"We are living in poverty because we depend on good rains for food and this has not been the case." This is what Esther Nyirongo from Malawi – a country at the coalface of the climate change battle - told ActionAid workers in her area. She expressed fears that women were turning to prostitution to feed their families amid a dwindling income from agriculture.
Drought, prolonged dry periods, intense rainfall and floods are occurring more frequently and are caused by climate change.
And there is no sign that climate-change related disasters are letting up. There is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – warming the air around us – than there has been for 25 million years, according to a new data reported on by the UN’s humanitarian news service IRIN.
Consequently natural disasters are going to become harder to combat, especially for developing countries which are already struggling, according to the report.
What are we doing about it?
At last year’s UN Climate Conference in Doha, ActionAid along with CARE and WWF demanded that developed governments give more technological equipment and finance to help developing countries tackle the effects of climate change.
A good example of overcoming the impact of global warming is ActionAid’s work in Bangladesh, a country prone to cyclone damage and flooding, which saw more than 14 million people displaced in the 1990s.
Since then, ActionAid Bangladesh has worked with local people to install flood warning systems, create action plans, and give local residents maps highlighting safe areas in the event of an emergency. Meanwhile, shelters are built on higher ground, so when flooding does occur residents at least have a safe environment to retreat to.
Addressing the structural causes of poverty
Helping people to adapt to the threat of flooding can avert individual tragedies, but of course, this does not stop the floods from coming.
It is clearly vital to treat the immediate effects of climate change and to support communities battling on the frontline, which saves lives, homes and livelihoods; however we also need a long-term solution.
Yet as the IRIN article points out, there is a limit to the amount we can do to help people adapt to the effects of climate change and prepare to face the natural disasters, and we are edging ever nearer to that limit. Then what?
We also have to push for a forward-thinking solution to climate change which means mitigating risks. That means reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And crucially that is something rich countries – which have caused most of the problems in the first place – must urgently pay for.