Growing sustainable futures 

Climate change and displacement are inextricably linked

As global temperatures rise, extreme weather events are increasing in frequency.  When disasters like cyclones, floods or droughts hit, poverty and displacement are further intensified. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 8.7 million people were living in disaster-induced internal displacement at the end of 2022.

Internally displaced people are people who have been forced to flee their homes but remain in their country of origin. While refugees cross an international border to find safety in another country, internally displaced people are displaced in their own country.

What does this mean for people who are already displaced or at risk of displacement?

Unfortunately, it means that people living in the most vulnerable situations are more likely to be facing multiple, converging crises.

According to UNHCR, climate change is threatening human rights, increasing poverty and loss of income, straining peaceful relationships between communities and creating conditions for further forced displacement.

How does that happen?

In the communities where we work in Zimbabwe, poverty is widespread. In March 2019, with the economy already in crisis and farmers feeling the impacts of years of consecutive droughts, Cyclone Idai hit southern Africa, impacting millions of people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and crops were wiped out, leaving families without a secure source of food or income. The combined impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, poor harvests and the economic crisis meant more Zimbabweans didn’t have reliable access to food.

According to a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT), in partnership with the World Bank and UNICEF, half the population was living in extreme poverty in 2020. For families already struggling to survive, a climate-related disaster can be catastrophic.

A field of maize in Zimbabwe
A fertile field of maize has become a rare sight in Zimbabwe after multiple years of drought. Mikaela O’Neil/Act for Peace.

A nation in crisis

In the Masvingo region, people are being driven from their homes in increasing numbers and more frequently due to climate-related shocks like droughts, storms and floods. Our partner, Christian Care, conducted research in 2022, finding people were losing their incomes due to disasters, which led to increased forced migration.

Land degradation and desertification were also leading to loss of soil productivity and food insecurity, which again, was forcing families to move in search of productive farming land. Rivers were drying up and water sources were silted. Traditional farming approaches meant farmers were planting common crops in unsuitable areas, so maize production was often failing. 80% of families in the region no longer had access to adequate food.

National disaster declared

In April, Zimbabwe became the third country in southern Africa to declare a national disaster due to El Niño droughts. Low rainfall is having a catastrophic impact on farm production. Estimates suggest 2.7 million people won’t have enough food to eat.

According to Act for Peace International Programs Coordinator, Mikaela O’Neil, Zimbabwe’s reliance on farming means drought has a nationwide impact.

“Their entire economy depends on agriculture,” she says.  “So, it’s not just at a household or community level, their national supply of grain and food is essentially endangered when the harvest doesn’t happen.”

Mikaela explains that hunger impacts every family differently.

“It could look like reducing your meals per day, it could look like skipping meals for entire days, it could look like only the men and the boys eating and the women skipping more meals. We see cases of malnutrition increasing.”

With hunger intensifying, other protection risks also increase.

“When people are hungry and don’t have food and livelihoods, then protection threats become more of an issue,” says Mikaela. “Domestic violence, early marriage and child labour all become more of a risk.”

Is it possible to mitigate the impact of climate shocks?

Yes. We need to address climate change and commit to achievable, global targets so the world’s most vulnerable communities don’t continue to experience the worst impacts of climate-related disasters. But we can also work alongside communities, to build their resilience to extreme weather events and disasters, so they are empowered with modern, climate-resistant farming methods to improve their crop production and access to water sources, even during long-term droughts.  This will help ensure they have a reliable food supply and income to provide for their families, even during major climate events.

Developing local water sources to help local farmers improve their crop production during the droughts
Developing water sources helps communities have improved access to water so their crops don’t fail. Mikaela O’Neil/Act for Peace

How do we achieve this?

Act for Peace works alongside our partner Christian Care Zimbabwe to support farmers with training in climate-resilient farming techniques. With a conservation approach to crop farming and small livestock, the project provides training and support for farmers to improve their production and access to water, increase their incomes, and become resilient to climate-related shocks. The project is locally led with community members involved in every phase of the development process.  According to Mikaela, this approach is critical to the longevity and success of the programs.

“When the community is empowered to take the lead, the immediate outcomes are more impactful,” she says.” The outcomes are more relevant for the community when it’s community-driven. They feel ownership over it so they can keep it going into the future.”

Meet some of the families

Samuel and Patricia

In Masvingo province, we work to combat climate displacement, helping families build sustainable incomes by developing water sources to improve farming in drought conditions. The project focuses on highly vulnerable community members, including people who live with disabilities.

Samuel has a physical disability, and his wife Patrica has low vision. We support them in raising small livestock, so they have a reliable income.

Samuel and Patricia in front of their turkey enclosure
Samuel and Patricia in front of their turkey enclosure. Mikaela O’Neil/Act for Peace

“We were given three turkeys…after breeding the turkeys…now we have 30 turkeys,” said Samuel with a smile.

“When we were given the turkeys, we were also given some feed. We supplemented that feed by adding some maize feed from our own produce. We sold 10 of the turkeys and we bought some fertiliser to apply to our crops. We also paid part of the school fees for our grandchild and bought cooking oil.”

“We stopped selling the turkeys because we realized the crops are not doing well. There was no rain this year, so we are keeping the turkeys so we can sell them during the drought.”

“What you have done for me is you have initiated my way forward. I can move forward now. I don’t think I’m going to fail anything to progress on my own.”

Munei

Munei farms maize with her husband in the Masvingo province. The ongoing drought and the lack of reliable water impacted their crop production, and they were struggling to provide for their children. Our project with Christian Care Zimbabwe helps develop water sources in the community and provides training to community members on climate-resilient farming methods to improve crop production.

Now, Munei’s maize harvest has improved, boosting the family’s income.

“From this project I can now send my children to school,” she said.

“I can pay my children’s school fees through selling the maize or selling the small livestock.”

Munei in her fertile maize field
Munei has adopted climate-resistant farming methods which have improved her maize harvest. Mikaela O’Neil/Act for Peace.

Thank you for helping farmers like Munei and Samuel and Patrica build sustainable futures. Your generosity is helping create a world where everyone has a safe place to belong.

Act for Peace gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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