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A chilling reminder things are hotting up
The El Niño is causing damage to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s northern east coast in a manner that was predicted by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).
In the same encyclical, he also wrote about the impact of climate change on the poor, saying, “Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in the coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.
“They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.
“For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children” (#25).
This year, the strongest El Niño event since 1982 has been exacerbated by climate change, causing droughts and heatwaves in India, Latin America, south-east Asia and Africa.
Once again, one year after the publication of the encyclical, famine caused by climate change is affecting millions of people in Africa alone.
In the past few months, major aid and charitable organisations have warned that by Christmas this year, 50 million people will need food aid. This is the second year of drought in eastern and southern Africa. Staple crops have withered, water supplies are diminishing and food prices are sky rocketing.
At the moment, 31 million people are in need of food aid, but his will rise dramatically in the coming few months.
Stephen O’Brien, the humanitarian chief of the United Nations (UN), maintains that as climate change and the El Niño drought continue, a further 10 million people in Ethiopia, six million in South Sudan and five million in Yemen will be in need of food aid.
He believes, “Food security across southern Africa will start deteriorating by July, reaching its peak between December 2016 and March 2017.”
Donor fatigue is also hampering efforts to address the food shortage. US$1.5 billion ($11.63 billion) have been requested by the countries of east and southern Africa, but donor fatigue means that it may not be possible to reach that figure.
Drought and hungry seasons are common throughout southern Africa, but Caoimhe de Barra, the director of Concern Worldwide in Malawi, says the extent of this year’s crisis is more unusual than anything they have seen in recent years.
Coco Ushiyama, the head of the UN World Food Programme in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, says that bringing food to starving people in Malawi alone will be a nightmare.
Once again she cites donor fatigue as depriving her of the money to begin buying food on the open market or arranging for shipment. She is highly concerned about the current situation.
In 2015, in many of the countries which surround Malawi, there was a double disaster which included a prolonged drought followed by severe floods and then another drought.
Around 2.8 million people were affected and there was a deficit of 220,000 tonnes of food. This year, she predicts that the situation will be four times worse than it was last year.
Another complicating factor is that in the past when there was a food crisis, the UN and other charities could import food from South Africa, but this year, South Africa’s agriculture has been adversely affected by the drought.
So instead of exporting, it will have to import 3.5 million tonnes of food to feed its own people. That will mean looking outside of Africa to source the food aid.
As a consequence, the food will take much longer to reach the hungry mouths and may only arrive in east Africa by November in the middle of the rainy season which makes roads impassable, affecting the distribution of food to those in need.
The most chilling paragraph in On care for our common home is a doomsday prediction that can no longer be met with irony or distain. Our legacy to coming generations may well only be debris, desolation and filth.
The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, will only precipitate more catastrophes (#161).
• Father Sean McDonagh