By Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire's Executive Director
2015 will be remembered by many as a year bookended by terror in Paris, but the appalling violence inflicted on the French capital in January and again in November should not blind us to some of the hugely significant and positive developments over the year.
While international summits don’t generally provide too many water cooler moments, 2015 saw three very important such gatherings which will profoundly impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
These summits - in Ethiopia and New York to set new anti-poverty goals and financial agreements to fund them, and later in Paris where the historic global agreement on climate change was agreed – all offered degrees of hope in a year that was so sadly tragic in many other ways.
The refugee crisis caught the world’s attention in September when the body of three year old Aylan Kurdi was washed up on a Turkish beach. The awful image sparked a huge outpouring of emotion and sympathy right across Europe, and led to many European states, including Ireland, taking welcome, if long overdue, steps to respond to the refugee crisis that is already in its fifth year.
Like many others, Trócaire had been trying to highlight this crisis for a long time. The Syrian war will mark its fifth anniversary in March 2016 – sadly, there is no sign of this crisis ending. The world urgently needs to bring peace to Syria to stop the completely unacceptable suffering of the Syrian people.
Petul (11), a Syrian refugee arrives in Presevo refugee centre, Serbia after a long journey and gets aid from Trócaire partner, Caritas Serbia. 2015 has seen record numbers of people displaced by violence around the world.
While conflict displaced millions in Syria, earthquakes forced people in Nepal and Pakistan from their homes.
The earthquake which struck Nepal in April left much of the country devastated. The outpouring of support in Ireland was immediate as people donated money and organised fundraising events to support our efforts to get shelter, food and water to people affected.
That support allowed Trócaire to help get aid to 220,000 people affected by the earthquake. Our work in Nepal continues – long after the cameras are gone, your donations are building permanent, earthquake-resistant houses for people there.
In October, a similar earthquake struck Afghanistan and Pakistan. Again, people in Ireland responded with the urgency that has always characterised their response to humanitarian disaster. We are continuing to work in affected areas in Pakistan to rebuild and restore.
Trócaire's Conor O'Loughlin helping the reflief efforts in Nepal after the devastating earthquake in April.
The refugee crisis and the two earthquakes in Nepal and Pakistan led to Trócaire issuing three humanitarian appeals in 2015. We are immensely grateful for the continued support of so many people across Ireland who have enabled us to make a difference to people suffering through these awful experiences.
Trócaire launches humanitarian interventions to respond to sudden and urgent needs but our long-term development work continues throughout the year. Much of this work is funded by our annual Lenten appeal, which this year focused on the impacts of climate change on farming communities in Ethiopia. We brought you the story of Mahlet and her family who, along with tens of millions of others across Africa, are finding it increasingly difficult to grow enough food due to changing weather patterns.
Mahlet and her family featured on the 2015 Trócaire Lent campaign which highlighted the impact of climate change on rural families in Ethiopia.
Climate change was our major focus for 2015. We are seeing its impacts first-hand and responding to its impacts on a daily basis. While climate change also affects Ireland its impacts are less visible and so we have tried to raise awareness in Ireland of the devastating impact of droughts and extreme weather in the developing world.
In June we held a climate conference in Maynooth that featured addresses by Mary Robinson, Bill McKibben and Professor Jean Pascal Van Ypersele amongst others. The conference generated a lot of attention and helped to shine a spotlight on the issue at a particularly crucial time in Ireland given the drafting of our Climate Bill.
Trócaire has campaigned for several years for climate legislation in Ireland to ensure that we are playing our part in tackling this global crisis. The Climate Bill finally did pass through the Dáil earlier this month, meaning that for the first time Ireland has legislation linked to climate change.
The passing of the Bill coincided with the UN Climate Summit in Paris. The weekend prior to the Summit, over 5,000 people took part in street demonstrations across Ireland organised by Trócaire and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition.
When you consider that over recent months we have seen domestic legislation passed, an international agreement secured and huge public demonstrations calling for increased climate action, it is clear that this has been a very important year for the climate justice movement. Huge work remains over the years ahead but we now have solid building blocks to start this work.
November saw the largest climate-related street demonstrations ever seen in Ireland as thousands came out to demand strong political action.
Our supporters and campaigners will have an important role in continuing to push for climate justice. The climate changes being experienced in the developing world are driving hunger and poverty and we have an obligation and a duty to speak out and hold industrialised nations to account for their role in creating this crisis.
I want to thank all of our supporters for their generosity and commitment over what has been a busy, challenging, but hugely significant, year.
On behalf of Trócaire, I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.