at the Kindi IDP Resettlement Center near Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 16, 2009. Credit: U.S. Navy Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2020 – Pat Buchanan, a senior advisor to three US Presidents and twice candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, once infamously described the United States Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory” -– apparently because of its unrelentingly blind support for the Jewish state.

Never mind post-1967 Gaza, West Bank and the Golan Heights.

And now, with Iraq threatening to “kick out” the US military and the Trump administration refusing to leave the country, is Iraq turning out to be “US occupied territory”?

Last week the Iraqi parliament demanded, in a vote mostly by Shia legislators, that US troops numbering over 5,200 leave Iraq.

But the Trump administration has refused to concede to the demand prompting Iraq to accuse the US of violating sovereign territory and perhaps the UN charter.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco who has written extensively on Middle East politics, told IPS: “This is a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.

Having foreign forces within a country’s international border against the wishes of the host government and without a treaty commitment allowing them to be there is in effect a foreign military occupation and would give the Iraqis the legal right to use military force against them, said Zunes who serves as coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies.

Currently, the US has several military bases in Iraq, most of them described as Forwarding Operating Bases (FOB) going back to 2003.

These include Contingency Operating Base (COB), Contingency Operating Site (COS), Combat Outpost (COP), Patrol Base (PB), Outpost, Logistic Base (Log Base), Fire Base (FB), Convoy Support Center (CSC), Logistic Support Area (LSA) and Joint Security Station (JSS).

Perhaps most vital is the Green Zone a 10-square-kilometer (3.9 sq mi) area in central Baghdad, that was the governmental center of the Coalition Provisional Authority during the occupation of Iraq after the American-led 2003 invasion and now remains the center of the US and international presence in the city.

When the Iranians retaliated against the drone-killing of Major General Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, they hit the US military base Ayn Al Asad in western Iraq with a barrage of missiles last week.

That base hosts the largest number of US troops in Iraq.

And Iraq accused both the US and Iran of violating its national sovereignty with dual military attacks on Iraqi territory.

Since the US invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration in 2003, there have been more than 200,000 civilians who have been killed or injured—an invasion described as Washington’s greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq if it continues to demand US withdrawal from the country.

“If they do ask us to leave, and if we don’t do it on a friendly basis” President Trump was quoted as saying, “we will charge them sanctions, like they’ve never seen before ever. It will make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

The US also argues that its military presence in Iraq is to help Iraqis fight ISIS designated a “terrorist group” by the US State Department.

Norman Solomon, founder and executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), a consortium of policy researchers and analysts, told IPS “history shows that respect for Iraqi sovereignty has never figured into the U.S. government’s calculations.”

“Rhetoric has sometimes sounded nice, but the actual policy has revolved around the precept of “might makes right“

What’s happening now is consistent with that policy, sometimes more gracefully implemented with liberal verbiage from the White House, he pointed out.

The latest dynamics involve an approach to geopolitics that reflects a belief in Washington that the United States has the right to work its will on the world as much as feasible, said Solomon, IPA’s coordinator of its ExposeFacts program.

Zunes said Trump’s refusal to consider a withdrawal is not surprising, however.

Republicans, along with some leading Democrats and prominent media pundits, insisted that President Obama should have kept U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline by which President Bush and the Iraqi government had agreed to complete the withdrawal.

This would have also been illegal. Obama was roundly criticized for his insistence on living up to the agreement and international law.

“It will be interesting to see how Congress and the media react to Trump’s defiance”, said Zunes, who is also senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies .

Asked if there was a possible intervention by the UN, Solomon said what the United Nations can do about such matters is contingent on the extent to which the UN can extricate itself from U.S. veto power and intimidation of governments with political, military and economic blackmail.

“There is little that’s coherent about U.S. policies beyond flagrant self-interest for its extreme arrogance and military-industrial complex”, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

Asked about the issue of sovereignty and violation of the UN charter, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters January 13: “ The status… as far as I understand, the status of US forces in Iraq is under a Status of Forces Agreement, which is negotiated bilaterally between Iraq and the United States, and those discussions should take place between the United States and Iraq.”