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Christian Aid reports on human cost of climate

21 November 2007

by Bill Bowder

Washed up: Rosa Choque (above left), who teaches women how to boost their crops, in Potosi, Bolivia, where torrential rains have washed away the soil

Washed up: Rosa Choque (above left), who teaches women how to boost their crops, in Potosi, Bolivia, where torrential rains have washed away th...

POOR people across the world need the billions of pounds of extra help raised by new carbon taxes on industrial nations in order to adapt to global warming. The extra money — up to $100 billion a year — will be required, even if the UN climate-change summit in Bali next month agrees to keep global temperature increases to 2°C, Christian Aid said in a report, The Human Face of Climate Change, which it issued this week.

“As ministers prepare for the Bali summit, the stakes could not be higher,” the agency says. To talk about climate change without linking it to the fight against poverty would condemn “millions of people to further upheaval, unrest, disease, and life-threatening disaster”.

“Climate change and poverty are mixing in the lives of the world’s poorest people to deadly effect. More frequent drought and more severe seasonal flooding are testing the limits of community resilience, pushing precarious lives closer to the edge.”

Delegates to the Bali summit need to consider three responses, which should be made simultaneously, the report recommends: first, rich countries must respond to the crisis by keeping their promises to increase overseas aid to improve poor people’s chance of survival. They should ensure that any economic growth is of sustainable benefit to poor people.

Second, “strong plans” to cope with climate change must be interwoven with poverty-reduction strategies and backed by additional funding.

Third, “climate change must be tackled at source, through massive and rapid cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions; the polluter must stop polluting.”

In a series of case studies, Christian Aid considers the impact that climate change is already having on some of the world’s poorest communities. It also suggests how they can adapt, given the necessary funds and advice.

In Bolivia, at Norte Potosi and at Ancoraimes, near the border with Peru, Christian Aid’s partners report that communities have noted “detailed and profound changes in the local weather and plants and animal life”, which have affected their food supply, the clothes they wear, their income, and where they live. They speak of the world “upside down and trembling . . . the earth is drying as if hanged up to dry in the sun.”

Their potato crops have been ruined by unexpected frosts and hailstones big enough to kill birds; snow has fallen in the summer, and the rainy season has been halved. Pasture for the sheep has been damaged, and they are infested with fleas and ticks. As their flocks reduced, they had less meat, less cheese, and less wool for food, clothing, and barter. Young people from the village were leaving for the cities.

On the Dogon Plateau in eastern Mali, the young are also leaving for the cities, as farming grows more difficult. The village chief of Tounoulna, N’Dogo Karambe, who is in his 80s, said there had been plenty of rain and food when he was a child. “But as it no longer rains as it used to, we are all now experiencing a severe lack of food.”

Hawa Tebsougue, the vice-president of the village’s women’s association, said the amount of cereals they produced diminished each year. “We cannot even celebrate marriages because there’s no money to buy food for the celebration,” she said.

Yet there is also evidence of people’s ability to adapt. In Jamaica, a hurricane-resistant chicken coop has protected Esilia Lang’s 75 chickens from a category-four hurricane. Nearby, a Mrs Harvey, without a coop, lost 50 birds and her income for two months. On the Dogon Plateau, villagers have learnt to build stone walls along contours to stop soil erosion. They have stopped cutting down trees, which are essential to retain the soil, and have formed a tree watch to make sure no one else cuts them down.

In Bangladesh, communities are using clean clay water-jars to harvest rain. The improvement in their health has led them to tackle other problems, such as erosion caused by the river.

Christian Aid says, however, that international finance for adaptation to climate change is too restricted. The report recommends that further information be shared about good adaptations and how they work.

The Human Face of Climate Change will be downloadable from www.christianaid.org.uk from Monday.

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