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Combating climate change at the Friendship Forest
01 February 2010
by Jochen Mattern, UNV Programme Officer, Harare

Harare, Zimbabwe: National IVD commemorations were held in Harare on 4 December 2009 under the theme: 'Volunteering for our Planet: Rebuilding Zimbabwe'.

A national tree planting day was subsequently held on 5 December 2009 at the International Friendship Forest. The theme was 'Combat Climate Change: Plant and Conserve Trees'. The tree of the year 2009 was the Azanza Garckeana (known as the snot apple, Muthowe or Uxakuxaku in English, Shona and Ndebele). For this event UNV Zimbabwe partnered with the Forestry Commission, The City of Harare, Environment Africa, Harare Inner City Partnership and Air Zimbabwe.  

The International Friendship Forest is an open space along Samora Machel Avenue, which was officially commissioned by the President and Harare City Council in 1987. Presidents from other countries used to plant a tree as a symbol of friendship and solidarity with the nation of Zimbabwe.

The event served as well to launch the Harare Greening Project that seeks to plant 2 million trees by 2015. At around 11:00 am over 100 people from diverse backgrounds converged to witness the occasion and plant trees:  captains of industry, Government representatives, Air Zimbabwe staff, AVIS staff, Environment Africa, UNDP, VSO, representatives of schools closer to the Harare airport, UNV volunteers, Forestry Commission and Harare Inner City Partnership representatives among other local and international NGO representatives and Harare community members. The presence of most of the city councillors and the Harare City Council Clerk Dr Mahachi shows how our city fathers are in full support of the Harare Greening Project.

The Master of Ceremonies was Mr Percy Toriro, an environment and urban planning consultant who also works with Harare Inner City Partnership.

Mr Marufu from the Forestry Commission gave background information on how the International Friendship Forest started. He indicated that the tree of the year is Mutohwe (snot apple or quarters), which takes a couple of years to grow but has good benefits which include treating chest ailments and as a fruit which one can chew for more than an hour thus making jaws and gums strong. Tobacco farmers were urged to also conserve trees when curing tobacco.

The UNV Programme Officer Jochen Mattern representing the UN Resident Coordinator Elizabeth Lwanga welcomed all the participants and thanked the partner organizations for their participation, including the national core group on volunteering. He then introduced the participating UNV volunteers.

Mr. Mattern explained that besides commemorations in Harare, there would be decentralized IVD events in Rusape on 8 December 2009 and Zvishavane and Bulawayo on 11 December. He emphasized that sub-Saharan countries and especially rural women in those countries, are going to be the most affected by climate change, although it is only contributing 5 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the planet.

He said that therefore that it is an excellent occasion to jointly celebrate IVD with the National Tree Planting Day, as trees are a key factor for climate change mitigation. In this context he acknowledged the contribution of the business sector, namely Air Zimbabwe and Avis as their involvement in climate change mitigation strategies will be crucial.

He said as well that the global environment movement was mainly driven by volunteers and that is valid as well for Zimbabwe. To achieve the target of planting 2 million trees in five years it will need a lot of volunteer efforts from all community members. Finally he wished all participants fruitful proceedings and happy tree planting.

Official launch remarks were given by the Mayor of Harare Mr. Masunda. He talked of how the International Friendship Forest started way back in the 1980s and the importance of improving it, since it resembles the Zimbabwean environment image. The initiative is also supported by the President and Government.

He indicated that it is everyone’s responsibility to curb pollution and prevent siltation and contamination of water sources - he noted if we had good waste disposal and recycling initiatives, Harare city council would not need eight or nine different chemicals to treat water.

Reference was also made to the devastating cholera outbreak, which affected over 100, 000 people and killed 4,000 as a situation which could have been averted with good water and sanitation programmes. He called for continued unity and collaboration to curb another looming cholera outbreak.

The mayor noted that Harare has 46 wards and challenged all stakeholders present to work with their councillors so that any development initiative can be owned by the local people, for continuity and impact purposes.

Reference was made to the MDGs, especially the ones on environment management and on global and national partnerships. He mentioned that the City of Harare alone cannot support delivery of all programmes or social services, hence the need for various other stakeholders including the corporate sector, especially through their corporate social responsibility to join hands with others.

He acknowledged the presence and continued partnership received on greening Harare from corporations such as Air Zimbabwe and AVIS, hence the need to use these as models for other corporation to emulate. He also noted that the City of Harare is on top of the situation to enforce by-laws that will enforce proper waste management.

It’s also everyone’s responsibility to avoid throwing litter around - hence let’s rebuild Zimbabwe jointly. The Mayor noted that there is now sound political will to see our country rebuilding for the better and need for provision of alternative energy sources to curb deforestation. The City of Harare and other stakeholders were urged to embark on a social mobilization drive to educate the public, including young children, on the challenges faced due to pollution, deforestation, erosion among other environment related challenges.

The Air Zimbabwe Group Chief Executive Officer Peter Chikumba noted that the vision to green our communities has already been set; hence failure is not an option as the Almighty will support this vision. Air Zimbabwe as the biggest airline in the country supports the vision.

He pledged to the Mayor and the Inner City Partnership project that Air Zimbabwe with immediate effect has adopted the International Friendship Forest. He urged the City of Harare to continue providing technical and policy guidance, security and water to the centre. Air Zimbabwe was also going to support the branding of the place and advertise it to visitors.

The Air Zim CEO supported by their CSR representative and staff donated 400 trees to four schools surrounding the airport as part of supporting the Harare greening initiatives. The trees were donated through the mayor and the four school representatives and school children received the trees and they promised to plant them all. Mr. Chikumba also donated 100 palm trees to the Harare Mayor.

Mr. Karl Riber, coordinator of Tree Africa within Environment Africa indicated that his organisation is dedicated to working with others on environment issues. He also indicated that in the coming five years the national target is to plant 2 million trees, this will translate to planting 400,000 trees per year, which is a huge number which will need a lot of support from all stakeholders.

He called on all partners on this initiative to work jointly and scale it up so as to meet or surpass this target. More resources also need to be mobilized to support the process. Businesses and individuals among other stakeholders were also challenged to come, collect and plant trees. He also acknowledged the support done by UNDP/UNV in funding the event and also donating 100 trees.

Mr. Mutisi from Harare City Council demonstrated how to plant a tree. The Mayor was the first to plant his tree and put in his landmark. This was followed by the Air Zimbabwe CEO, UNV representatives, UNV volunteers, Environment Africa and all participants. In less than an hour, all the 200 trees donated for the event were planted and watered. All participants were served with refreshments courtesy of UNDP/UNV.

The event was very successful and showed that if central and local government, UN agencies, CSOs and the business sector continue working together on environment management issues, this goes a long way in halting and reversing the trend of the depletion of natural resources in Zimbabwe, especially deforestation which constitutes one of the main environmental problems in the country. The decentralized IVD events all incorporated environmental activities to volunteer for a better climate on our planet.