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From recovery to resilience in the Zimbabwean highlands

Zimbabwe is periodically buffeted by cyclones, droughts, floods and related landslides, which in turn spawn health epidemics. To compound matters, climate change is increasing both the frequency and intensity of tropical storms and cyclones in the region. As part of the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project funded by the World Bank and managed by the United Nations Office for Project Services, UNESCO has been providing affected communities with support since 2019 to help them make the transition from disaster recovery to long-term climate resilience.
View from Musapa Spring of Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve showing the extent of deforestation

Zimbabweans still recall with horror the passage of tropical Cyclone Idai, which struck the eastern part of the country on 15 March 2019. It was the most devastating natural disaster that the country had ever seen.

The cyclone caused widespread flooding, killed 172 people and destroyed crops on almost 800 000 hectares of agricultural land. Flooding damaged wildlife habitats, contaminated water supplies and brought tourism to a halt. The devastation was exacerbated by extensive deforestation which allowed the rains to flow down hillsides unimpeded, taking topsoil with them.

Both the economy and the environment are taking time to recover, making it likely that the next cyclone will cause even more destruction.

A support network for the new biosphere reserve

UNESCO has also supported the community in its desire to become a biosphere reserve. The community’s application to join UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves was endorsed on 15 June, this year.

This means that the Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve, as it is now known, will be able to count on the support of Zimbabwe’s other biosphere reserve, the Middle Zambezi, and the African Man and Biosphere Network (AfriMab) in its efforts to manage its territory sustainably as it strives to adapt to current and future climate change.

The Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve has about 154,000 inhabitants, most of whom speak Ndau, an endangered language which is also spoken across the border in Mozambique.

Covering a total surface area of 345,014 ha, the biosphere reserve is home to six key biodiversity areas rich in endemic plants and to 88 archaeological sites. Biodiversity-rich areas include the Chimanimani National Park, the Eland Sanctuary and the Haroni and Rusitu Botanical Reserves, which contribute to tourism. The biosphere reserve also supports smallholder agriculture and forestry and is developing an agro-ecological approach to farming (see photo).

The Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve is now an active partner in a UNESCO project which is using biosphere reserves in Southern Africa as observatories for adaptation to climate change.

Scientists and members of the local community discuss the benefits of a traditional check dam in the Chimanimani District as they walk past it.  Stone structures have been built and trees planted in this drainage ditch to slow down the flow of water in the event of a flood.
Scientists and members of the local community discuss the benefits of a traditional check dam in the Chimanimani District as they walk past it. Stone structures have been built and trees planted in this drainage ditch to slow down the flow of water in the event of a flood.
Practice of agro-ecology in Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve
Practice of agro-ecology in Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve
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