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For two decades, I have been working in some of the most poverty stricken areas of East Africa.
Described by the UN as the worst humanitarian crisis in this region since the Second World War, 25 million people faced starvation last summer due to severe drought.
The drought ended in April 2018 (after 2.5 years) and was replaced by devastating floods. People are still trying to recover from both drought and floods, having lost almost everything. Many will never recover. Climate change is the single biggest contributor to these climatic events and we must do everything we can to address this situation.
Next week, the Divestment Bill will come before the Dáíl and it offers a not-to-be-missed opportunity to put Ireland on the right path towards tackling this issue and supporting the most vulnerable people across the world.
Ireland is already seeing the effects of a few weeks without rain with water supply at an all-time low and concerns about a shortage of crops. It is therefore not hard to understand how catastrophic the situation can be when drought continues for years, especially in developing countries, where communities are already facing extreme poverty, disease, conflict and displacement.
While crises due to drought in East Africa may not be a new phenomenon, the frequency and intensity has risen sharply over the past decade. I have seen it on the ground – climate change is decimating the world’s poorest communities.
Rainfall is becoming increasingly unreliable. As a result crops fail, animals die, livelihoods are lost and people have no food to feed their families. Many are forced to flee to the cities where they live in slums in appalling conditions. Extended droughts in countries such as Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia, mean that thousands of people have already died, and millions of people today are facing hunger and are need of aid, just to survive.
Trócaire has been working consistently in East Africa for the last 25 years on humanitarian and development programmes, and it has been hugely successful. We work very effectively with partners in local communities and our teams continue to do fantastic work in very insecure and complex environments. But we have had to further scale up our work to cope with the crisis. Unless world leaders take significant action to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change, all work done by aid agencies and local governments in an attempt to combat hunger will be a never-ending battle.
The people who are doing least to cause climate change are suffering the most, while those with the most power to address it have so far utterly failed to do so. People in Africa feel let down by the damage being done by richer countries and are crying out to us to help. Not only through providing aid and resources, but also, by changing the ways we live and reducing our carbon emissions.
Climate change is a global issue and it requires a global response. It has already contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths and quite simply, the failure of developed countries to act now is a death sentence for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Divestment would be an incredibly important moment for climate justice and many eyes throughout East Africa, and indeed the world, will be on Ireland on 12 July to see if the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill passes through the Dáil.
The Bill, which is the culmination of more than two years’ work by Thomas Pringle TD and his team, seeks to drop coal, oil and gas investments from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).
It would mean Ireland will be leading the way, being the world’s first country to fully divest public money from fossil fuels – the industry which is contributing the most to the climate crisis. A huge step forward, and one Ireland needs to take. Just last month, an EU report ranked Ireland second worst country in Europe for climate action.
Our TDs have the opportunity to change this and make history next week. For the sake of those Trócaire and others work with every day, I urge them to take this landmark first step by supporting the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill.
We must do all we can to prevent climate change from reversing the decades of progress made in efforts to eliminate extreme poverty.