“Rich countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions so that the effects of climate change suffered by (the) poor do not get worse. They also have an obligation to help poor countries adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, which cannot be avoided.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
© Practical Action/Zul
Practical Action is an international development agency working with poor communities to help them choose and use technology to improve their lives today and for generations to come.
Front cover photo: Wind turbine powers a Sri Lankan community
Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire CV23 9QZ, United Kingdom T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 E firstname.lastname@example.org | W www.practicalaction.org Practical Action is the working name of Intermediate Technology Development Group Ltd. Registered Charity No 247257
Catastrophe for the world’s poor?
Climate change: A critical development issue
The impact of climate change is arguably the greatest injustice of our time. The world’s poorest people have contributed least to our changing climate yet they are hardest hit by the devastating effects. Climate change is principally a result of the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil that give off gases such as carbon dioxide. These gases act as a barrier in the atmosphere, trapping the heat of the sun – hence the term ‘greenhouse gas’. Rich countries produce around 25 times more carbon dioxide per head of population than poor nations. Through time, humankind has also destroyed tracts of rainforest, mainly in developing countries, that otherwise act as a ‘carbon sink’, absorbing greenhouse gases. As a result of the trapped gases, the atmosphere warms; seas expand and sea levels rise, causing ocean currents to alter. This in turn changes entire weather systems.
As a result of climate change, rainfall levels in many parts of the developing world are falling. This creates a ‘domino effect’; with less rain, water levels drop in reservoirs or rivers and people have less water to use. The quality of that water deteriorates as sewage and industrial effluent becomes more concentrated; as a result waterborne disease are rife. With a lack of water, vegetation doesn’t grow so livestock have less to graze on. There is also less wood for cooking, so women have to spend more time searching for fuel to cook for the family. But less rainfall is just one side of the story; an equally serious consequence is less predictable rain – in other words more uncertainty. This is already being felt in Southern Africa where changes in the patterns of the rainy season are making farming even more difficult.
“We know the climate is changing. This time of year ten years ago we would not have been able to stand here, as it would be flowing with water. Now it is dry; and we are supposedly in the middle of a rainy season.” Jeremiah Tmororo, Kenya
Impact on the poor
© Practical Action/Kuda Murwira
M A cow in Zimbabwe dies from a lack of food and water
Efforts to tackle poverty are being undermined by climate change. A change in rainfall pattern can mean that farmers’ crops fail to mature and communities go hungry; increasingly severe floods and storms are devastating families’ homes and livelihoods year after year. Poor communities who are already struggling with the burden of poverty have to cope with more and more frequent extreme weather events. According to the World Health Organisation, an extra 5 million serious illnesses and 150,000 deaths globally each year are caused by climate change.
Practical Action to challenge and adapt
Energising poverty reduction
The provision of energy is critical to help people escape poverty. It cooks the food we eat. It lights homes so that children can study in the evening. It keeps vaccines cool. It powers businesses. It keeps us warm – or cool – in our homes. Yet over 2 billion people around the world have no modern energy services; 80% of people in Sub Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity. Those without power usually live in remote rural or poor urban areas. Energy is fundamental to the great challenge facing the world at the beginning of the 21st Century. If the international community is truly committed to eliminating poverty it cannot deny poor people the right to use energy, in the same way that the industrialised world has relied on it to grow and develop. But how can we eradicate poverty and halt climate change? Practical Action’s experience shows that these two goals need not be in conflict – indeed, they can be achieved in tandem. There is huge potential for ‘win:win’ renewable energy to provide clean, appropriate and efficient energy to the world’s poorest people. In Peru, Practical Action is working with rural communities to develop micro-hydro schemes that harness the power of small streams to produce electricity. The schemes have benefited 15,000 people; each small generator provides enough electricity for up to a thousand people. In Sri Lanka Practical Action is piloting small-scale wind power schemes, where communities learn how to maintain the wind turbine that helps power their village (see cover photo). These examples illustrate how energy options such as wind power and micro-hydro can go some way to powering development without costing the earth. But more needs to be done.
© Practical Action/Crispin Hughes
L Flood damage in Bangladesh
As a low-lying delta, much of the land in Bangladesh is barely above sea level and is intersected by 230 rivers. Half of its 140 million people live below the poverty line and many of the poorest live in the most vulnerable areas – for example 2 million people have set up home on riverbanks. Sea levels are rising and monsoon downpours are heavier, leading to more flooding. As a result, the poorest people in Bangladesh are suffering most; their homes are destroyed and their land – the very land that provides their family with food is washed away.
© Practical Action/Janet Boston
L A micro-hydro power scheme,
supplying a Kenyan village with sustainable electricity to light homes
Helping people to cope
Around the world, Practical Action is working together with people to help them adapt to the effects of climate change. In Gwanda, a semi-arid area in western Zimbabwe, we have worked with rural people to develop methods for capturing scarce rain. By constructing ridges of soil along the contours of fields, rainfall is held back from running off the hard-baked soils too quickly, so that crops have enough water to grow. Even when rainfall levels are low, families can harvest enough food. In Bangladesh, Practical Action is working with people to help them adapt to the impact of flooding. In the Faridpur District, communities have built flood proof housing that is raised from the ground on plinths, with resilient walls made of bamboo. In Gaibandha, Bangladesh, we are working to help people make a living that doesn’t depend on land prone to flooding.
The need for urgent action
Practical Action draws on 40 years of rich experience working with people around the world to build practical solutions, share learning and influence decision makers. Action to tackle climate change is urgent and necessary. We need to end our present collision course and evolve a new lifestyle, a new vision of our future – one designed for permanence. Climate change is a reality. The world’s poorest people are facing its very real and immediate impact. Practical Action’s founder and author of Small is Beautiful – Fritz Schumacher, said ‘to talk about the future is only useful if it leads to action now’. Climate change demands immediate action from all of us now.
Stop Climate Chaos
Along with WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Christian Aid and others, we are proud to be a member of the ‘Stop Climate Chaos’ campaigning coalition. The network aims to build pressure for political action to stop climate change. It calls for the government to cut the UK's global warming gas emissions and to make tackling climate change a key part of its plans to deal with global poverty.
M Flood proof housing in Bangladesh
© Practical Action/Zul
If you would like to be informed about Practical Action’s work on climate change and other issues please write to Carol Reesby: email@example.com or call: 01926 634506
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