Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 05:04:53 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA

Mhondoro Ngezi , Zimbabwe, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Miller Chizema walked through the forest near his home and came across a pile of freshly-cut logs -- a sight that spurred the 82-year-old villager to dismay and anger.   The logs were arranged in such a way that they were ready to be burnt into charcoal -- a fuel that has become a substitute for Zimbabwe's energy shortages, at a terrible cost to its forests.   "It hurts to see forests decimated like this," said Chizema, who lives in Mhondoro Ngezi, in the centre of the country, 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Harare.

Some loggers come from as far as Harare, "where we hear there is a big demand for charcoal," he said.   "We, as elders, try to discourage the practice, but it's all about money and survival."   For nearly six months, Zimbabwe has been in the grip of chronic power cuts, sometimes running to 19 hours a day.   The price of cooking gas has increased more than six-fold since the start of the year, placing it beyond the reach of many.   For many lower-income urbanites, firewood and charcoal have become the go-to sources of substitute energy -- and rogue logging is the result.

Zimbabwe is losing more than 330,000 hectares (815,000 acres) of forest annually, according to Abednigo Marufu, general manager of the Zimbabwe Forestry Commission.    That's the equivalent to nearly half a million football pitches.   "Zimbabwe is losing quite a lot of trees and forests... everywhere because there is no electricity and our people need to feed themselves, they need heating in their homes," he told AFP.   Even so, "agriculture is still the number one driver of deforestation," he said.   A controversial land reform programme launched in 2000 saw a surge in the loss of forest cover as people cleared land for cultivation.    "Some of them started growing tobacco and cut down trees to use for curing their crop."    The practice continues, as farmers view wood to be free compared to other options.

- Dilemma -
Authorities are confronted with an enforcement conundrum.  Charcoal production is outlawed in Zimbabwe but it can be imported from neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, with special permits.   But Marufu said no such licences had been issued for over a year, yet Zimbabwe was awash with charcoal.   "How do you then know what charcoal is imported and locally produced?" Marufu asked rhetorically.

A lot of the older indigenous mopani trees have been reduced to stumps. AFP journalists saw numerous darkened patches where the logs had been piled and burnt into charcoal in the forests at Mhondoro-Ngezi.   Best Muchenje has been the district's forestry officer for the past two years.   "Deforestation was already bad when I came here," he told AFP.   "But the power crisis has worsened the situation, (and) the mopani tree is a target because it is hard and produces quality charcoal."   Mopani is one of the country's iconic indigenous trees that easily survive hot and dry conditions.   The law allows those living in the sparsely populated villages to cut trees for personal use and not for commercial purposes.

- 'Forests or humans' -
But for unemployed villagers like Enia Shagini, lack of money forces them to risk being fined or even jailed for cutting down trees for charcoal.   She sells a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag for the equivalent of less than 50 US cents (40 euro centimes).   "We have children to send to school," said the mother of three, bemoaning a crackdown on illicit charcoal production which has widely been ignored.    In the capital, charcoal vendors at the Mbare market, just a few minutes' drive from downtown Harare, display dozens of 50-kilo polythene bags of charcoal for sale.

Prudence Mkonyo claimed she got her charcoal from Nyamapanda, near the border with Mozambique.   "It's difficult bringing the stuff to Harare," she said.   "We ferry it on trucks at night but sometimes you have to deal with the police at roadblocks. You need to be prepared to pay them bribes when you get stopped."   She sold her charcoal at the equivalent of between US$2.50 and US$3.00 a bag, but sales are slow.   People are struggling with unemployment and the country's worst economic crisis in a decade.   "There isn't much money going around so business is really bad. Some people are burning discarded plastic soft drink bottles for cooking."

While the law is clear on production of charcoal, the government is in a dilemma.   "It's a very complicated issue," Nqobizitha Ndlovu, newly-appointed minister for the environment and climate change, told AFP.   "We acknowledge the shortage of electricity and that gas is expensive, so wood and charcoal are alternatives. So while we are worried about forests, we also worry about human beings."
Date: Fri 8 Nov 2019
From: CBS News [edited]
<https://www.cbsnews.com/news/elephants-dead-in-zimbabwe-southern-africa-severe-drought-11-06-2019/>

Weak from hunger and thirst, the elephant struggled to reach a pool of water in this African wildlife reserve. But the majestic mammal got stuck in the mud surrounding the sun-baked watering hole, which had dramatically shrunk due to a severe drought. Eventually park staff freed the trapped elephant, but it collapsed and died. Just yards away lay the carcass of a Cape buffalo that had also been pulled from the mud but was attacked by hungry lions.

Elephants, zebras, hippos, impalas, buffaloes and many other wildlife are stressed by lack of food and water in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, whose very name comes from the 4 pools of water normally filled by the flooding Zambezi River each rainy season, and where wildlife traditionally drink. The word "mana" means 4 in the Shona language. At least 105 elephants have died in Zimbabwe's wildlife reserves, most of them in Mana and the larger Hwange National Park in the past 2 months, according to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Many desperate animals are straying from Zimbabwe's parks into nearby communities in search of food and water.

Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its splendid setting along the Zambezi River, annually experiences hot, dry weather at this time of year. But this year [2019] it's far worse as a result of poor rains last year [2018]. Even the river's flow has reduced.

The drought parching southern Africa is also affecting people. An estimated 11 million people are threatened with hunger in 9 countries in the region, according to the World Food Program, which is planning large-scale food distribution. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past 5 growing seasons, it said.

Seasonal rains are expected soon, but parks officials and wildlife lovers, fearing that too many animals will die before then, are bringing in food to help the distressed animals. The extremely harsh conditions persuaded park authorities to abandon their usual policy of not intervening. Each morning, Munyaradzi Dzoro, a parks agency wildlife officer, prays for rain. "It's beginning to be serious," he said, standing next to the remains of the elephant and buffalo. "It might be worse if we fail to receive rains" by early November [2019]. The last substantial rains came in April, he said.

An early end to a "very poor rainy season" has resulted in insufficient natural vegetation to see the animals through, said Mel Hood, who is participating in the Feed Mana project, which is providing supplementary feeding. Most of the animals in Mana Pools "are more or less confined to the barren flood plains," where temperatures soar to 113 deg F (45 deg C), she said.

Separated from neighboring Zambia by the Zambezi, the region's once reliable sources of water have turned into death traps for animals desperate to reach the muddy ponds. Like the elephant and buffalo, many other animals in the park have gotten stuck in the clay while trying to reach Long Pool, the largest of the watering holes at 3 miles (5 km) long.

The animals were pulled out by rangers, but they could not survive predators on the pounce for weak prey. "The carnivores attacked it from behind," Dzoro said of the buffalo. The elephant carcass had been there for almost a week and emitted a strong stench as flies feasted on it.

At just 5% of its normal size, Long Pool is one of the few remaining water sources across the park's plains. On a recent day, hippos were submerged in some puddles to try to keep their skin from drying out in the extreme heat while birds picked at catfish stranded in the mud.

Two others of Mana's pools have completely dried up, while the 3rd is just 20% to 30% of its usual size and dwindling, Dzoro said.

There are more than 12 000 elephants roaming Mana's flood plains, as well as an abundance of lions, buffaloes, zebras, wild dogs, hyenas, zebras and elands. The animals are visibly affected by the drought. Some impalas show signs of skin mange. In addition to the land animals, the park has 350 bird and aquatic species, according to the parks agency.

In other parts of Mana, park authorities are pumping water from deep boreholes, but the supplies are barely enough, he said. "We used to say nature should take its course," Dzoro said of the park's normal policy of not intervening and allowing the ecosystem to find its own balance. "We are now forced to intervene, which is manipulative conservation, because we are not sure when and how we will receive the rain. To avoid losing animals we have to intervene to maintain population sizes," Dzoro said.

With the acacias, other indigenous trees and grasses that provide the bulk of food for herbivores like elephants and buffaloes also decimated by the drought, authorities began supplementary feeding in July [2019].

Trucks and tractors ferry hay to various locations in the 2196-square km (848-square mi) park. In some spots, elephants, buffaloes and zebras are fed next to each other. The Feed Mana project has so far trucked 14 000 bales to the park, said Hood, the animal welfare campaigner. The group has been appealing for "urgent" donations of items such as soy bean hay, grass and cubes made of nutritious grains and molasses. "Although it may not be enough to stave off all the hunger pangs, it is certainly giving these animals a chance to survive until conditions improve," Hood said.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 85,000 elephants and neighbouring Botswana has more than 130,000. The 2 countries have the largest elephant population in the world. Zimbabwe says it's struggling to cope with booming numbers of wild elephants and is pushing to be allowed to sell its ivory stockpile and export live elephants to raise money for conservation and ease congestion in the drought-affected parks.

Other African countries, especially Kenya, are opposed to any sale of ivory. And earlier this year [2019] the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted to continue the ban on all ivory sales.

At Mana Pools, saving the animals is a challenge, and officials say Zimbabwe is severely affected by climate change that has changed weather patterns. In past years, Mana Pools would get up to 24 inches (600 mm) of rain per year, said Dzoro, the wildlife officer. Now it's lucky to get half that. With such a dramatic reduction, "we can't have perennial sources to sustain animals and some of the perennial springs have dried up. Climate change is affecting us. That's why the manipulative way now is the only way to rescue our fauna," Dzoro said.  "Climate change is real for sure, we are witnessing it," he said.
-------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail Rapporteur Joseph P. Dudley, PhD
Research Scientist II
Institute of Arctic Biology - University of Alaska Fairbanks
jpdudley@alaska.edu
=====================
[Previous severe droughts associated with significant levels of elephant mortality also occurred in this region during the early 1980s and mid-1990s (1980-1984, 1993-1995). As much as 10% or more of the total population of Hwange National Park may have died during the 1993-1995 drought (1).

It appears that there has been a delay in the onset of the rainy season onset this year (2019). Rainfall data from Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe, one of the areas mentioned in this article, show that the onset of the rainy season in Zimbabwe usually occurs in October, peaks during December and January, and tapers off during March and April (based on 80-year dataset spanning the period from 1918 to 1998).

Temperature data from Hwange National Park for the period from 1951 through 1994 indicate a progressive warming trend with an increase in the mean monthly maximum temperature of approximately 1.5 deg C in the park for the period between 1950 and 2000.

Satellite monitoring data for precipitation during the past 90 days support drought references in the CBS article. Precipitation anomaly maps indicate rainfalls have been on order of 25% to 50% below the historical average. And mature trees -- especially baobab and mopane -- will likely be getting really hammered this year (2019) from debarking and ring-barking by elephants.

Reference
1. Dudley JP, Craig GC, Gibson DStC, et al. Drought mortality of African bush elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Afr J Ecol 2001;39:187-94.  - JP Dudley]

[Our thanks to Joe [JP Dudley] for his informed rapporteur's information and comments. While we concentrate on infectious disease, we must not forget that nature can effective cull populations on its own. This drought is affecting the whole of southern Africa, so we can fully parallel die-offs elsewhere. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Zimbabwe: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/171>]
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2019 18:48:23 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Oct 21, 2019 (AFP) - At least 55 elephants have died in a month in Zimbabwe  due to a lack of food and water, its wildlife agency said Monday, as the country faces one of the worst droughts in its history.   More than five million rural Zimbabweans -- nearly a third of the population -- are at risk of food shortages before the next harvest in 2020, the United Nations has warned.

The shortages have been caused by the combined effects of an economic downturn and a drought blamed on the El Nino weather cycle.   The impact is being felt at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe's largest game reserve.   "Since September, we have lost at least 55 elephants in Hwange National Park due to starvation and lack of water," Zimbabwe National Parks spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP.   Farawo said the park was overpopulated and that food and water was scarce "due to drought".

Africa's elephant numbers have dropped from around 415,000 to 111,000 over the past decade, mainly due to poaching for ivory, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).   But Zimbabwe, like other countries in the southern African region, is struggling with overpopulation.   "Hwange was meant for 15,000 elephants but at the moment we are talking of more than 50,000," Farawo said.   "The situation is dire. We are desperately waiting for the rains."   An adult elephant drinks 680 litres (180 gallons) of water per day on average and consumes 450 kilogrammes (990 pounds) of food.

Hungry elephants have been breaking out of Zimbabwe's game reserves and raiding human settlements in search for food, posing a threat to surrounding communities.   Farawo said 200 people have died in "human-and-animal conflict" in the past five years, and "at least 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of crop have been destroyed by elephants".   The authorities took action earlier this year by selling nearly 100 elephants to China and Dubai for $2.7 million.   Farawo said the money had been allocated to anti-poaching and conservation projects.   Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed in order to cull numbers and ease pressure on their territories.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 17:55:47 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Striking Zimbabwe doctors on Monday defied a court order to return to work, saying a pay rise offered by the government failed to meet everyday costs.   Doctors remained home for a 43rd consecutive day, striking for better pay after their salaries were eroded by the country's spiralling inflation.   Zimbabwe's labour court ruled the action "unlawful" on Friday and ordered the medics back to their wards within 48 hours.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) announced Sunday it would appeal to the Supreme Court.    "We noted the court order but unfortunately we don't have the means by which to comply," said ZHDA spokesman Masimba Ndoro on Monday.   "We remain incapacitated... There is nothing we can do when we don't have the means to go to work and to meet our basic needs," he told AFP.   The doctors say the value of their pay shrank 15-fold over the past year -- a legacy of hyperinflation caused by economic mismanagement under ex-president Robert Mugabe.   His successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has so far failed to redress the situation.    Fuel prices have increased by more than 400 percent since the start of the year, and the ZHDA said that doctors had to use their savings just to show up to hospital each morning.

Negotiations with the government have been deadlocked since the ZHDA rejected a 60-percent salary rise offer.   With pay slips worth less than the equivalent of $100 (91 euros) in some cases, they are demanding doctors' salaries be pegged to the US dollar and have appealed to international bodies to supplement their wages.   "While doctors would want nothing more than to return to work in service of their patients, they continue to be incapacitated and lack the resources to comply with the Labour Court judgement," the ZHDA said in a statement on Sunday.   Nurses joined in the action last week.   "We have reduced the number of days we are coming to work initially to three days a week now we are down to two days," Zimbabwe Nurses Association spokesman Enoch Dongo told AFP.   "If the issue of salaries is not urgently addressed we will soon have a situation where nurses will no longer be able to come to work," he said, adding that nurses were "taking turns" in coming to hospital.      Rural teachers also embarked on strike action on Monday with a stay-at-home protest "against underpayment".   "We urge the government to respect our right to engage in job actions and peacefully protest demanding a living wage," the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe posted on Twitter.
Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2019 12:05:34 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Sept 3, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of doctors in public hospitals across Zimbabwe went on strike on Tuesday demanding their salaries be pegged to the US dollar in the face of spiralling living costs.   "We are not in the wards, we are not at the hospitals. We simply do not have the means, we are incapacitated," Peter Magombeyi, president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, told AFP by phone.   Salaries are fast losing value as the southern African country battles a currency crisis and triple-digit inflation.

A junior doctor's monthly salary in the Zimbabwe currency is now equivalent to around $100, Magombeyi said.   "We don't have money for transport, we don't have money for food, we don't have money to pay our kids schools fees, we don't have rental and we can't keep on subsidising the employer anymore."   Talks with the government on Monday failed to yield any solution.   "We were called to a meeting yesterday and they don't have any solid answer, they didn't give a position which addresses our concerns," said Magombeyi.   The doctors want salaries to be pegged to the prevailing foreign exchange interbank rates.

This is the second time in less than a year that government doctors have embarked on a work stoppage.    They went on strike in December over salaries and conditions, and only called it off after 40 days on promises to resolve their grievances.   State hospitals cater for the majority of Zimbabweans who cannot afford private care while wealthier patients, including top politicians, fly out to neighbouring South Africa and even beyond to Asian countries for medical attention.

Zimbabwe's health system has collapsed in recent decades as the economy tanked, with  shortages of basics like cash, fuel, bread and medicines and surging prices when the goods are available.   President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe and won a disputed election in July last year, pledged to revamp the already ailing economy.   But the country has seen growing strikes and protests as the economy continues to falter.
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