Sooner or later, we will all suffer from the disastrous effects of climate change. But today, it is mainly the poorest people on the planet who are deeply affected… yet they contribute the least to the problem. Ethiopia, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Burundi, and Niger face long periods of drought and erratic rainfall. For the inhabitants of these countries, adapting to these changes is vital for them to be able to live there, cultivate their land there, and see their children grow up there.
Hunger, migration, and conflict
Climate change directly and drastically influences people’s lives. Farmers see their crops damaged, shepherds and their cattle wither away. The price of food increases and people find it much harder to feed themselves. The hunger is felt. Extreme weather conditions like droughts and tropical storms force people to flee their homes and migrate to other areas in the hope of finding safety. Basic necessities like food, water, and safe housing are becoming rare. Conflicts arise between people searching for them.
Africa: Long droughts and irregular precipitation
On the African continent, the climate crisis threatens both the health and safety of the population, food and water supply, as well as socio-economic development. Once reliable precipitation is now unpredictable. The periods of drought lengthen. In areas where climate warming is already being felt, the people are finding it harder and harder to survive.
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Agroecology in Niger
In the region of Tahoua, notably in the Nigerian Sahel, the desert is eating up the fertile land little by little: this is called desertification. Cereal crops, which need regular rainfall to grow and are harvested during the rainy season, no longer grow sufficiently. The families that have cultivated the cereal crops for generations, can no longer live off of their harvests. They must adapt to climate change by diversifying their practices. For example, the cultivation of vegetables is less dependent on rainfall than the cereal crops: they can be watered manually via irrigation techniques, and harvested at different times of the year.
Caritas International, and the local Caritas organizations which they collaborate with, support Nigerien farmers and teach them agroecological techniques. “Agroecology combines effective and traditional farming methods that do not harm the environment, with modern and sustainable practices,” explains Guillaume Schneider, responsible for Caritas International’s projects in Niger. In other terms, agroecology makes it possible to make the most of the resources in nature while using the least possible amount of external inputs such as artificial fertilizers or pesticides. An effective use of water and energy and plants is intended to prevent erosion but it’s also a part of the agroecology approach.
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An agroecology project in the region of Zinder, Niger. By cultivating with the help of nature, farmers are more resilient in the face of the climate crisis. – Isabel Cortheir/ Caritas International
For a better ecosystem in Burundi
Situated in central Africa, Burundi is also suffering from the climate crisis. Periods of extreme drought alternate with episodes of heavy rainfall. Heavy rains cause rivers and lakes to burst their banks, wash away crops and sometimes even entire fields, and destroy roads, bridges, and infrastructure. The vast majority of Burundians live off of agriculture. But these last years, the land struggles to provide sufficient recourses for everyone. With the local Caritas organizations and Caritas International, people strive to improve the country’s valuable ecosystem and address the risks posed by climate change. For example, by constructing terraces against erosion and operating nurseries to reforest the land.
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Louis, farmer from Gisuru in Burundi, shows his plants that prevent soil erosion – Isabel Corthier/ Caritas International
Invasion of locusts
Along with drought and advancing desert, East Africa is dealing with the largest invasion of locusts in 70 years. A large swarm of locusts consume as much in one day as 2,500 people in an entire year. When they land somewhere, they devour everything and do not leave a blade of grass for the sheep or cows. Even worse: before they leave they lay millions of eggs in the soil, who hatch and give birth to new swarms. Amanuel Bure (50 years old), an Ethiopian farmer, is desperate. “The insects that hatched ate all of my seeds. I lost everything: my whole livelihood,” he grieves. These invasions are also the direct consequences of the climate crisis. The warming of the oceans, severe tropical storms in the Middle East and periods of intense rainfall in the Horn of Africa create ideal living conditions for these ruthless insects.
An incessant invasion of locusts in Ethiopia. A swarm of locusts eats as much crops as 2,500 people do in a year. ©Caritas
Costal populations in Mozambique were taken by surprise when winds of over 180 km/h and waves 4-5 meters high hit them in spring 2019. The Caritas emergency coordinator at the time, Jan Weuts, recalled “walls of water” to analyze the situation. Like a steamroller cyclone Idai destroyed everything in its path: buildings, roads, roofs, houses, electric poles… Catastrophes of this scope are relatively common in the northern hemisphere. In Bangladesh, Hati, and Indonesia. On the contrary it was a disastrous first in southern Africa. “Idai foreshadows the climatic disasters that are to come,” predicted Jan Weuts.
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Significant and alarming changes to the climate have been observed in a number of countries. “If we want to attack the climate crisis, we need to make a radical and global shift,” declares Bernadette Van Raemdonck, manager of international cooperation. “At Caritas International, we think that the current model of development, revolving around the growth of the economy, has a negative impact on our climate, particularly affecting the poorest. We must therefore adopt alternative development models, based on social justice, environmental sustainability and general well-being.”
Bangladesh, in southern Asia, is the 8th most populated country in the world, and also one of the most vulnerable to natural catastrophes like tropical storms. In May 2020, the storm Amphan destroyed hundreds and thousands of houses, flooded freshwater supplies and damaged hundreds of hectares of farmland. Tropical storms become more powerful and frequent, to the point where inhabitants barely have the time to catch their breath between two incidents. When the storm Amphan hit Bangladesh and India in early 2020, more than 3 million people had to be evacuated.
Because of the erosion of its rivers and coastline, Bangladesh loses close to 25,000 hectares of land each year. Natural costal protections and aquatic ecosystems are weakening. Most of the country is situated less than 1,200 meters above sea level, which makes it vulnerable to the rising sea levels in Bengal Bay. The people who live along the coasts – a quarter of the population – are at risk of having to move; there is a fear of fresh water mixing with the infiltrating salt water and therefore becoming unusable.
In addition to intensifying storms and rising sea levels, the country is also facing rising temperatures, making some crops, such as rice – a staple of Bangladeshi cuisine – more difficult to produce.
Mozambique: Winds of over 180 km/h and waves 4-5 meters: cyclone Idai destroyed everything in its path: buildings, roads, roofs, houses, electric poles – Dennis Onyodi
Munshigong, Bangladesh: in May 2020, the storm Amphan destroyed hundreds and thousands of houses, flooded freshwater supplies and damaged hundreds of hectares of forests and land that has been cultivated for a long time. – Amit Rudro/ CRS Caritas Bangladesh
Managing the risks
To understand and anticipate the risks of catastrophes caused by global warming, Caritas International and its local partners practice community-based disaster risk management: an approach based on traditional knowledge and that of the local communities. “This approach gathers people form the same community to analyze a specific threat and find responses,” explains Marisol Martinez, responsible for disaster risk reduction. This process of community management brings members of the community together and allows them to become more resilient. Reinforcing the capacities of affected groups is one of the most important aspects of risk reduction. “We favor establishing an early warning system to alert the population in time when a catastrophe occurs,” completes Marisol. “We are developing contingency plans in collaboration with local communities to prevent risks and respond quickly to build back better and safer.”
What is the world doing?
Climate change is a global problem that requires a global response. It is in this perspective that, in 2015, more than 190 countries adopted the Paris Accords aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Each country individually determines the manner in which they want to reduce these emissions, while contributing financially to help the most fragile countries. “Unfortunately, the four principle emitters of greenhouses gases – the United States, China, India, and the European Union – are off to a bad start regarding the objectives set for 2030. Yet they contribute to 55% of all global emission,” notes Tom Devriendt, Caritas International advocacy coordinator.
Five years before the Paris Accords, in 2010, the Green Climate Fund was created at a United Nations climate conference. The objective is to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Since then, about 10 billion euros have been injected into the fund by countries around the world, including the United States, France, Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
The European Union (EU) also does its part. In 2019 the member states agreed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 by signing the Green deal (Green Pact). In 2021, the EU decided to increases their climate objectives for 2030, to reduce their emissions not by 40% but by 55% compared to the 1990 levels. This reduction concerns the EU as a whole: the pioneer countries can compensate for the countries who are less advanced. The EU is also committed to taking the necessary measures by 2050 to protect its citizens from inevitable climate change.
In June 2015, Pope Francis published Laudato Si’, his long-awaited encyclical on the environment. He insists on the importance of taking care of God’s creations and on our responsibility to protect the earth, “our common home”. By taking care of the planet, we are also taking care of those who contribute the least to climate change. “The warming caused by the enormous consumption of certain rich countries has repercussions on the poorest regions on earth, especially in Africa, where the rising temperatures combined with drought wreaks havoc on crop yields,” he writes in his encyclical.
And you, what can you do?
Faced with the overwhelming global phenomenon of climate change, you may feel useless and insignificant… like a drop in the ocean.
However, you are not powerless! You can actually contribute to stopping climate change. Not alone, of course. But if more and more people all over the world decide to recycle their trash, eat less meat, consciously consume, and save water, all these small efforts brought together will have a great impact. You will launch a dynamic that the political world will not be able to ignore. Politicians will pass laws and make decisions that will have a major positive impact on the climate. So yes, as an individual you can do a lot for the environment.
And if you wish to commit yourself even more to a better world, for social justice and international solidarity, the possibilities are numerous: volunteering, informing others on the issues that touch your heart… and supporting Caritas, of course!
 United Nations Climate Change, Climate Change Is an Increasing Threat to Africa (27 octobre 2020), consulted in Septembre 2021.
 Vatican, ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (May, 2015), consulted in September 2021.