Blue skies may be top of an Irish person’s wish list for the summer, but in Ethiopia months of dry heat make it difficult for people to grow food to survive.
The changing climate has led to longer dry spells, with rain falling intermittently, if at all.
For people like Philpos Funto (32), blue skies and dry soil can lead to empty plates and hungry stomachs.
Caption: Philpos Funto (32) shows us some of his crop, Ethiopia. Photos: Tamiru Legesse.
“Many people run out of crops and food in March and April and have to wait until the following harvest season which is in September and October,” he says.
Trócaire funded a project which gave people like Philpos the materials necessary to build water wells. The wells store water all year round, ensuring that farmers are not reliant on rains that often do not materialise.
Not only have the wells secured water for Philpos, his wife, Agnu, and their five children, but it has also allowed the family to grow different types of vegetables, improving their nutritional intake.
“Before this water well was constructed, I was growing vegetables only during the rainy season which is once a year,” he says. “Now, I can grow them two or three times a year using water from this well.”
As well as ensuring the family does not go hungry, the well has helped Philpos to produce enough food to sell at the local market. What he earns at the market is invested into his children’s education.
From a situation of hunger, the family is now looking to the future with hope and positivity.
“A few years ago, it was just a dream for me to be able to sell produce at the market,” he says. “My savings are not large, but I have managed to give my children what they need for their education.”
Trócaire supporter Siobhan Hughes blogs about Ireland’s need for a strong position on climate change and and her recent experiences on a visit to affected communities in El Salvador.
Floods, droughts, storms and heat waves are regularly in the news. While the media and Hollywood have exposed us to the horrific reality of climate-related disasters, we know little of the everyday effect climate change is having on people’s lives.
People who depend on farming as their main source of food and income are at risk. Everyday, these are the people who face new obstacles and new barriers preventing them from sourcing enough food for their families.
Yet, these are the people that often get forgotten about.
Last November, I travelled to El Salvador to see first-hand the impact of climate change on communities there.
In El Salvador, I met some of the most passionate people I have ever come across. ‘Solidarity’ was a word that was frequently used - solidarity with one another and with the international community to fight climate change.
Ricardo Navarro of CESTA (Friends of the Earth, El Salvador) described the situation in El Salvador, saying that “when we talk about climate change, we don’t talk about adaption, we talk about survival”.
That is what I saw. I saw a struggle for survival, for dignity and for life.
Dying mangroves, flooding and drought are heavily impacting those who rely on farming to survive.
The issue is so big that people sometimes do not know how to respond, insisting that they alone cannot influence climate change or impact those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Salvadorans are fighting and continuing to struggle with passion and commitment and we need to do the same.
And there is something we can all do.
The UN’s climate chief has insisted that governments need to enact domestic laws on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions if international efforts to slow global warming are to be effective.
Trócaire’s current campaign on climate change asks for just that.
Trócaire is demanding a strong Irish climate law. We need to be the ones who struggle and fight for the survival of people worldwide and initiate action.
Trócaire joins Irish and UK development agencies in brand new, high-profile campaign.
Launched today, in Dublin, Belfast, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, ‘Enough Food For Everyone IF’ challenges world politicians to take the necessary steps to end the scandal of hunger.
Caption: Launch of IF campaign in Belfast today
Right now 870 million people – one in every eight people on the planet - do not have enough food, while over 500 million are considered obese.
Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, Malaria and TB combined. A lack of food keeps children out of school and prevents communities from developing.
But what if things were different?
What if we acknowledged that there is enough food for everyone?
What if we decided to overhaul the food system to make sure that nobody went hungry?
Trócaire is taking part in a new campaign is asking these very questions. The Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign is the biggest coming together of Irish and UK development agencies since Make Poverty History in 2005.
There is enough food for everyone:
IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger, and help the poorest people feed themselves through investment in small farmers.
IF we stop big companies dodging taxes on the profits they make overseas, so that the poorest countries have the resources and infrastructure to free themselves of hunger.
IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land, and use the available agricultural land to grow food for people, not to grow biofuels for cars.
IF we force governments and big corporations to be honest and open about the actions they take that stop people getting enough food.
In the past 10 years more than 50 million children have started going to school in sub-‐Saharan Africa, global deaths from measles have fallen by almost 75 per cent, 50 per cent fewer women die in childbirth and two billion more people have access to clean water.
Real progress is being made, but there is so much more to do.
Small scale farmers, who produce most of the world’s food, are suffering from lack of investment and the devastating impacts of climate change.
Trócaire has been campaigning for strong climate legislation in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to ensure that both governments play their part in tackling the climate crisis so that our actions do no further harm to those in developing countries most severely impacted by climate change.
For the first week of this month, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit El Salvador with Trócaire.
We visited marginalised communities all over the country, communities at various stages of organisation and needs. Some communities were very much in need of aid to help with basic survival, others were more organised and were building resilient livelihoods for themselves.
The country is prone to disasters such as earthquakes – in fact, there was a tremor in San Salvador the day we left, from a large and destructive earthquake in neighbouring Guatemala, which has left over 10,000 homeless and dozens dead already. Hurricanes too are regular in this region.
Natural disasters are compounded by the extra extremes of climate change. According to the IPCC's 4th report from 2007, “the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes increased by about 75% since 1970.” Weather patterns are more erratic and less predictable, as experts have predicted.
Trocaire support various NGOs on the ground in El Salvador. These NGOs are partners who help rural, marginalised communities to survive, cope and then hopefully thrive.
What was most surprising, from my own perspective, was how the communities themselves all used organic methods to try to adapt to the worst effects of climate change.
Importantly, this was not 'business-as-usual' subsistence farming. Instead the communities we visited, to varying degrees, were involved in an organised, learning led and NGO supported step up from subsistence and into agro-ecological food production techniques.
Agro-ecology involves producing food using locally available and affordable techniques and inputs, ones which involve environmentally sound principles. Inputs should break down easily in the environment and not be persistent and toxic to nature or people, for example. Agro ecology also involves growing a wide variety of crops using rotations, often companion planted with a variety of fruiting and other trees.
All of these methods help to build soil structure and quality, which in turns makes communities more secure in their food supply. This holds for those who are just surviving, and also for those trying to produce food not just for their own community but also to sell on for much needed income.
One such community was called Los Montes Cascieres. This community is in Cuisnahaut, in the east of El Salvador, the country's third poorest municipality.
Manuel Montes Careas, 43, is the President of a network of 127 small farmers in the community of Los Montes Cascieres.
Manuel explained that the community had much less rain than normal between March and May this year, which meant they lost 50% of their crops. “We are measuring the rainfall now to understand the changes.”
He says the changing climate is forcing farmers to find new ways to adapt if they are to survive.
“In October this year we had 110 millimetres of rain in one and a half hours, the river flooded and all the small plants we were cultivating were lost.”
Rain fall patterns here are now extraordinarily erratic. Despite downpours, including disastrous downpours just before crop harvesting time, overall rainfall was lower than usual for the growing season.
With support from Trocaire’s partner El Balsamo the farmers network are producing all their own organic fertilisers for their crops, rather than going into debt to purchase expensive synthetic fertilisers.
“The soil and the crops are more resistant to rain than in areas where chemical fertilisers are being used. The soil also has more nutrient value.” Manuel explained.
“Using organic fertilisers and diversifying our crops is helping us to overcome the challenges of climate change. The soil is sandy and the organic fertiliser increases the soils capacity to absorb water and nutrients meaning if we get enough rain we will have a better harvest. We are also diversifying the crops we sow so we are less reliant on individual crops in case of future weather events”.
Supporting organisations like Trocaire means supporting this sort of work in the places its most needed.
Captions: Top left and bottom. Fedelina Ramos Arhoeta lives in the area of Cantón San Lucas in the municipality of Sonsonate, one of the poorest in El Salvador. Photos by Conor O'Loughlin. Top middle and right: Fedelina and Manuel Montes. Photos by Michelle Moore.
This article orginally appeared in the Examiner on Nov 15, 2012.
Located on the Pacific Coast of El Salvador, La Tirana is heavily isolated; an hour's drive from the nearest tarmacked road. Just 24 families live here, having returned to the territory in 1992 after being displaced during the Civil War. Traditionally, their livelihoods depend on the catching of crabs from the waters of the nearby mangrove forest, the largest on the America's Pacific coast.
Globally, sea levels have increased by approximately 20cms over the past century. Local experts suspect El Salvador's rises may be slightly higher.
Mangroves consist of a delicate balance of fresh and salt water. Rising sea levels at La Tirana have increased salt water in the mangrove system. The water is accompanied by sand, which drys the roots and ultimately kills off the trees. This has led to fewer and fewer crabs.
We witnessed a 30 metre long stretch of dead mangrove trees along a stretch once alive and well; a haunting collection of entangled stumps that sends a depressing message about the future of this community.
Left Image: Healthy mangrove trees, which are vital to the people of La Tirana Right Image: Dead mangrove trees stretch towards the remaining forest; a haunting and stark message about the future of La Tirana.
This damage isn't isolated. Looking along the beach, we found the same morbid landscape stretched across several kilometres, a scar on an otherwise utterly unspoilt paradise:
Kilometres of dead mangroves scar an otherwise unspoilt paradise
The president of the local committee, Nuam Diaz, told us that for the people of La Tirana, "climate change is a question of survival." Diaz and his community share a sense of abandonment. Help from Trócaire is the only outside assistance their urgent situation has received.
In El Salvador, like elsewhere, Trocaire prefers to work heavily with local groups, ensuring that money is spent in the most efficient possible way, but also allowing knowledgeable locals to implement effective local solutions. In this case, that has meant helping the people of La Tirana diversify food production to help them survive the increasing sustainability problems of the mangroves. Diaz invites us into his own house, revealing some typical problems El Salvador's poor, agricultural and fishing communities face.
La Tirana's soil is poor quality but with the addition of a hand-pumped well, Diaz has been able to develop a small allotment and grow fruit and vegetables.
Small allotments allow the people of La Tirana to grow fruit and vegetables
The addition of a solar panel has made Diaz' modest house more environmentally neutral and prevented the dangerous long-term inhalation of candle fumes. A low-smoke cooker offers similar air quality benefits.
CESTA, Trócaire’s local partner, has donated a nearby area of land to allow the people of La Tirana to collectively farm maize, which offers an alternative source of food and income alongside crab fishing. In turn, this has also enabled the keeping of chickens, providing eggs, meat and another source of income.
In a parallel universe - one without these outside influences - the simple yet beautiful lifestyle this small community enjoys would need little support.
Reality, however, persists: La Tirana's problems all originate elsewhere, and with sea levels and temperatures expected to rise by far more than they already have in the next few decades, the community has more problems just around the corner. The story of La Tirana's is far from a one off. In nearly a dozen community visits this week, we've seen the extensive and varied problems faced by poor, struggling communities. The stories were all different, all gut-wrenchingly hard-hitting, and all traceable back to the same key factor: climate change.
El Salvador suffers some of the worst climate change consequences found anywhere in the world, yet Central America is responsible for only 0.3% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. The simple fact is El Salvador simply can't deal with its problems internally.
Ireland, in contrast, has one of the worst per capita Carbon Dioxide emission rates in the world. Change starts small, and after seeing what I've seen this week, the seriousness with which I treat my own behaviour starts - and will grow - from here. If you'd been to La Tirana, you'd certainly be doing the same. We need to think bigger, too. As well as making alterations to your own lifestyle, you can help pressure the Irish government into introducing legislation to reduce the changes we're inflicting upon others. You can start by signing Trocaire's climate change petition here
That has to be just the start: we might not be able to point to an individual and we might not personally witness the effects of our changes as strongly as others will, but La Tirana leaves no doubt: collectively, our behaviour is becoming a death sentence.
I will never forget the shocking scenes I witnessed in east Africa last summer. Mothers, fathers and children left facing days on end with no food, weak from hunger and desperate in the knowledge that it would be months before the rains came.
There was a hopelessness in people’s eyes as they stared out at their barren land and empty animal pens. Drought had deprived them of food, of animals, of income. They were left with nothing.
One year ago today Trócaire asked for your help in getting emergency relief to those people. You responded in an incredible fashion. In total, €10.4m was donated to our emergency appeal. Every cent received was ringfenced for the people of east Africa.
Top: Left - Beatrice Wanjiru, who has received goats, crops and food through Trócaire's east Africa appeal. Right and Bottom: Sabina Kangaria (36) from Kathandeni village, Tharaka District. Photos: Eoghan Rice.
Your donations allowed us to bring life-saving aid to over 400,000 people across Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Amongst the projects your money funded were:
• 4,657 tonnes of food and 261,062 litres of oil supplied to 110,882 people in Kenya • Drought resistant seeds supplied to 50,000 people in Kenya and Somalia. • 60 water tanks, 22 wells, 12 rain water catchments and 4 boreholes constructed or rehabilitated. • 52,260 in Ethiopia benefitting from cash for work or direct cash transfers • Food and grain distributed to 30,000 people in Ethiopia • 4,000 bed nets provided to communities vulnerable to malaria in Somalia • 82,500 water treatment tablets distributed to 2,750 households in Somalia • Food vouchers supplied to 35,486 people in Somalia, giving them access to food each day for five months • 33,346 people in Somalia given water vouchers, providing them with clean water over a three month period • 2,874 patients and carers in two hospitals were supplied with two meals a day • 1,833 pregnant women or new mothers supplied with rations of Unimix
Behind each of those figures stands a person. Somebody like Beatrice Wanjiru, from the village of Kabururu in central Kenya, who told us:
“We had no goats, no crops, no tools and no money. We had no food and I did not have enough energy to work. Trócaire has given us two goats, as well as seeds and tools. This has boosted us a great deal and soon we will have enough food to sell at the market. We are very grateful for what we received because beforehand we had nothing.”
In the nearby village of Kathandeni, Sabina Kangaria Mojila tells a similar story: “Our crops did not grow because of the drought. People had to sell their livestock just to survive, but even then old people in the village died. The food aid we received saved lives. It also meant that we could do work instead of having to look for food, and the children could go to school.” It is thanks to your help that people like Beatrice and Sabina were helped through last summer’s devastating drought.
And your help does not stop there.
Sadly, drought is not a once-off event. As the effects of climate change worsen, we know that drought will return.
We need to make sure people like Beatrice and Sabina can survive through periods of drought. That is why Trócaire is funding a massive irrigation project in their district, which will bring clean water directly to over 10,000 people.
This project will mean that people in the villages around Kathandeni and Kabururu will no longer have to walk for hours each day to provide their families with clean water.
But it means more than that. It means that when the rains fail, people in these villages will be safe in the knowledge that water will be transported directly from the river to their crops. Crops will grow despite the drought, and where crops grow people can live. Like the emergency relief that kept so many people alive, this irrigation project is possible only because people in Ireland support it.
Your incredible generosity is saving lives and making a better future for people in east Africa.
The equivalent of the combined populations of Cork, Limerick and Galway cities die every year as a result of factors relating to climate change. As world leaders meet in Rio this week to discuss sustainable development, they must put aside short-term political concerns and start addressing the long-term risk to life on this planet.
It’s time we all got real about climate change. It isn’t an abstract scientific notion – it is a very real threat to the future of life on this planet and poor people in developing countries are already being hit hardest. Global figures indicate that over 300,000 people around the world die each year from climate change-related issues and that figure is expected to rise to 500,000 by 2030. What will it take before the world faces up to tackling the challenges of climate change?
Attempts to reduce poverty around the world are being fundamentally undermined by climate change, yet the world appears unwilling to respond with the urgency that is required. This problem simply cannot be ignored any longer.
We are today launching the results of a two-year research project into the impact of climate change on communities in four countries: Kenya, Malawi, Honduras and Bolivia.
What we have found is shocking. Our research reaffirms the fact that poverty and hunger are being intensified by rises in temperature and increases in drought and storms. Farms are being forced to cut their livestock numbers and in many cases move out of farming altogether.
This research highlights the fact that the people being hit hardest by climate change are the people with the least ability to respond. The impacts of climate change are being felt around the world but it is the poorest people on the planet who are being hit hardest.
A short sunny spell in Ireland has already led to calls for people to be careful how much water they use in case of shortages.
Just as the freeze of two winters ago led to frozen pipes in many Irish homes, even the possibility of water shortages this summer reminds us of just how dependant we are on functioning taps. Cooking, washing and cleaning all require easy access to water – when that access stops, normal life grinds to a halt very quickly.
But what if we lived with permanent water shortages? What if every morning we had to rise at 5am and walk for miles to bring water back to our houses? And what if the rivers around us were slowly drying up and water was becoming harder and harder to find?
This is the reality faced by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
We take water for granted to such an extent that it is easy to forget just how important it is. As the saying goes, water is life.
Top -left: Elizabeth Lomoe displays some of the crops that grow all year round thanks to a Trocaire-funded irrigation system on her farm in Nakwalekwi, northern Kenya
Top -right: A Trocaire-funded water pump in the village of Sattar Dino, Dadu
Bottom: This Trócaire-funded water pipe, which stretches for 27km, will bring water directly to 9,000 people in the Tharaka District of Kenya (Photo: Eoghan Rice / Trócaire)
In communities across Asia, Africa and Latin America, water is becoming increasingly scarce. Rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall means that many of the rivers and wells which communities relied on are, quite literally, disappearing into thin air.
In northern Kenya last summer I watched women dig five foot holes into what was once a riverbed in search of the last remaining drops. That river once supplied their water needs but now it is gone.
There are so many knock-on effects from not having water. For a start, without water you cannot grow crops. You cannot keep animals alive. Then there are the health problems brought on by drinking whatever dirty water you do manage to find, not to mention the neglect of school work as children spend hours walking in search of water. And that isn’t even mentioning the potential for conflict between communities battling for access to fewer and fewer rivers.
So you can’t grow food, can’t cook, can’t keep animals, you get sick, your children don’t go to school and you come into conflict with neighbours.
In short, without water you simply can’t live.
I have seen the problems real water shortages cause but I have also seen the incredible benefits of Trócaire’s water projects.
All the problems outlined above can be wiped away by a proper irrigation system, which digs into the ground and produces water for families.
I have seen water storage tanks put into schools, meaning children don’t have to bring gallons of water with them each morning. I have seen pipes laid linking villages to rivers, meaning families don’t have to walk for miles every day in search of water.
Incredibly, this fundamental change can be made to people’s lives so easily. A gift of €7 a month will secure water for two families in Africa, while a once-off gift of €150 will provide an irrigation pump to a village.
The difference these projects make on people’s lives is immeasurable. They can feed themselves, they can build their animals stocks, they can protect themselves against illness and ensure a good education for their children.
Caption: Trócaire has used Irish donations to fund vital agriculture programmes in regions such as Ishiara in Kenya. Photo: Eoghan Rice.
What a difference the rain can make. When I visited Tharaka, a four hour drive north of Nairobi, in April, the land was brown and dry. The shrivelled corpses of burnt trees lined the hard and dusty tracks.
The crops were dead, the animals were dying, and the people were scared.
In a blog on the Trócaire website, I wrote: ‘The lush green fields that surround Nairobi mask Kenya’s emerging crisis: a food shortage in the northern regions of the country that is rapidly descending into famine.’
You didn’t need an early warning system to see that hunger was coming to east Africa; you just needed a pair of eyes.
Two months later, the United Nations issued a massive international appeal for the people of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Thirteen million people – among them the people I had met in Tharaka – unable to survive without outside aid.
It’s November and we are back in Tharaka. The trees are green; grass and crops spring from the ground; goats happily munch on plentiful bushes. It is like a different world.
The change has been brought about by rain – so often the missing ingredient in east Africa’s attempts to feed itself. After going a year and a half without any rainfall, the Tharaka soil has finally felt moisture over the last number of weeks, bringing life back to the earth.
Captions: Tharaka in Kenya in April 2011 during the drought and again in November after the first rain in the area for 18 months. Photos: Eoghan Rice.
The rain has allowed crops to grow and animals to live. Those crops and animals will keep the people of Tharaka alive and healthy.
But where did these crops and animals come from? The answer is simple: you.
You gave to Trócaire, and Trócaire used your donations to purchase food, crops and animals for people in Tharaka and throughout east Africa.
Across the fields and homes of Tharaka, evidence of Irish generosity is everywhere. Ireland is known around the world for a variety of reasons – our music, our books, our scenery, to name but a few. In Tharaka, the people we spoke with knew just two snippets of information about this far away land: the first that it is very cold, the second that the people of Ireland saved their lives.
Top right: Bishop Kieran O'Reilly of Killaloe with Beatrice Wanjiru, who has received goats, crops and food through Trócaire's east Africa appeal.
Top left: this Trócaire-funded water pipe, which stretches for 27km, will bring water directly to 9,000 people in the Tharaka District of Kenya.
Bottom: Trócaire's Up to Us climate change campaign t-shirt makes its way to a Kenyan village. Photos: Eoghan Rice.
The crisis in east Africa is far from over, but in places such as Tharaka the people have been kept alive through the drought by outside aid. If the rains continue for the next month, soon they will be able to harvest their crops and will be once again able to provide for themselves.
The rain has made a massive difference to the lives of people in Tharaka, but so have you.
Kenya's Green shoots
We responded to the crisis in East Africa as part of Caritas, the worldwide Catholic network of humanitarian aid agencies. Together Caritas agencies helped over one million people during the crisis. See how we helped here.
Andrew Lodio has nowhere to go. Drought has ravaged his land, bringing dry desert all around him. A sea of dust stretches out before him for thousands of miles.
Andrew can hardly remember the last time he saw rain. His village of Lokitaung in northern Kenya has become engulfed by desert. Where once there were rivers, now there are valleys of dust.
Life in northern Kenya has become a constant search for water. Water for the crops, water for the animals, water for cooking. But there is no water anywhere.
Photo: Andrew from Kenya and Gulshad from Pakistan. Two people, one problem.
“The last two years there has been no rain,” he says. “There have been droughts here before but never like this one. This one is worse because it is all over the region. Normally if it is bad here we can go somewhere else, but now it is bad all over. There is nowhere to go.”
Over two thousand miles away, Gulshad Chandio searches for space in an over-crowded tent.
Eight-year-old Gulshad and her entire family have lived in this tent for a year, ever since floods struck Pakistan and destroyed their every possession.
The floods were caused by melting ice high in the mountains to the north of Pakistan. The melting ice combined with unusually high levels of rain and washed through the country, forcing 20 million people from their homes.
"Before the flood, we were hearing about the threat through the media and through friends," she remembers. "We were very afraid because we knew that it was coming our way."
"I live in a tent with my parents and three brothers and sisters. It is very hot in the tent so I don't like it. I want to go home because I miss my hometown and my friends, but we are all very scared that the floods will come back this year so we cannot go home."
Gulshad was right to fear further flooding. Three months after expressing her fears to Trócaire, Pakistan was once again facing serious flooding, with five million people driven from their homes.
Huge areas of land throughout Asia were affected. Across Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia, millions of people had to flee as their homes and lives were destroyed by floods.
Just as Andrew Lodio faces an uncertain future due to drought, the floods which have ruined large areas of Pakistan for two years running mean that 8-year-old Gulshad Chandio does not know when she will be able to re-start her life.
Two people separated by over two thousand miles. Both victims of climate change.
To highlight the issue, two of Trócaire’s leading climate change partners are in Ireland and will give a public talk in Dublin’s Buswells Hotel on Thursday, October 13th.
John Kioli Kalua (pictured right) and Cecilia Kibe Muthoni (left), both members of The Kenya Climate Change Working Group, are in Ireland meeting with the public and speaking at universities.
John and Celia will be outlining the problems caused by climate change to politicians and will meet with Mary Robinson during their visit.
At their talk in Dublin's Alexander hotel, John and Celia will discuss their involvement in the Kenya Climate Change Bill and the impact climate change is having on rural communities in east Africa.
The talk begins at 3.30pm and will continue to 5.15pm.
If you'd like to help, you can take our e-action to help address the problems caused by climate change.