People in vulnerable African countries are resilient, resourceful and willing to adapt to climate change but need more funding and support from the wealthy developed world to do so, according to an Irish youth climate ambassador.
University College Cork (UCC) student Dearbhla Richardson, who is Concern Worldwide’s newly appointed youth climate ambassador and returned this week from northern Kenya, said the requests of communities given what they are facing were not unreasonable. This included communities working to adapt to some of the harshest impacts of climate change, notably in the form of persistent droughts.
She visited families in Turkana who are radically restructuring the way they live in the wake of the worst drought in 40 years, which has ravaged the region, destroying crops and livestock, and contributing to soaring levels of hunger and malnutrition.
“During my time in Turkana, we met with communities facing the direct consequences of climate change,” she said. “We met families who had to change their entire way of living due to the prolonged droughts, where some areas had gone without rain for two years, to the point where there was no moisture in the soil.”
“We spoke to men who had been traditional pastoralists, who had lost all of their livestock. They were incredibly truthful about feeling a loss of purpose. Pastoralism has been a traditional way of living in this region for thousands of years,” she added.
“We also met with some women who are having very successful harvests, using climate-smart agriculture techniques. Because of this new source of income, they can now manage to afford to send their children to school, and also have enough food for the family to eat.”
Ms Richardson said her biggest “take away” from the trip was the willingness of the Turkana people to adapt and their resourcefulness. “They knew exactly what was required to adapt, but need funding to do it. They all had specific requests, none of which were extreme or unreasonable – such as access to clean drinking water, soap or fencing to keep their school or crops safe. They just needed the funding.”
She also attended the African Union Climate Summit in Nairobi where African leaders gathered ahead of Cop28 in Dubai in November.
From Cobh, Co Cork, she is in the final year of her degree in international development at UCC. She is also a climate justice advocate with Friday for Future and is environmental and sustainability representative of UCC Students’ Union.
Her role as youth climate ambassador is to engage young Irish people on climate change and climate justice issues including Concern’s climate work. She plans to do this through talks, workshops and other events over the coming year.
“I hope to encourage young people to get involved where they can. People often disengage with climate action because it is hard to find time to act given the socioeconomic pressures they are under,” Ms Richardson said.
“My main aim is to encourage these people not to lose hope, and that no matter what they are doing, they can contribute to a better world for everyone. Everyone should do the best they can with the capacity they have. But policy and systemic change is needed to make it easier for people to a sustainable life,” she said.