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Global Warming Hurts Rural Communities Most

A new report on climate change impacts shows that farmers around the world will likely suffer most
Drought in Kenya


The desperate search for water in Turkana, Kenya.
Credit: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development

From Kenyan subsistence farmers to indigenous peoples in the Bolivian Andes and Brazil's Amazon rainforest, a new report aims to put a human face on what it says are some of the communities hardest hit by global climate change, whose effects will be highlighted in the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings.

Using personal stories from seven different countries—El Salvador, Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, Malawi, Bolivia and the Philippines—Christian Aid's report, "Taken by Storm: Responding to the Impacts of Climate Change," focuses on the devastating impacts of climate change on several of the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities.

"They're not really visible to us, particularly in the wealthy countries," said report author Alison Doig in a telephone interview. "There are so many millions of people that are affected by climate change in different ways, and that's what we wanted to show in the report."

By putting a human face on climate change, the U.K. development organization hopes to illustrate the urgent need for decisive action on global climate policy. And, according to Doig, now is a perfect time to do so, as the latest IPCC report is set to be released Sunday.

She hopes the recommendations and possible warnings from the international body of leading climate scientists will be factored into next year's key negotiating processes: namely, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the new post-2015 sustainable development goals framework and the Hyogo Framework for Action.

"2015 is shaping up to being the crunch year for the world's most vulnerable people, with three global agreements on climate change, poverty reduction and disaster responses to be struck," Doig, Christian Aid's senior climate change adviser, wrote in the report.

'Adaptation is not enough'
But climate change isn't going to wait. As the report notes, it has already destroyed many development efforts in poor countries, forcing susceptible communities to adapt their ways of life to increasingly extreme weather events and changes.

And while some adaptation efforts have been downright ingenious—like the use of text messages by Kenyan farmers to receive weather forecasts—they're simply not sustainable.

"In the discussions around climate change, there are some who take a somewhat fatalistic attitude, arguing that we should give up all efforts to prevent further changes and instead direct our efforts solely towards adapting to the inevitable," wrote the chairman of Christian Aid, Rowan Williams, in the report's foreword. "But the response from those experiencing the effect of climate change is clear: adaptation is not enough."

According to the report, which took into account climate science from the IPCC and elsewhere, Africa, Asia and Latin America are currently facing the greatest threats from climate change, both to their people and to local environments.

In Africa, it states, prolonged drought in some areas and floods in others are exacerbating food insecurity, while in Asia, coastal flooding, sea-level rise and storm surges are threatening coastal areas and small island states, increasing the risk of economic loss and widespread migration.

In Latin America, the report notes, melting glaciers in the Andes will decrease long-term water availability in parts of South America, negatively affecting food production and boosting the likelihood of massive flooding and severe weather events.

But across those three regions, it's the agricultural communities that are having the hardest time adapting to climate change, according to Doig.

"In the Western countries, we have insurance, enough financial resources; we can move from place to place; and we have recovery mechanisms," she said. "But, unfortunately, for the farming communities we work with across the world, they have no backup, no insurance, and nowhere else to go."

'Climate change is a reality here'
For the indigenous communities of the Andes in Bolivia, climate change is a constant threat. The report features the story of Andean native Alivio Aruquipa, a subsistence farmer who is faced with a perpetual water problem—sometimes there's too much, and other times there's too little.

The inconsistency in his community's water supply is due to melting glaciers in the Andes. Since the 1970s, the report states, the ice masses have decreased 30 to 50 percent, affecting millions of people, especially Andeans like Aruquipa, who depend on the glaciers for drinking water, sanitation and growing food.

"I was born here. I went away for a number of years because we have problems with droughts, and with landslides when the waters do come," the report quotes Aruquipa as saying. "We don't have enough water to grow our crops."

And because water is often scarce, he added, there is a growing civil conflict, which has forced many people in his community to leave their homes to migrate elsewhere.

For those who still remain, however, local Bolivian organization Agua Sustentable has stepped in to provide assistance. The group, among other things, built a reservoir to service 40 families. But according to the organization's field technician, Alan Zagredo, adaptation is only a short-term fix, something he said Aruquipa is well aware of.

"We are the ones who feel the impact of climate change, we're the ones who are suffering," the report quotes the Bolivian farmer as saying. "Climate change is a reality here."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

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