Climate Change Worsens The Humanitarian Crisis


Evolving changes in the climate continue to affect lives, especially those in vulnerable regions like Africa. After decades of decline, the World Health Organization reported in 2018 that food insecurity is on the rise. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations confirmed this in 2019. Climate change’s direct impact on conflict cannot be ignored, either. Data from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Index reveals that 60% of the 20 countries considered most vulnerable to climate change are enduring an armed conflict. How devastating can that be, especially for young children? Predictions are always uncertain to some extent, but the worst forecasts are likely to come true if nothing is done. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies 2019 report, “By 2050, 200 million people could need international humanitarian aid every year – a doubling compared to 2018, partly due to climate change.” These numbers may be disturbing, but the fact remains that climate change’s underlying effects are hugely affecting the need for humanitarian support.

Natural disasters spurred by climate change have left many homeless, making it even more difficult for refugees of violence to find safe harbor. “People may be forced to flee the fighting [in their own countries],” the Red Cross says, “but then find themselves uprooted again by droughts and floods. These drastic events are becoming more frequent and severe, and even if they subside, the ongoing violence may make it impossible for people to return home.” Without a way to settle down, these people are unable to build new lives or recover from the disasters they’ve faced. “Millions of people are trapped in this vicious cycle,” the Red Cross reports. “Many are pushed into utter poverty.”

In turn, climate change can aggravate violence. The Lake Chad Basin covers parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon and has been a water source for around 30 million people. However, the lake has shrunk by 90% since the 1960’s, hampering an already shaky economy. Chad is landlocked in a hot area, and the fishing and farming which contribute most of its food supply have been seriously affected by the shrinking lake. Diminishing access to clean water and burgeoning clouds of flies have put Chadians’ health at risk. Jobless parents can’t afford school tuition and those lucky enough to graduate have few employment opportunities. Meanwhile, Boko Haram promises huge financial packages and a wonderful afterlife to anyone who becomes a jihadist. Faced with dwindling resources and a lack of options, Chadian youth are easily lured into conscripting.

Mali, similarly landlocked in the Sahel region, is no less affected. The country already experiences frequent droughts and significant variability in annual rainfall, but climate change is expected to increase local temperatures, the variability of rainfall, and the magnitude of extreme weather events. 80% of Mali’s population is engaged in agriculture and depends on natural resources, making it highly vulnerable to climate change’s extreme droughts and encroaching desertification. Almost half of that population is under 15, and analysts expect the total population to double within 20 years, but agricultural productivity is not following demographic trends. Mali currently ranks 175th out of 187 in the United Nations Human Development Index. If that rising food insecurity isn’t addressed, Mali’s young and unborn generations may also be forced to turn to violence to survive.

How do we break the cycle of violence? Vulnerable communities urgently need stability – the ability to provide for themselves. Unable to rely on educational systems, many people are resorting to agriculture and farming. However, irrigation and quality crop production are largely dependent on favourable weather conditions. Thus, humanitarian support must provide educational and vocational opportunities alongside single use supplies to ensure that people have access to income, no matter the weather. We must not be limited to solely providing food for hungry people.

The United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) is working to build the resilience of vulnerable populations, households, communities, and systems to climate change variability and change in Mali. Its initiative has three prongs: building vulnerable populations’ capacity to use effective climate information, including climate change considerations in commune-level governance systems, and convincing more communities and individual households to adopt climate change adaptation practices. In Mali, Iraq, and the Central African Republic, the Red Cross is working to improve access to clean water by expanding water infrastructure to reduce losses, developing more efficient irrigation systems, and providing drought-resistant seeds. “We help people better manage water and we help to bolster people’s livelihoods to ensure economic security,” the organization said. Both of these groups are doing well in addressing climate change in these countries.

Still, this leaves the question of how to resolve or reverse climate change’s global effects. An undesirable coalition of polluters appears to be gambling with the Earth’s climate. Why are world leaders unwilling to lay the groundwork for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Climate change is disastrously affecting people’s ability to live stable lives, especially refugees’, and requires urgent response, not fruitless dialogue. We need to develop methods which will make the planet secure for us all. Governments should return to the drawing board and collaborate with corporations on how to reduce, if not stop, greenhouse gas emissions.

If our governments continue to do nothing, the conflicts which are already killing people will worsen, and starvation and hunger will continue to kill even more. The young children who will become victims of our decisions need guaranteed food security. We have run out of time to delay tackling this problem.

Environmental scientists have submitted research advising our leaders which steps to take. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. Strategies and policies have been suggested. It’s time for them to be implemented. Vulnerable people already depend on humanitarian aid to battle political, social, and economic difficulties, but the weight of nature’s response to man’s misuse of resources will negatively affect the entire world. To preserve the lives of the next generation, we must act today.

Sarah Namondo

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