Snapshots from the front lines of the climate crisis
🌐 An antidote to COP business.
Analysis and global perspectives in health, development, planet.
They’re among voices less heard.
We’ve been hearing a lot about climate action—or inaction—from diplomatic circles and analysts over the past month of dissecting the business of COP26. (See highlights from the weekly Briefings below.)
Today, let's hear from people whose lives are already jolted by climate change.
Simione Botu, Fiji
As told by Alister Doyle in The Great Melt: Accounts from the Frontline of Climate Change (The History Press)
An old lump of concrete and a few wooden posts jutting out of the brownish sand of a beach shaded by coconut palms. This is all that remains of the boyhood home of Simione Botu, head of Vunidogoloa village in eastern Fiji. He has already moved inland – not once, but twice – to escape worsening floods along the coast.
Vunidogoloa is reported to be the first village in Fiji—perhaps in the world—to move inland by 2km because of sea level rise.
Botu himself is one of a vanishingly small group of people anywhere who have been forced to move from two homes because of coastal flooding.
“No matter what we did, the water came through the village,” Botu said of repeated attempts to hold back the sea and the estuary snaking through the village, with makeshift walls. Sea water intrusion disrupted agriculture and the cultivation of coconut, breadfruit and banana trees.
Fiji is often a leader in climate policies—it was the first nation anywhere to formally ratify the Paris Agreement. And it is among those least responsible for climate change—Fiji emits a miniscule 0.006 per cent of global greenhouse gases.
Sunil Kandar, Ghoramara Island, India
As told by Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizur Rahman in ‘The island has been shrinking’: Living on the frontline of global heating (The Guardian)
“Our island is located at the mouth of a river coming from the north. The northern edge of the island began sinking bit by bit under the river water when I was a child. Then, 20 or 25 years ago, the sea began eating away land around the southern edge of the island where we lived.”
“Once I owned four acres of farmland. In the past 20 years, three-quarters of it has been lost under the sea. This year I have been forced to buy rice for us, for the first time in my life.”
“Oceanographers and other experts came to the island and conducted studies five years ago. They said the water level around the island is rising and it will perhaps completely vanish underwater by 2050. But in the past five years, the island has been shrinking. I think Ghoramara will disappear underwater within 10 or 15 years.”
Abdus Satter, Bangladesh
As told by Julhas Alam and Aniruddha Ghosal in Bangladesh’s villages bear the brutal cost of climate change (Associated Press)
With each tide, Abdus Satter watches the sea erode a little more of his life.
His village of Bonnotola in southwestern Bangladesh, with its muddy roads and tin-roofed houses, was once home to over 2,000 people. Most were farmers like the 58-year-old Satter. Then the rising seas poisoned the soil with salt water. Two cyclones in the last two years destroyed the mud embankments that shielded the village from tidal waves.
Now, only 480 people remain, with the rest rendered homeless by the sea.
Daharu Isah, Nigeria
As told by Orji Sunday in ‘The weather keeps playing tricks’: living on the frontline of global heating (The Guardian)
“When I was a child, I had big dreams of being a farmer.
In those days, the farms had enough rain, were even waterlogged occasionally. There were labyrinths of streams that survived till the dry season, when our farms needed irrigation. There were pastures, too, for the sheep and cattle, enough for pastoralists.
Today, however, I have lost that control and certainty regarding the weather. In fact, the weather keeps playing tricks on me and other farmers. This year, for example, I might incur a huge loss on my rice farm because the rain abruptly stopped a month ago, instead of in November. The rice hasn’t matured.
I don’t speak for myself alone: other farmers suffer, too, and a lot of my friends have left farming.
I am contemplating quitting farming already, because my income is rarely enough to cover my family’s living costs.”
Nget Srey, Cambodia
As told by Sun Narin and Lors Liblib in In Coastal Cambodia, Climate Change Kills Rice Crops With Salt Water (Voice Of America)
Last year, Nget Srey’s paddy was almost ready to harvest when her 2½-hectare field became inundated with seawater, wiping out her crops, slashing her main source of income and destroying her way of life.
Nget Srey and her neighbors, like other coastal farmers around the world, are feeling the effects of saltwater intrusion, a phenomenon in which seawater infiltrates freshwater sources such as groundwater, rivers and aquifers. Today, a combination of unchecked development and climate change is accelerating the process.
Wang Yuetang, China
As told by Christina Larson and Emily Wang Fujiyama in ‘Ordinary people suffer most’: China farms face climate woes (Associated Press)
Wang Yuetang’s sneakers sink into the mud of what was once his thriving corn and peanut farm as he surveys the damage done by an unstable climate.
Three months after torrential rains flooded much of central China’s Henan province, stretches of the country’s flat agricultural heartland are still submerged in several inches of water. It’s one of the many calamities around the world that are giving urgency to the U.N. climate summit underway in Glasgow, Scotland.
”There is nothing this year. It’s all gone,” Wang said. “Farmers on the lowland basically have no harvest, nothing.” He lost his summer crop to floods, and in late October the ground was still too wet to plant the next season’s crop, winter wheat
The flooding disaster is the worst that farmers in Henan like Wang can remember in 40 years — but it is also a preview of the kind of extreme conditions the country is likely to face as the planet warms and the weather patterns growers depend upon are increasingly destabilized.
Claudelice dos Santos, Brazil
As told by Tom Phillips in ‘Environmental defenders are being killed’: Living on the frontline of global heating. (The Guardian)
“What’s crucial is our capacity for resilience. And our ability to stand up and say: “I’ll fight. I’ll denounce things. I’ll ask the international community to pay attention. I will not remain silent.”
We’ve reached the limit of everything. Nature’s limit. The limit of our own strength. But we are still alive and we will continue to resist.”
This excerpt from Alister Doyle’s book reminded me of Ilan Kelman’s caution, in our interview back in September, on climate change as a scapegoat.
“Seas are rising around the world. What’s so special about Fiji’s coastline? Why isn’t everyone moving inland everywhere if things are so bad?
For climate sceptics, that question is often a sneaky foot in the door to raise doubts on how far sea level rise is a factor, or whether it’s even happening at all.
From West Africa to Alaska in the US, scientists say a nasty cocktail of factors is forcing relocations from the coast. In some cases, it’s down to natural subsidence and other changes that have been happening for centuries but in others it’s down to us—a blend of more powerful storms, shifting ocean currents and sea level rise linked to human greenhouse gas emissions. In cases like Vunidogoloa, sea level rise is the proverbial last straw—or perhaps bale of straw—that breaks the camel’s back and makes a vulnerable place uninhabitable.”
TREND TO WATCH
An investigation released during COP26 by the Washington Post revealed a massive gap between the greenhouse-gas emissions countries are reporting, and what they're actually emitting. The Post analysed data from nearly 200 countries, conducted over several months. At its highest estimate, the under-reporting amounts to 13.3 billion tons a year, which is almost equivalent to China's annual emissions. The main reason for the gap appears to be overestimating—or misrepresenting—how much carbon is absorbed by land or offset by activities such as planting trees. Watch out for the tricky business of carbon accounting getting more tech-heavy and more visible on the climate agenda, not least because of another small step of progress in Glasgow: negotiations on Article 6 of the agreement, which aimed to make it more lucrative to keep trees standing.
UNDER THE RADAR
Next year we are likely to see a shortfall of between one to two billion syringes, which are needed to provide Covid-19 vaccines, according to the WHO. The shortage could also impact routine immunisations.
*Based on Briefings published November 9 & November 16
Covaxin, India’s homegrown COVID jab, ‘highly efficacious’ - Al Jazeera
African scientists race to test Covid drugs—but face major hurdles - Nature
Cholera: Nigeria records four new deaths as cases hit 100,057 - Premium Times
India's latest Zika outbreak sees surge of nearly 100 cases - Reuters
Indonesia leads the way in restoring coral reefs - Al Jazeera
‘Flash’ droughts are quick-drying farm fields globally - Nature
🎥 VISUAL | Dams and drought choke Syria’s water supply - Guardian
HUMANITARIAN & HUMAN RIGHTS
UN warns of ‘dire’ economic situation in Palestinian Authority’s areas - Al-Awsat
Venezuela faces landmark ICC investigation over alleged crimes against humanity - Guardian
WFP warns 3 million more now ‘teetering on the edge of famine’ - UN News
Nearly a third of Uganda’s students may never return to school - NYT
How Facebook is stoking a civil war in Ethiopia - Vice
Indonesian court allows internet blocking amid social unrest - Global Voices
How climate change is disproportionately affecting girls in low-income countries - WaPo
Clutching graveyard crosses, hundreds protest violence against women in Mexico - TRF
🎥 VISUAL | The women on Bangladesh’s climate front lines: Snapshots of how disasters affect rural women - TNH
From the week’s global soundtrack 🌐
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