THE South-Eastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe is hit by series of droughts almost every year. It is a common feature to experience drought than normal rains. The rainfall pattern of this region is no longer predictable.
A region can be termed to be affected by drought when it experiences a deficiency in its water supply (surface or underground). The main cause of this water deficiency will be lack of adequate rainfall.
The Lowveld lies in the Natural Region Five. This region receives rainfall between 250mm and 450mm per annum. Most parts of the region last received a huge pouring during the Cyclone Eline floods of 2000.
Drought has its effect on people's livelihood.
Drought has forced people, especially young men, to migrate. It is a common feature in the Lowveld to find families being headed by women or children, as able-bodied men migrated to neighbouring countries in search of work and greener pastures.
Due to the region's proximity to South Africa and the similarity between the vernacular Shangaan dialect and Tsonga of South Africa, these men are tempted to cross the border without proper documentation. Most of them end up being victims of the situation.
Many find it difficult to get established in the Diaspora. Those who manage to secure jobs may become subjects of exploitation, providing hard labour for little income especially in highly competed areas of South Africa's Gauteng Province (Pretoria and Johannesburg).
Back home, families will be waiting patiently for the return of their family heads to provide food, but nothing would materialise since the family heads themselves will be unable to make a break-even in the Diaspora.
The stress that affects those left at home leads to mistrust. Women think that their partners will be enjoying with other women there, but the fact remains that most of these men will be struggling for survival in the Diaspora. Some families have broken up as a result of this mistrust.
Drought has caused food shortages in the region. Peasant farmers grow crops under dry land farming. Farmers prefer to grow maize for food at the expense of alternative drought resistant crops like rapoko, sorghum and millet. Year after year, maize production has been a failure in the region.
It is only in Matibi 2 (Chikombedzi) and Sengwe (Malipati/Gezani) areas of Chiredzi District where peasants still maintain the respect for sorghum production.
Cotton farming is slowly overtaking grain farming in the region, but during the previous 2011-2012 farming season, the yields were so low to reach an average of 230kg per hectare from the expected 800kg per ha.
Normally, cotton farmers buy maize from other regions after selling their produce. Nothing prevailed during the previous season except that the farmers were left with huge debts to pay to the cotton merchants for the inputs they received on credit scheme.
Drought has forced people to put pressure on the remaining woodlots.
Trees, especially the Mopane, are harvested indiscriminately to provide wood for sale. Peasants' enterprise in firewood and charcoal is booming especially in resettled areas. It is a common feature to see firewood and charcoal sales in business centres and on roadsides.
Malnutrition is another effect of drought. People are forced by the situation to live on strict diets such as that of sadza and vegetables.
A baseline survey that was carried out in 2010 courtesy of Plan Zimbabwe in Chiredzi South revealed that most families in the area skip meals in order to survive throughout the year.
Only a few families can afford to eat thrice a day. Another disturbing fact is that most of these affected families do not own livestock to supplement their income or food. They depend on food handouts from the Government and Non Governmental Organisations.
Life is pathetic for these people. Malnutrition can cause diseases especially to the children under the age of five.
Drought has an effect on the natural habitat. River pools dry up. The fish and other aquatic animals that dwell in the pools become vulnerable. The dry spell also affects bush and grass growth.
Pastures for livestock become scarce that people end up moving their livestock to areas with better pastures. As a result, this increases the livestock population density on these pastures. Animals like scrub hares and other small creatures become homeless.
Many people think that scrub hares have become extinct in the Lowveld, but they still survive. It is only that their natural habitats have been disturbed and the hares restrict themselves to where grass cover is still abundant.
In the forthcoming article, we shall focus on drought survival strategies.
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