HARARE, Feb. 28 (IPS) – In New Ashdon Park, a medium-density area in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, makeshift fireplaces in new homes that have replaced a once-thriving forest have become common sights as residents depend on energy alone are made of firewood.
City residents such as 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 neighbors, Mbariro was dependent on cutting down some trees across a dirt road near her home.
“We cut down the few remaining trees you see here so that we can make a fire to cook on every day. We can’t help it because we don’t have electricity in this area,” Mbariro told IPS.
Hundreds of trees that used to dominate the area of Mbariro, where homes have sprung up quickly, have disappeared in the past two years since construction began.
As building structures rise, vast acres of natural forests are disappearing as housing construction and indigenous industrial facilities in Zimbabwe gain momentum.
Arnold Shumba, 32, a contractor working in New Ashdon Park, with his team working in the area said they had to cut down hundreds of trees to build homes for their clients.
“I remember there were a lot of trees; in fact, there used to be a huge area of forest here, but those trees are gone now, because we cut them down as we worked. You only see houses now,” Shumba told IPS.
According to environmentalists, the impact of deforestation is problematic.
“Soon towns and cities will be without trees as buildings take their place,” said Marylin Mahamba, an independent environmental activist in Harare.
For example, as Mahamba points out, Harare is no longer the same, with countless open urban spaces taken over for construction and trees uprooted.
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, is even worse, with Mahamba claiming the city has been ravaged by deforestation left, right and center as more residential areas emerge.
Yet it is not only the rise of more buildings in towns and cities that has led to deforestation, but also to electricity shortages, according to climate change experts.
“The Zimbabwe Power Company is also responsible for not supplying enough electricity. Gas is expensive and many people cannot afford it. They choose firewood because it is cheaper, which is why more and more urban trees are disappearing,” says Kudakwashe Makanda, a climate change expert from Zimbabwe.
But Makanda also blamed urban deforestation on rural-urban migration.
“There is now an excessive expansion of cities in Zimbabwe. Naturally, this does not spare the forests. By nature, people would want to settle in urban areas, and because people want to settle in cities, people cut down trees to build houses,” Makanda said.
Makanda also blamed local authorities for fueling urban deforestation, saying, “The city councils are to blame. They enable people to occupy land that is not suitable for habitation, resulting in the felling of trees.”
With unemployment affecting as much as 90 percent of the Zimbabwean population, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Makanda said in towns and cities, many have turned to firewood to make a living.
“People make their living from firewood, which means more trees are disappearing in cities as dealers sell firewood, which has become a source of income for many who don’t have formal jobs,” said Makanda.
But for areas like New Ashdon Park without electricity and with many residents like Mbariro relying on firewood, while other areas suffer regular power cuts, Makanda also said: “Power cuts are causing deforestation in cities, especially in areas without power, people are relying on firewood .”
Still stung by unemployment, Makanda said city residents are clearing unoccupied land for agriculture in towns and cities, but at the cost of the trees that need to be removed.
To address the growing threat of urban deforestation in Zimbabwe, climate change experts such as Makanda have said, “There is a need to encourage alternative energy sources such as solar energy so that they 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 every year in Zimbabwe’s towns and 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 authorities in towns and cities for fueling deforestation.
“Urban councils are responsible for the disappearance of trees in towns and cities because they allow land developers to destroy forests, leaving little or no trees in areas they develop,” says Munangatire.
IPS Report of the UN Office
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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service