Zimbabwe is losing 262,000 hectares of forest to destruction every year. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS
  • by Jeffrey Moyo (Hares)
  • Interpress service

City dwellers like 34-year-old Neliet Mbariro, a married mother of four, live in a house that is not yet connected to electricity.

Like many of her neighbours, Mbariro has been dependent on cutting down a few trees across an unpaved road near her home.

“We cut the few trees that are left that you see here so that we can make fire for cooking every day. We can’t do anything about it because we don’t have any electricity in this area,” Mbariro told IPS.

Hundreds of trees that used to define the Mbariro area, where housing has rapidly sprung up, have disappeared in the past two years since construction began.

As building structures rise, vast acres of natural forests are falling as the construction of housing and domestic industrial facilities takes off in Zimbabwe.

Arnold Shumba (32), a builder operating in New Ashdon Park, said that together with his team working in the area, they have had to get rid of hundreds of trees to build homes for their clients.

“I remember there were plenty of trees; in fact there was a huge forest area here, but those trees are no more now because when we worked we cut them down. You only see houses now, Shumba told IPS.

According to environmentalists, the effects of deforestation are problematic.

“Very soon towns and cities will have no more trees left as buildings take their place,” Marylin Mahamba, an independent environmentalist in Harare, told IPS.

For example, as Mahamba notes, Harare is no longer the same, with lots of urban open space taken over for construction and trees uprooted.

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, is even worse, and Mahamba claims the city has been decimated by deforestation left, right and center as more housing estates grow.

Yet it is not just the increase in more buildings in cities here that has led to deforestation but also electricity shortages, according to climate change experts.

“The Zimbabwe Power Company is also guilty of not providing enough electricity. Gasoline is expensive, and many people cannot afford it. They choose firewood because it is cheaper, and that is why more urban trees are now disappearing,” said Kudakwashe Makanda, a climate change expert based in Zimbabwe, to IPS.

But Makanda also pinned the blame for urban deforestation on rural-to-urban migration.

“There is now excessive urban expansion in Zimbabwe. Obviously, this is not sparing the forests. By nature, people would want to settle in urban areas, and by virtue of people wanting to settle in cities, people felled trees and established homes,” said Makanda.

Makanda also accused local governments of driving deforestation in the cities, saying “city councils are to blame. They allow people to occupy land that is not suitable for occupation resulting in felling of trees.”

With unemployment affecting as many as 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Makanda said in towns and cities, many have turned to firewood to make ends meet.

“People depend on firewood, which means more trees are disappearing in the cities as retailers sell firewood which has become a source of income for many who are not formally employed,” says Makanda.

But for areas like New Ashdon Park without electricity and where many residents like Mbariro have to depend on firewood while other areas struggle with regular power cuts, Makanda also said, “power cuts cause deforestation in cities, especially in areas without power connection, people rely on firewood. “

Still plagued by unemployment, Makanda said city dwellers are clearing uninhabited pieces of land to farm in towns and cities, but at the cost of the trees that must be removed.

To address the growing threat of urban deforestation in Zimbabwe, climate change experts like Makanda have said, “there is a need to stimulate alternative power sources such as solar energy to become affordable to save the remaining urban forests.”

Denis Munangatire, an environmentalist with a degree in environmental studies from Midlands State University, claimed that 4,000 trees are destroyed annually in Zimbabwe’s cities.

According to the country’s Forestry Commission, these are among the 262,000 hectares of forest destroyed each year in Zimbabwe.

Like Makanda, Munangatire blamed local governments in towns and cities for accelerating deforestation.

“Councils are responsible for the disappearance of trees in towns and cities because they leave land developers who wipe out forests, leaving few or no trees in areas they develop,” Munangatire told IPS.

IPS UN agency report

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service