By Jeffrey Moyo
In New Ashdon Park, a medium-density area in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, at new homes that have replaced a once thriving forest, makeshift fireplaces have become common sights as residents solely depend on firewood for energy.
City dwellers like 34-year-old Neliet Mbariro, a married mother of four, live in a house that has not yet been connected to electricity.
Like many of her neighbors, Mbariro has had to depend on cutting down some trees just across an unpaved road near her home.
“We cut the few remaining trees you see here so we can make fire for cooking every day. We can’t do anything about it because we have no electricity in this area,” Mbariro told IPS.
Hundreds of trees that used to define Mbariro’s area, where homes have fast emerged, have disappeared over the past two years since construction began.
As building structures rise, vast acres of natural forests are falling as construction of dwellings and indigenous industrial facilities gather pace in Zimbabwe.
Arnold Shumba (32), a builder operating in New Ashdon Park, said with his team working in the area, they have had to do away with 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 as we worked, we cut them down. You only see houses now,” Shumba told IPS.
According to environmentalists, the impact of deforestation is problematic.
“Very soon, towns and cities will have no more trees left as buildings take their place,” Marylin Mahamba, an independent environmental activist in Harare, told IPS.
For instance, as Mahamba notes, Harare is no longer the same, with scores of 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 pummeled by deforestation left, right, and center as more residential areas rise.
Yet it is not only the rise of more buildings across towns and cities here that has led to deforestation but electricity deficits, according to climate change experts.
“The Zimbabwe Power Company is also to blame for failing to provide enough electricity. Gas is expensive, and many people can’t afford it. They opt for firewood because it is cheaper, and that’s why more urban trees are now vanishing,” Kudakwashe Makanda, a climate change expert based in Zimbabwe, told IPS.
But Makanda also pinned the blame for urban deforestation on rural-to-urban migration.
“There is now excessive expansion of towns in Zimbabwe. Obviously, this does not spare the forests. By nature, people would want to settle in urban areas, and by virtue of people wanting to settle in towns, people cut down trees establishing homes,” said Makanda.
Makanda also blamed local authorities for fueling urban deforestation, saying, “the town councils are to blame. They allow people to occupy land not suitable for occupation resulting in trees being felled.”
With joblessness 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 switched to firewood for livelihood.
“People are making a livelihood out of firewood, meaning more trees are disappearing in towns as dealers sell firewood which has become a source of income for many who are not formally employed,” said Makanda.
But for areas like New Ashdon Park with no electricity and with many residents like Mbariro having to depend on firewood while other areas contend with regular power outages, Makanda also said, “power cuts are causing deforestation in towns, especially in areas with no power connection, people rely on firewood.”
Yet stung by joblessness, Makanda said urban dwellers are clearing unoccupied pieces of land to farm in towns and cities, but at the cost of the trees that must be removed.
To fix the growing menace of urban deforestation in Zimbabwe, climate change experts like Makanda have said, “there is a need for incentivizing alternative power sources like solar so that they become affordable in order to save the remaining urban forests.”
Denis Munangatire, an environmentalist with a degree in environmental studies from the Midlands State University, claimed 4000 trees are getting destroyed annually across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities.
According to this country’s Forestry commission, these are among the 262 000 hectares of forests destroyed every year in Zimbabwe.
Like Makanda, Munangatire heaped the blame on local authorities in towns and cities for fueling deforestation.
“Urban councils are responsible for the disappearance of trees in towns and cities because they are leaving land developers wiping out forests, leaving few or no trees standing in areas they develop,” Munangatire told IPS.
IPS UN Bureau Report