Climate Change Leaves Its Mark On Citizens Worldwide
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, activist Greg Mortenson explains how he has managed to build nearly 80 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but first, global warming.
Now, you've probably heard those two words 1,000 times, but many of the stories about it have explored global warming's effects on polar bears, or species of fish or the rain forest, but not so much the contemporary effects on people. So today we wanted to talk about the human face of climate change.
Joining us now to talk about the issue are Christina Chan, senior policy analyst at CARE USA, and Cynthia Awuor, regional climate change focal point for Eastern and Central Africa for CARE International. CARE is one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations dedicated to fighting poverty. Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.
Ms. CHRISTINA CHAN (Senior Policy Analyst, CARE USA): Thank you, Michel.
Ms. CYNTHIA AWUOR (Regional Climate Change Focal Point for Eastern and Central Africa, CARE International): Thank you for hosting us.
MARTIN: Cynthia, in cooperation with the U.N., CARE has been mapping the regions that will be most vulnerable in the next 20 to 30 years. Can you just give us a sense of which parts of the world are most vulnerable to climate change?
Ms. AWUOR: Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions that is vulnerable and especially to the three main disasters that this study was looking at. So, cyclones, droughts and floods. In addition, South Asia and Southeast Asia is also a region that is highly affected, as well as parts of Latin America.
MARTIN: Christina, can I just ask, is this really just a reframing of issues that CARE has worked on, that people have been thinking about? Because I have to say, people have been, for my entire life, since there were UNICEF, you know, boxes being distributed at Halloween time, or, you know, talking about, you know, famine, and war and food security for as long as I've been alive. And so is there just now a recognition that climate change is really what's underlying a lot of these issues around enduring poverty in some parts of the world? Or is there something new that we are now discovering that you need to tell us?
Ms. CHAN: I think it is something new. And it's a challenge that if we don't take action immediately and aggressively, all the challenges that you were just listing will become that much more difficult. I don't think that climate change has been an underlying cause of the poverty and injustice we've seen in the past. Poorer communities have dealt with drought, floods, cyclones, hurricanes for generations.
The difference now is in terms of the frequency, intensity and severity. There'll be more. A drought or a flood might hit a community and hit the poorest of the poor in that community, maybe every seven years. What we see happening now is increase in intensity frequency, and so there's less time to recover.
And so if it's happening every year or every other year, a drought in one year, a flood in another, families, especially families with very little assets can't recover as quickly. The resilience is lower. So what we're seeing is - the challenges we've been facing for, say, the last 60 years are going to be that much more complex and difficult with climate change.
MARTIN: Cynthia, you work firsthand with people who have been affected by climate change. What are some of the challenges there? Is it that governments are just - are slow to respond? Is it that the effects happen so quickly that people don't have time to prepare? What are some of the impacts you're seeing now?
Ms. AWUOR: Some of the impacts that you're seeing now, for example, on health, and I'll give an example from Kenya. We are seeing malaria spreading from the previously known endemic regions of western Kenya, as well as the coastal area of Kenya, into the central part of the country, which was cooler and has not been experiencing malaria until about the last 20 years. And so the health infrastructure that was put there, and even the staff who've been working there, were not prepared to deal with increasing cases of malaria.
But now, more and more, there's the need to actually get them up to speed on the kind of things to do. And then other impacts we are seeing are also, with increased droughts, food production is being affected negatively, so there's repeated crop failures. And even at the moment, as I speak, drought has been occurring in Kenya, and we have famine. We are experiencing famine at the moment, that's affecting about 10 million people out of a population of about 33 million.
And the women that we work with in some of the regions are saying that they are feeling that the temperatures have become higher. So it's become hotter. And it becomes taxing on their bodies when they have to walk long distances to actually look for water because sometimes the search for water takes up to six hours a day. And exposure to hot sun for those durations becomes very taxing on, you know, the bodies of these women and the girls that we are working with.
MARTIN: Cynthia, what would you like people to know about the people you work with most closely? People who, you know, say, yeah, yeah, I get it. You know, climate change, I know I should, you know, use fewer light bulbs, or I should turn my, you know, computer off when I'm out of the room, that sort of thing. Is there something that you would wish people to know from your work that you do every day about how they should think about this issue, how you would wish they would think about this issue differently?
Ms. AWUOR: Certainly. It is not, you know, a doom and gloom story all the way, just because people are adapting, and we are working with communities to support adaptation. And what I would like people out there to know is that a small contribution or, you know, a little support, be it in terms of, say, financial contribution, in form of technical support and technology transfer, goes a very, very long way. Just be proactive, also, be more responsible citizens of the globe.
Ms. CHAN: Michel, can I answer that?
MARTIN: Christina, final thoughts. Yes, final thoughts from you, please?
Ms. CHAN: May I add to that? Just what people here in the United States can do - I think it is important to watch, as individuals, our own carbon footprint. But I think it's really important for us, as citizens of the United States, to really put pressure on our policymakers, because they're not hearing it. Especially these days with the economic situation, my fear is that climate change will be put on the back burner, and we really only have this window of opportunity up until December of this year when we - the international community meets in Copenhagen.
And we really need to take action. And the more pressure we can put on our policymakers is absolutely important. And that won't happen if our policymakers are not hearing from their constituents.
MARTIN: So if you care about poverty, then you need to care about climate change?
Ms. CHAN: Absolutely.
Ms. AWUOR: Yes.
MARTIN: Christina Chan is a senior policy analyst at CARE USA. She joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta and Cynthia Awuor is a regional climate change focal point for Eastern and Central Africa at CARE International. She joined us from our studios in Culver City, California. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Ms. CHAN: Thank you, Michel.
Ms. AWUOR: Thank you, Michel. Thank you very much.