Climate change takes dark toll in death and destruction
OPINION:Rio+20 must go beyond mere talk to stop a needless drift toward preventable disaster
IT SEEMS fitting that world leaders should gather in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the future of our planet, including the unresolved issue of climate change, shortly after the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.
There are many similarities between our approach to the changing climate and the fateful journey. Both involve the needless drift towards preventable disaster. And both, the utterly avoidable deaths of very many people.
Perhaps the most fitting similarity is the fate of the poorest passengers on both journeys. The Titanic passengers in steerage, many Irish, made up the majority of people on board. Three-quarters of them died.
As the world edges closer to irreversible climate disaster we are faced with a similar scenario: the poorest left on the frontline facing the fatal consequences of a disaster not of their making.
Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, hundreds of millions are struggling to adapt to their changing climate. In the last three years, we have seen 10 million people displaced by floods in Pakistan, 13 million face hunger in east Africa, and over 10 million in the Sahel region of Africa face starvation.
Even those figures only scrape the surface. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. Linked economic losses are costed at more than $125 billion a year. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion.
The gradual, devastating impact can be seen in the millions of forgotten villages scattered throughout the developing world.
Trócaire yesterday published the results of a two-year research project into the effects of climate change on rural communities in the developing world. It paints a picture of communities battling food insecurity and plagued by migration, conflict and health issues as a result of climate change.
In the Tharaka district of central Kenya, annual rainfall has decreased by over 15 per cent since the 1970s and now stands at between 500-800mm. Rain has also become more erratic and less predictable. During the same time, the average temperature has increased by one degree.
Without steady and predictable rainfall, fields remain barren. Crops fail, animals die and people starve. Fifty years ago, the average household in Tharaka owned 20 cattle and 50 goats. Today, it is two cattle and five goats. Sixty-five per cent of Tharaka’s 130,098 people are now classified as living in absolute poverty.
People in Tharaka are trying to adapt but it is not easy. To buy drought-resistant seeds and irrigation equipment, they need money. Yet, as crops fail and animals die, they are becoming poorer, locked in a downward cycle. They are rightly anxious about where this is leading them.