It’s June and it’s cold – about the only ‘normal’ weather that Zambia has experienced for months. During the day, there’s a little warmth in the sun, but when night falls sharply with a stunning blood red sunset at 6pm, the temperature plummets to four or five degrees.
I was in Zambia as founder of the small Argyll charity ZamScotEd (we support the education of Zambian children facing great challenges and initiated a secondary school on the outskirts of Lusaka where there had been no previous provision). However, after chatting with old friends and some of the bright kids at the school, I put my Justice and Peace Scotland hat back on and asked the head teacher, Sr Veronica Nyoni, if I could borrow some of her pupils to record my monthly piece for Radio Alba (www.radioalba.org). The topic had to be climate change.
Because while a chilly June, with strong winds swirling the red dust into eyes and hair, is to be expected, the increasing droughts are not – and they are piling on the problems experienced in the poorest communities.
Last October’s rains didn’t come. That’s when the maize should be planted, and without rain, it can’t grow. Sadly, the story was the same when I was in Zambia last year – and that means that stocks of maize are running out. The cobs are ground into mealie meal, the corn flour that makes nsima, the fill-up food of Zambia. As shortages become more severe, the price of mealie meal is rocketing. People are going hungry.
The youngsters I interviewed for Radio Alba told me that the price had doubled since last year – it was 60 kwacha; now it’s K120. With the legal minimum wage at K800 a month (the current exchange rate is around 16 kwacha to the GB pound), that’s serious.
No rains also means that water levels in the Kariba dam, Zambia’s main source of hydro electricity, are so low that the state electricity company is operating a system of ‘outages’ that deny power for up to ten hours every day. While great swathes of Zambians don’t have electricity in their homes, lack of it means no water. You must have power to operate pumps in water tanks and wells.
Kids can’t study. Businesses are suffering. Some have solar installations; most can’t afford it. One of the recommendations my super-bright interviewees made was that the Zambian government should work on providing a nation-wide solar power system, and providing it now – a touch of the Greta Thunbergs.
Zambia is a peaceful country, but this is enough to cause unrest; enough to make people vulnerable to approaches from traffickers; enough to create a migration crisis. Climate change – imposed on the south by the industrial north – is affecting lives today. Westminster boasts of measures that will take effect by 2050.
As my young Zambian interviewees stressed, we must demand that all governments act now to radically reduce carbon emissions – the drastic consequences of climate change are with them now.
NB the picture shows local boys keeping warm round charcoal cinders, jackets on, and a rush to finish homework before the sun sets. Life without electricity & water is a struggle for these Zambian youngsters.