To celebrate International Youth Day (Friday 05 August), we’re launching a special ‘1 in 1.8 billion’ blog series, sharing stories from individuals that make up the world’s 1.8 billion young people.
Bethan Sprout, a climate campaigner with Restless Development, kicks us off with a story about one Malawian community’s battle with the effects of climate change.
Climate change is an issue that affects every country, every body of water, every animal and every human on the planet. It is an environmental issue as well as an economic, social and political problem. For too long people have ignored the pleas of scientists and environmentalists alike and now we are seeing the effects.
ActionAid did a campaign surrounding climate change in the global south. I remember seeing their banners at the Climate Change march in London earlier this year that stated “Worst Hit. Least to Blame.” This made me think.
While humans in the North argue about whether climate change is man-made or just a natural cycle that we cannot do anything to change, there are humans in Bangladesh suffering from the vast floods caused by Cyclone Roanu. Two million people displaced from the coast to keep them out of danger, but what about their livelihoods? The fields full of crop and livestock that are still in the Cyclone zone? Cyclones are a natural process of course, but the problem is that they are increasing in both intensity and number because of increasing sea surface temperature.
I was lucky enough to do a research project in Malawi with my university. We conducted 19 interviews including chiefs, local NGOs and people in the village. The aim of my project was to explore the challenges that the villages faced while engaging in community participation and grassroots development. One of these challenges was climate change.
Malawi is an agricultural country. It is dependent on crops to make money and also to feed it’s population. However, with famine declared, the country is in a state of emergency.
One woman that we interviewed said “there is no food to feed my entire family so sometimes I don’t eat for three days.” The lack of harvest means short term solutions are used to make money to afford food, clothes and education for their children. One of the ways people are doing this is by collecting firewood from the forest to sell at the market. They get up at 4am in the morning to go and collect firewood and return the market by 10am walking 10+ kilometres a day.
However, the forest is an important part of Mulanje because people in the community believe that a strong forest brings good rains. Those who are found to be cutting down trees are fined by the Government and the Mount Mulanje Conservation Trust. This is a positive step to maintaining the habitat of many species but it also puts many people at a loss because they have no money to buy the basics to live.
The Chief of Mbewa stated that “water is life.” This year, irrigation for crops has been negatively affected due to drought. The community cannot expect a good harvest this year because there is little water to feed the crops. Additional to this, very little drinking water is available to the community and what is available is not clean. The Chambe Water Usage Association formed in 2010 to supply clean water to the area at a low cost. They provide pipes to member households and make sure that these are maintained with a constant supply. However, due to low water table, houses are finding that there is not a constant flow of water and they are having to share.
In 2015, torrential rains caused mass flooding in the Mulanje area that destroyed infrastructure including the pipes needed for distribution of drinking water and irrigation. Since these were washed away, it has been a long struggle to build these connections back up due to lack of funding. Chambe Water Usage Association are currently working to build funds in order to buy more pipes so they can carry on the good work to provide clean drinking water to households in the community.
There are projects in the community that focus on educating people on climate change. The Chambe Climate Change and Conservation Committee teach through drama, song and dance about how to save the environment and conserve the forest. When we arrived, they were performing one of their songs with lyrics that translate to “all men and women should stop cutting down trees, burning charcoal and cutting logs of wood to sell.” They are a voluntary group with aims of changing people’s behaviour to save the environment for future generations.
The Mount Mulanje Conservation Trust have structured a plan for disaster response with the Village Protection Committee so that villages are prepared in times of famine. These committees also promote renewable energy by championing the use of fuel stoves and solar panels. They constantly monitor and evaluate all their schemes to make sure they are working.
My short time in Malawi taught me a lot about resilience and battling something that humans have no control over. Even though a lot of the people we interviewed said they had “no hope that things would get better,” they tried their best to push on for the future of their children.
The most important thing I learned was that we should never give up the battle against climate change. We must do anything in our power to change our habits and push for a sustainable future.