By JAIROS SAUNYAMA
A sombre atmosphere recently gripped villagers in the Chinatsa area following a tragic incident in which a bolt of lightning struck and killed two students at Chinatsa Secondary School during assembly time.
The two pupils died on the spot while 83 other others were injured. The injured were admitted at Marondera Hospital.
Climate change has negatively affected children and observers note that the unavailability of funds to rectify problems each time disasters struck has worsened the situation.
“There is need for a fund in cases of such disasters. The lightning incident is a good case study of how the tragedy can affect pupils. We have some children who had their uniforms burnt while other lost books. Their poor parents will struggle to replace these uniforms and books,” said Morgan Jaji (47), a villager who visited the lightning-hit school near Marondera.
The Chinatsa School incident is one of the many cases whereby children are left stranded by effects of climate change. The country was recently struck by a downgraded Cyclone Dineo-induced incessant rains that left a trail of destruction by floods.
A number of children were killed, marooned and injured while schools were destroyed, thereby, jeopardising their future.
At the peak of the tropical storm that ravaged the southern parts of the country, about 270 pupils and 23 staffers at Mwenezi’s Lundi High School were to be rescued by the military after water threatened to fill their hostels as the nearby Runde River was filled to capacity.
Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children programmes officer Maxim Murungweni said the establishment of a children’s fund is a noble idea.
“Firstly, we need to raise awareness and sensitise policymakers, communities and citizens in general on the negative effects of climate change on children. For example, the current destruction of school infrastructure by the cyclone, displacement of children and so on should push us to think about children’s fund,” he said.
“There is need for a national child friendly budget that takes into consideration children’s emergency responses to respond to children’s needs in terms of disaster.”
Murungweni added that the new school curriculum should include climate change as a stand-alone subject.
He, however, stressed the importance of setting up a special children fund to deal with the effects of climate change on children. “This is a noble idea and it will ensure that there is available funds meant to address effects of climate change on children as well as child protection needs in times of disaster are often overlooked. It will also help ensure that there are skilled personnel on child protection responses in emergencies needs,” he said.
Despite the current incessant rains, Zimbabwe is just coming out of an El Nino-induced drought that saw thousands of children suffering from food and water shortages.
Weather-related disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones and hurricanes, which have increased in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change, have directly affected estimated 66,5 million children worldwide. About 600 000 children died between 1990 and 2000.
The number of children affected is tipped to double to 175 million a year in the next decade.
According to World Health Organisation, climate change could be causing more than 150 000 deaths annually. These estimates could be more than double by 2030 in the absence of meaningful action.
According to experts, climate change-induced extreme weather phenomena did not only impact on children’s physical health, but it left lasting and permanent mental and emotional scars, particularly on rural children.
Climate change communicator Peter Makwanya said rural-based children needed attention and should be considered first in policy making.
He said children displaced due to climate change-related flooding are then deprived of education and health facilities, as these are also affected by flooding.
“Rural children are prime vulnerable groups without the power to influence their national climate policies.
Therefore, there is need to accommodate rural children in the climate change discourse, as they are uniquely affected. Responsible authorities should create enabling environments that support children’s participation in issues of climate protection and literacy,” he said.
Makwanya said that children in the disaster-prone areas need to be educated in case of emergencies.
“Rural children in low-lying communities need sustainable climate knowledge in order to help strengthen their communities’ infrastructure, disaster risk reduction and community early warning systems. Rural children have suffered from climate injustice not only from their local communities but from governments as well,” he said.
“This is because it is the government’s duty to meet the children’s needs, it is the government’s obligation to protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations.”
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund chief of communications, Victor Chinyama said apart from a special fund there was also need to strengthen engagement of young people in actions related to climate change.
“There is need to help develop more ambitious programmes that protect children from the impacts of climate change, and to strengthen engagement of young people in actions related to climate change,” he said.
“Also to be considered is climate-change adaptation through resilient development – including support for programmes that support children and their families to overcome disasters and reduce the risk posed by these before they happen. Examples are aquifer-recharge systems that capture water during the monsoon season, purifies it and stores it underground for use when there is scarcity; cyclone and flood proof schools; and strengthening early warning systems for extreme climate event.”
Meanwhile a local organisation Scholar Care has come up with a scheme meant to assist pupils in time of need especially on healthy situations.
The organisation’s team recently donated various goods to the families of the two boys who were fatally struck by lightning at Chinatsa Secondary School.
Scholar Care marketing executive officer, Timothy Jonga said they were driven by the passion to assist with health insurance to pupils in schools countrywide.
“We are offering health insurance to school kids, with each pupil being urged to register with us to be able to get the benefits of being treated from our health service providers. The scheme is a personal accident and sickness cover, be it early childhood education, primary and secondary pupils,” he said.
“Drowning, weather-related injuries, poisoning, injuries during sporting activities are indeed affecting the pupils and hence we are saying there is need to be ready for such untimely incidences. In general we are offering complete solution for schools in times of crisis and medical emergencies.”
Scholar Care provides up to $3 000 medical cover, $500 disability assistance and $500 funeral assistance costs to an affected pupil. However, parents are to part with either $3, $6 and $10 per term for each pupil depending on the preferred cover.