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Language barriers obstacle to CC fight

Ruth Choga, a Hatfield resident, wakes up as early as 4am during weekdays to simultaneously interweave household chores and preparations for her two school-going children.

By Kennedy Nyavaya

With high prepaid electricity rates in the country, she cannot afford to use electricity for anything more than lighting and powering gadgets.

This leaves the alternative of dry bamboo plants in her backyard, which have become handy for her to light up a small fire to heat bathing water as well as cook meals for the minors.

Surviving on meagre vending profits, an accumulating water supply credit resulted in her tap water being cut off by the local authority two years ago and now she has to fetch the commodity from a well.

Vegetation in her yard is no longer as attractive as she admits that a lot has changed in her surroundings, including underground water levels, which have also dropped significantly.
“It is not normal [the water level], it has changed from what it used to be and I am not even certain whether the water is clean or not so we cannot consume it,” she said, adding that boreholes owned by neighbours were now her solace for drinking water.

When questioned whether she was aware of a global enigma called climate change which could be the possible reason behind her current realities, including less vegetation, dirty water and extreme changes in temperature, she professed minute knowledge based on hearsay.

“We hear about it in the news and frankly speaking, our days are now hotter while our nights are cold but the explanations are not clear,” said Choga.

In the few rare cases where she has bumped into material intended to explain some of her queries, it is either too verbose or technical for her to grasp.

Viewed by many as the greatest threat to humanity the world over, sensitisation on climate change has not had much impact in the third world as the majority of people are hardly paying attention.

The use of foreign languages, particularly English, in relaying issues to do with climate change has rendered it an alien phenomenon although similarly to other scourges like the HIV and Aids pandemic, its gravity and hazard to human existence is just as lethal.

“In most instances, you can see that as people, we do not understand the message in English and I think asking people what language they understand first would be wise to then teach us using that language,” said Choga, who despite having an appreciation of the “universal” language, admits climate change is a perplexing issue.

Government through the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, has enacted a national climate policy, which was approved three months ago, but like many other necessary official documents, it may cease to serve its purpose if not translated to native languages

“The preaching and packaging of the ‘gospel’ of climate change in a foreign language [English] makes it difficult for the majority of the phenomenon’s victims whom in this case are those in the rural areas,” environmentalist Kudakwashe Makanda said.

According to Makanda, such packaging makes the whole issue seem “alien-like and a bit far-fetched” because older or marginalised rural citizens cannot comprehend what it is.

“This means that packaging the message in vernacular is more progressive, coupled by local examples so translations to vernacular are the way to go so that we achieve that collective and holistic approach.”

Zimbabwe has 16 official languages with almost 70% of its population based in the rural areas where English is not as commonly spoken as in urban cities.

This means that merely using English could be affecting effective communication of the pertinent issue.

Efforts to find out whether language is indeed a barrier from Environmental Management Agency (EMA), an environment watchdog, were fruitless as the public relations manager Steady Kangata’s phone was not reachable and efforts to get comment through EMA’s WhatsApp platform were not successful.

However, according to Tirivanhu Muhwati, an official who spoke at a recent media workshop, the climate change department in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate has received a total of $300 000 to activate awareness locally.

“In terms of access to the international climate finance, we have received some money for the green climate fund just for awareness,” he said.

Taking into cognisance that some technical words like ozone layer, methane, carbon dioxide among others may be hard to translate, a way to simplify needs to be found swiftly and hopefully the global fund will be able to assist in that regard.

Needless to say we indeed need to take action and if not, nasty disasters will teach us practical lessons at a time it will be too late to react.

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