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July 27, 2015

Climate change and conflict out-pacing poverty reduction

By Éamonn Meehan

If recent events in Europe have highlighted anything it is the all-too-often slow response of political systems to structural crises. It is perhaps the nature of democracy that tough decisions are delayed and unpopular measures long-fingered until such a time as the elephant in the room has morphed into a stampeding herd.

Sadly, this approach has characterised the response of the global political system to the two dominant themes driving global poverty today: conflict and climate change. 

Efforts to tackle extreme poverty have made very significant headway since the turn of the century. A coordinated global aid effort, under the banner of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), has saved millions of lives and lifted many more out of extreme poverty. School enrolment rates have risen significantly, childhood and maternal mortality rates have halved, and progress has been made in reducing the threats from diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. There have been many success stories as a result of a focused aid effort. 

Unfortunately, however, while the top line statistics paint a positive picture, the canvas on which we are painting is tearing at the seams. 

The spread of conflict and the impact of severe weather patterns on food production are undoing many of the gains that have been made. Efforts to combat extreme poverty are being out-paced by these two dominant features of modern life.  

Around the world, 59.5 million people have fled their homes as a result of conflict, almost the combined population of 15 EU states. The global displacement figure has not been this high since the world was engulfed in the chaos of World War II.

War in Syria has contributed greatly to this stark statistic. International political structures failed to engage with the Syria war during the early years, leaving Syria now in its fifth year of killing and destruction. It has taken the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrians on our shores for Europe to engage with the issue, but even then the response has been dismal. The EU has failed to agree on how to offer new homes to just 60,000 asylum seekers, a tiny percentage of the number of Syrians who have fled their homes. Nobody can seriously claim the EU does not have the capacity to fulfil its legal obligation to offer security to such a small number of people relative to the EU’s 500 million population. 

As President Higgins rightly observed earlier this week, it is appalling to portray this as a challenge when taking the situation these people are fleeing into account. 

Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Syrian refugees Ahmad and Madallakh with their  grandsons Mohammed and Abdelrahman living in an unfinished apartment block in Lebanon's Bekka Valley. There are 59.5 million people around the world displaced as a result of conflict - the combined population of 15 EU states.

 

Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia are by some distance the world’s three largest sources of refugees. The ongoing conflicts that have dogged these countries, in some cases for over two decades, have plunged millions of people into extreme poverty. Without tackling the political factors behind those conflicts, there can be no improvements to the lives of people in those countries nor any stop to the flow of people attempting to seek security elsewhere. 

Migration is almost certain to rise over the coming years as climate change continues to erode people’s ability to live in their home environment. Globally, temperatures have risen by 0.85 degrees Celsius over the last 150 years. This has contributed significantly to migration by reducing people’s ability to grow food, not to mention the increased frequency and intensity of storms and floods as sea levels rise and weather systems alter. 

Climate change is picking up such pace that temperatures may rise by anything between a further one and five degrees over the coming decades. Just imagine the chaos this will cause as huge swaths of rural land become essentially uninhabitable and entire coastal regions are devoured by the seas.

Tharaka district in Kenya 

Rising temperatures are leading to droughts and prolonged spells of hunger as people in regions such as Tharaka in Kenya struggle to grow crops. 

 

There is a growing political consensus – with the notable exception of the American right – that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and urgently needs addressed. That realisation, however, has not been matched by political moves to actually address the threat. 

World leaders meet in Paris in December at the UN Climate Summit but there is little to suggest that they are willing to commit to actions to match their rhetoric. 

Through his recent Encyclical, Pope Francis has pleaded with political leaders to take the steps necessary to safeguard the future of the planet. This powerful document clearly aligns the Catholic Church with calls for agreement on a legally-binding framework to decarbonise our societies as a matter of urgency.

The passionate words of President Higgins and former President Mary Robinson at this week’s Summit of the Consciences for the Climate in Paris gives the impression that Ireland is a world leader on this issue, yet Dáil Éireann has failed to match Áras an Uachtaráin’s desire to secure a safe planet for future generations. 

When I look at Trócaire’s work around the world, the spread of conflict and the growing reality of a changed natural environment are the two themes that stand out as major obstacles towards poverty reduction. 

Never before has a time been characterised on the one hand by such incredible progress and on the other by such enormous challenges. 

This article first appeared in The Irish Examiner on July 27th, 2015.

July 24, 2015

Wexford events raise €170,000 for Nepal

A group of people from Wexford who were in Nepal when the country was hit by an earthquake in April have raised over €170,000 for Trócaire's relief efforts in the country.

Riverchapel parish priest Fr. Tom Dalton was one of eight people from Wexford who had just landed in Nepal when the earthquake struck on April 25th. The earthquake devastated large parts of the country, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

“We were very thankful that none of our group was harmed,” says Fr. Dalton. “We were also very conscious that we could leave but the people of Nepal, who had been so kind to us, were the ones who had to pick up the pieces. So we decided that we wanted to do something to help and we approached Trócaire and offered to support their appeal.”

Trócaire launched an emergency appeal for Nepal within hours of the disaster happening. Working through local partner organisations in Nepal, Trócaire has brought shelter, clean water and other vital aid to 220,000 people in Nepal.

The organisation’s response has been greatly helped by fundraising efforts in Wexford. Through a variety of events and initiatives, Fr. Dalton and other local organisers have raised over €170,000 for Trócaire’s Nepal appeal.

Among the events held was a concert at the National Opera House and benefit nights held at Kelly’s Hotel, Whites of Wexford and Tara Vie Hotel. Local schools also got behind the fundraising efforts, with bake sales held at Riverchapel National School and Gorey Community School, while St. Mary’s National School held a non-uniform day to support the campaign. Several other events were held, including charity runs and a link-up with Apple Green petrol stations.

Wexford fundraising committee for Nepal

Trócaire's Fintan Maher (centre) in Wexford to congratulate local organisers (left to right) Fr. Tom Dalton, Catherine Jordan, Mary Moran, James Morrissey, Ger Colfer and Joan Etchingham on raising over €170,000 for the people of Nepal.

 

“When we started out we very optimistically hoped to raise €100,000,” says Fr. Dalton. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would end up raising over €170,000. We have been astounded by people’s generosity. People have been so good and have been very enthusiastic about supporting the various events that have been run to support the people of Nepal.

“We really want to thank everybody who attended an event or contributed to the efforts in any way. It is wonderful to hear about the great progress Trócaire is making in Nepal and it is very heartening to know that the people of Wexford have contributed in a significant way to this.”

Trócaire’s focus for the first three months of the relief efforts was to get shelter to people before the monsoon season struck. It is now monsoon season in Nepal and once the rains clear Trócaire will move into a longer-term approach, building permanent, earthquake-resistant housing for people in Nepal.

Trócaire's Conor O'Loughlin in Nepal

Trócaire's Conor O'Loughlin distributing shelter in a community badly affected by April's earthquake. Trócaire has delivered aid to 220,000 people in Nepal thanks to the fundraising efforts of people in Ireland. 

 

Trócaire’s Fintan Maher has paid tribute to the various communities in Wexford who got behind the appeal and organised events to raise money.

“To raise over €170,000 in three months is a phenomenal achievement,” he said. “Everybody involved deserves enormous credit – from the organising committee who put together a wonderful night at the National Opera House, to the schoolchildren who baked cakes. The hard work of people in Wexford has allowed us to get shelter, water and other aid to people who lost everything when the earthquake struck on April 25th.

“I know from speaking with our Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal that people there have been touched by the level of support and solidarity being shown to them from communities all over the world. Trócaire could not help people without the generosity of our supporters so I want to thank everybody who took part in an event or made a donation to the events in Wexford. It has made an enormous difference to the lives of people in Nepal.”

July 22, 2015

'Thank you for not forgetting us' - Nepal rebuilds three months after the earthquake

by Nana Anto-Awuakye

As we bump along the narrow potholed roads in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, heading east for a village in the Kavrepalanchok district, it’s hard to imagine that this bustling city, along with the rest of the country, was struck by a violent earthquake just three months ago.

The earthquake that hit on 25 April shattered lives and reduced ancient and modern buildings, as well as family homes, to rubble within a matter of minutes. It left almost 9,000 people dead and thousands of others injured. 

Not more than three weeks later, amid the ongoing rescue efforts and emergency aid distributions, another powerful tremor shook the country, claiming more lives and adding to the human suffering.

It is testament to the Nepalese people that today you find terracotta bricks from collapsed buildings in Kathmandu organised into neat piles ready for re-use. It is only as you head out of the city on the tarmac road that you see structurally unsound, lopsided buildings, and houses cracked beyond repair. Seeing them jolts you into remembering the devastation the earthquake unleashed.  

I ask our driver Rayesh how the capital has been cleared up and brought back to normal so quickly. 

“We came together as a nation because we did not want to be defeated by this earthquake,” he says, “but you will see that in remote areas things are different.”

As we head out into the countryside and start to climb the green terraced hillside, the neighbouring hills are dotted with clusters of silver glistening roofs of corrugated iron, rather than the traditional red-tiled rooftops. As our vehicle steers around the hairpin bends, you see more clearly that many of the villages clinging precariously to the steep mountainsides have been destroyed. 

The snaking mountain road comes to an end, and we reach the village of Chandani. Here 35 people died and every home was destroyed or damaged. This becomes all too apparent as you survey the scene in front of you: homes perched on hillsides have now been reduced to heaps of rubble.  

It is clear that the need is still great in this and many other remote areas. Rebuilding homes and getting life back to normal is a much slower process for these communities, who have lost so much. People are very slowly returning to their daily farming activities, but everyone is worried about their homes, and how they will rebuild them. 

Working with local partners, Trócaire has helped deliver life-saving aid to vulnerable people in some of these remote communities. One of those people is 74-year-old Mishri, who received lentils, household items such as plastic buckets and cooking pots, blankets, as well as plastic sheeting for creating a makeshift shelter.

Mishri tells me what happened to her on the day of the earthquake. 

“I was inside my house when the earth moved,” she says, “and then suddenly I was outside my house, thrown to the ground. I felt as if my soul had left me. I just stayed there, I didn’t move, and I waited for the earth to stop shaking.”

Mishri was found by her son, her son-in-law and her grandchildren. 

“They picked me up, and told me not to be afraid,” she says, “but I could see that my home was destroyed and my food store was buried under the rubble.”

Three months on, Mishri and many others in her village are worried about surviving the monsoon rains.

74-year-old Mishri received vital aid from Trócaire in the immediate aftermath of April's earthquake.

74-year-old Mishri received vital aid from Trócaire in the immediate aftermath of April's earthquake. 

 

“The rain has already started, but it is not at full force yet. It soon will be, and the road to us here will be blocked.”

It is a race against time as the monsoon rains begin to intensify. They will make constructing or reinforcing shelters impossible. Caritas Nepal has already assessed the needs of Mishri’s community and has transported corrugated iron sheeting to the village ready for distribution. 

People in Ireland have donated over €1 million to Trócaire’s Nepal Earthquake Appeal. This has allowed Trócaire to support the work of partners in Nepal, including Caritas Nepal, to reach some of the country’s most remote and marginalised communities. 

Working in 15 districts, including ten of those worst hit by the earthquake, Trócaire and our partner agencies have delivered food, blankets, cooking equipment, hygiene kits and shelter kits to more than 220,000 people. Staff and volunteers have pushed trucks through mud, hiked up mountains, and even flown by helicopter to reach remote communities before they are cut off. 

“You came, you cared, you showed us love,” says Mishri of Caritas Nepal. “It is not easy to reach us, the road is not smooth, but we thank you for always coming and not forgetting us.”

July 21, 2015

Conflict and climate change ‘out-pacing poverty reduction’

Positive trends in poverty reduction are being out-paced by the growth of conflict and the worsening of climate change, Trócaire said today at the launch of the organisation’s Annual Report for the year 1 March 2014 - 28 February 2015.

While there have been many successes in the battle against extreme poverty, the spread of conflict and the impact of severe weather patterns on food production and displacement are undoing many of the gains that have been made, warned the agency. 

Trócaire today announced that its development and emergency programmes have benefited approximately 2.4 million people directly in 24 countries over the last 12 months.

Éamonn Meehan said that conflict and issues linked with climate change are the dominant drivers of Trócaire’s programmes:

“Over the last 12 months Trócaire has brought vital aid and support to approximately 2.4 million people in some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world. Many of our biggest programmes are responding to the needs of people forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict. Our programmes in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are providing vital supplies to people caught in the crossfire. 

“Climate change is also causing displacement and increasing poverty as droughts, storms and floods intensify around the world. Last February over 635,000 people were affected by flooding in Malawi, while prolonged periods without rainfall in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe and Rwanda are making it increasingly difficult for farmers to grow crops.”

Eliyeta Muyeye and her sister Fortune Kalolo at the family's crops in Dedza, Malawi.

Farmers in countries such as Malawi are increasingly struggling to grow crops due to the impacts of climate change. Pictured: Eliyeta Muyeye and her sister Fortune Kalolo at the family's crops in Dedza, Malawi. Photo: Jeannie O'Brien/Trócaire.

The Irish public donated €22 million to Trócaire’s non-emergency fundraising in 2014/15, the same amount as was donated during 2013/14.  A further €1 million was donated to specific humanitarian appeals, primarily appeals for the Ebola response in Sierra Leone and the response to the Gaza conflict. 

The Irish Government contributed €18.2 million to Trócaire’s work through Irish Aid. As in previous years, the Irish Government remains the single largest donor to Trócaire’s work contributing 31% of the organisation’s total income. 

Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan thanked the public in Ireland for supporting the organisation’s work:

“Throughout recent turbulent years at home, Irish people have never wavered in their commitment to supporting people living through injustice, conflict and poverty overseas. The €23 million donated to Trócaire by people in Ireland amounts to almost €4 for every man, woman and child on this island. That is an incredible testament to people’s commitment to the world’s poorest people.”

Examples of Trócaire’s impact during the 2014/15 period include:
•    110,000 people in Somalia supported with health, nutrition and education
•    47,050 people in Sierra Leone provided with support during the Ebola outbreak
•    288,811 people in Sudan benefited from medical care
•    37,000 people in Myanmar assisted with food and shelter
•    14,000 people in Iraq provided with emergency aid
•    785 human rights defenders in Guatemala provided with support

Trócaire’s two largest programme areas are livelihoods and emergency response. In 2014/15 the organisation’s emergency programmes benefited 1.1 million people directly and a further 3 million people indirectly, while the livelihoods programmes benefited approximately 795,000 people directly and 1.5 million people indirectly. Trócaire also operates programmes protecting human rights, supporting gender equality and working with people living with HIV. 

You can read the 2014/15 annual report online.

July 16, 2015

No clarity on how governments will finance poverty reduction goals

The Financing for Development Summit in Addis Ababa has ended disappointingly, with wealthy countries refusing to sign-up to the reforms and spending commitments necessary to tackle extreme poverty. 

This summit was a vital moment for the global community to come together and agree on how to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are due to come into effect in January. The SDGs are ambitious in their desire to end extreme poverty, yet the failure to agree on how to finance them does not bode well. 

Developed countries have failed to agree to essential global tax reforms or to commit additional public. Both of these are essential to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Without them, there is no clarity on how government’s plan to finance the ambitious SDG targets.

Lorna Gold, Trócaire’s Head of Policy, was in Addis.

“Unfortunately, it is largely a missed opportunity,” she said. “The outcome document - the Addis Action Agenda - is very short on concrete action points which governments will deliver on. 

“All the civil society groups present have expressed serious disappointment at the refusal of rich countries to grasp this historic moment to put in place a global tax body which will address serious issues around corporate tax avoidance and evasion. Without tackling tax issues, it is impossible to see how poorer countries can develop.”

One positive of the Addis talks has been the commitment of Ireland to reach the target of delivering 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development.  

“Against a backdrop of stagnating development aid and a worrying shift to debt-based financing, Ireland's continued high quality, grant-based aid programme now sets a gold standard,” said Lorna. “We strongly welcome Ireland’s renewed commitment to the aid programme, and recent signals that every effort will be made to get on track towards 0.7% in the next seven years."

You can read more reflections from Addis on Lorna Gold’s personal blog

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