The Sunday News
Prosper Ndlovu recently, in Victoria Falls
CLIMATE change is increasingly threatening the viability of nature-based tourism operations and the country has to urgently adopt sustainable options including mainstreaming green tourism.
In recent years, weather trends have been characterised by delayed onsets, long dry spells, recurrent droughts or flooding, rising temperatures and other extremes such as violent storms.
Zimbabwe’s tourism sector is heavily dependent on water-bodies, flora and fauna, which are all rain-fed and these are largely susceptible to the above climate change induced shocks.
Currently only a handful of tourism and hospitality players in the country have started leading from the front in the drive towards sustainable tourism.
The Government and private sector players in the tourism sector are agreed on the need to review traditional business modelling and strategising towards environmentally friendly operations in keeping with global trends.
The implications of the twin relationship between climate and tourism dominated discussion during Friday’s “climate change impacts and opportunities in Zimbabwe” indaba, which was held in Victoria Falls and organised by the sector.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu was the key speaker at the high level gathering that drew participation of key industry executives, researchers and experts among others.
During discussion, stakeholder consensus was loud and clear on the need to adopt climate change mitigation measures, and how to decouple the tourism sector from climate-dependence. Consideration to enhancing renewable investments including use of solar geysers, best practice in preserving and protecting wetlands and promoting environmentally sustainable constructions that minimise disruptions in the ecosystems, came under focus.
“Tourism is a major foreign currency earner and hence requires the necessary support.
We don’t want to remain with stranded assets in the tourism sector, after failing to heed to the climate early warning,” said Minister Ndlovu in his keynote address.
He expressed concern over growing losses of life, flora and fauna associated with climate change and called for transformative approaches in the tourism sector towards sustainability.
Zimbabwe is highly vulnerable to climate variability and change, said Minister Ndlovu as he reminded the gathering of the destructive climate extremes such as Tropical Cyclones Idai last year, Eline and Japhet in recent years, as well as prolonged droughts and heat waves that left a trail of destruction in parts of the country and the region.
He said these factors greatly put the country’s climate-sensitive sectors such as tourism, health and agriculture at risk.
“To ameliorate the impacts of climate change, we need to raise awareness on climate change, accept that climate change is a reality and strengthen our capacity to respond to both current and future climates,” said the minister.
He challenged tourism players to focus more on mainstreamig green tourism starting with Victoria Falls to the entire country.
“I believe it’s not only possible but pretty much the only viable option going forward as we build a strong and resilient tourism industry with its key enablers,” he said.
Among the visible scars are damaged tourism arteries like roads and bridges. For instance, the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 agricultural seasons were characterised by delayed onset of the season, low rainfall and prolonged dry spells resulting in low crop yields and impacts on livestock and wildlife.
The country has also lost over 200 elephants to drought, according to official statistics, and had a number of its climate-sensitive tourism sites like Kariba, losing their sparkle as water levels fell in most of our major dams, rivers and waterfalls.
Zimbabwe’s prime tourism destination and special economic zone, the mighty Victoria Falls, has not been spared from the impacts of climate change which is reducing the time the falls will be a marvel or at its peak.
A few years back, reports of planes having to delay their landing take off due to extreme weather events especially high temperatures at Victoria Falls and Kariba airports are on record.
Experts have attributed recent changes in climate mainly to human activities that include massive burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas since the industrial revolution especially by developed countries.
This has seen developing countries like Zimbabwe also equally contributing to destroying the climate system mainly through poor land-use planning and unsustainable utilisation of natural resources linked to the climate system such as charcoal production.
These have been exacerbated by widespread energy and water use inefficiency leading to higher demands for energy, which is coming largely from fossil sources that emit greenhouse gas in the process of energy generation.
Developing countries bear the brunt of climate change due to limited adaptive capacities, susceptibility to the climate change impacts and general poverty.