BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Feb 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Zimbabwe is struggling to pay for measures to cope with climate stresses and weather-related disasters, such as recent floods, amid domestic spending cuts and slow progress in accessing international finance.
The budget for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate has been reduced to $52 million for 2015, from $93 million set aside for 2014.
As this year began with floods that have claimed some 20 lives and washed away villages, the funding squeeze has raised concerns about the country's preparedness for climate-linked disasters, which are expected to worsen as the planet warms.
The Civil Protection Unit, the state's disaster response agency, was caught unawares by the floods, exposing a lack of effective early warning for extreme weather events.
The meteorological services department received $400,000 from the government last year - less than a tenth of the $5 million it says it needs annually.
Barnabas Chipindu, a meteorologist and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said economic hardship had shrunk state capacity to deal with climate-related disasters.
"The country does not have enough resources to combat the adverse impacts of climate variability," Chipindu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The monitoring activities of the meteorological department are hampered by its out-of-date equipment, he said. Its weather radars have not functioned for many years due to a shortage of spare parts, he added.
Veronica Gundu, principal environment officer at the climate ministry, said the drop in government funding meant officials must work with other partners "to move the climate change agenda forward".
"We are currently developing the (national) Climate Policy - the country's first - and we need as many resources as we can get," Gundu said by email.
DROPS IN THE OCEAN?
In the coming years, African countries are expected to benefit more from international climate finance mechanisms such as the fledgling Green Climate Fund, to which donor governments have so far pledged over $10 billion.
But in the past few years, Zimbabwe has largely bankrolled its own programmes, albeit inadequately, with some initiatives supported by nongovernmental and multilateral organisations. The United Nations Development Programme, for example, runs a project offering small grants for organic gardens.
In 2014, public money went into activities like the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), a government-backed drive to conserve wildlife and forests.
Last November, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced a $5 million "master plan" to mobilise "climate resilient investments" in water resource management and irrigation infrastructure.
But climate ministry officials say Zimbabwe will need at least $10 billion in the next decade, both to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
Unless the southern African nation benefits from the Green Climate Fund and increases public spending again, its response to climate change could stall.
Gundu said Zimbabwe was setting up a "national designated authority" to apply for cash from the Green Climate Fund, which has yet to start disbursing money for projects.
But in the meantime, Harare is receiving support from the Global Environment Facility for initiatives such as protecting rural livelihoods from climate change impacts, she added.
Charles Jamela of the Zimbabwe Environment Research Organisation said the government should seek more climate funding in partnership with other agencies, despite its past reluctance to involve outside players.
"Zimbabwe is not the only country struggling with climate finance, but you will notice that the country has failed to attract development partners because of suspicions about the agendas of these NGOs," Jamela pointed out.
Zimbabwe has previously banned some NGOs from working with local communities, claiming the groups have political agendas.
Last year, the country's environment minister said the government planned to build more dams as a response to climate change effects such as drought and floods.
But advocacy group International Rivers warns that dams may be a bad investment in the long term, as climate change is expected to change river hydrology in many parts of the world, making power output from dams unreliable.
And while dams can reduce the frequency of floods, they do not prevent the biggest, most damaging floods, it argues.
(Reporting by Madalitso Mwando; editing by Megan Rowling)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.