Africa Update: Climate Change on the Continent The United Nations says climate change is putting poor countries at risk. Plus, nearly 200 nations agree to help fight poverty, hunger, and AIDS. On this week's "Africa Update," Farai Chideya talks with Cassandra Waldon, chief of external communications at the United Nations Development Program.
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Africa Update: Climate Change on the Continent

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Africa Update: Climate Change on the Continent

Africa Update: Climate Change on the Continent

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Farai Chideya, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

It's time now for Africa Update, and this week, we've got a U.N. that looks at the effect of climate change on poor countries.

Plus, we get an update on the millennium development goals.

For more, we've got Cassandra Waldon. She's chief of external communications at the United Nations Development Program. Hi, Cassandra.

Ms. CASSANDRA WALDON (Chief of External Communications, United Nations Development Program): Hi, Farai. Great to be with you.

CHIDEYA: So, tell me a little bit about the UNDP as some people would call it -the United Nations Development Program. What's your role?

Ms. WALDON: Yes. UNDP is the U.N.'s development organization. We have offices in a hundred and thirty-six countries; we have operations in 166 countries. Our role is as scorekeeper for the Millennium Development Goals. We work on the issues of environment; poverty eradication. We look at governance issues; helping countries run their elections. We also work to help countries who've gone through conflict, rebuild, and get back on the track towards development.

My role in the organization as chief of external communications is to help UNDP communicate about what it does to ensure that the average Joe on the street knows about the development challenges faced by countries across the globe, and also knows about some of the good work that is being done around the world.

CHIDEYA: You've got a new report called "Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World." Tell me what your findings show.

Ms. WALDON: Well, with regards to African countries, specifically, and I want to focus on Africa because I think it's important for your audience to understand that climate change affects everyone, all of us, including people living in the U.S. But the report highlights the fact that those who have the least responsibility for the current situation with regards to climate change are actually being affected more. That is, those poor people living in developing regions like Africa, they are creating very little climate change, very little emissions, but they are the ones who's lives are being impacted by increased floods, by more severe droughts, by variations in rainfall, and it's not their fault. And the report highlights the fact that, really, all of us have a responsibility, particularly those of us in developed countries, to begin to push back the effects of climate change and prevent any further advanced climate change.

With regards to Africa, it finds that nearly 550 million people in the region don't have access to energy; that means that they're in the dark every day. They cook with vegetation, with leaves, with twigs, with animal dung, and they cook these things over smoky fires that actually contribute to respiratory disease. We find that respiratory disease is the biggest killer of children in the world today. If you can imagine this, the state of Texas, which has 23 million residents, emits more carbon dioxide than all of the 720 million residents in sub-Sahara and Africa combined. So, as you can see, there is a big dichotomy between the way people in developing countries in regions, like Africa, live in a way that those of us in rich countries, like the U.S. and Canada, live.

CHIDEYA: Given the fact that western countries have the vast preponderance of emissions, particularly the United States, does that mean that these western countries or that the U.S. will become responsive, in some ways, to the effects of climate change in African nations?

Ms. WALDON: Well, listen, we hope so. There is definitely a dialogue in progress right now, and there will be a very important global conference in Bali, Indonesia in just a few days, where all countries from across the globe will come together to discuss just this. What are the responsibilities, what can we, as a global community, agree to going forward. They will not come out with some sort of binding decision about what each country should do, but they will hopefully walk away with a broader understanding among all governments as to what each other's responsibilities are and where we go from here, so that over the next year or so, we can begin to look at what each individual country - both developed countries and developing countries - can do to help push back, prevent the most dangerous climate change - that is climate change that would take us over 3.6 degrees increased Fahrenheit - or to adapt to help countries in the poorest regions actually adapt to the climate change that exists already.

CHIDEYA: Let's take a quick look at the Millennium Development Goals. What has the progress been and who is involved in this?

Ms. WALDON: The Millennium Development Goals are eight targets which were agreed to by world leaders in the year 2000. They came together at the Millennium Summit in New York and really set out a number of targets, which each country is working towards. They include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving primary education; that is making sure that all children across the globe have the opportunity to go to school. I mean, I have been in many African countries and seen with my own eyes what happens when young people don't have an opportunity to go to school and how it actually diminishes the chances that these countries have of building a brighter future. The goals include promoting gender quality, reducing child mortality, and there's one -the eighth goal - which looks at the roles and responsibility of the poor countries and the Rich countries; that is, what kind of partnership can we all have together to ensure that we all move forward in a more equitable fashion. In term's of who's behind them, really, it is all governments. They are - the Millennium Development Goals approved by virtually every country, so, we're all working together on them.

CHIDEYA: You travel extensively throughout the continent, can you give me an example of some place you visited where residents have been embraced reaching one of the goals?

Ms. WALDON: Absolutely. I will give you the example of Rwanda, which is a country that I know well. I visited many times and I lived in the neighborhood and in neighboring countries for three years. And I guess I would highlight in Rwanda the work that has been done on the primary school enrollment. As I mentioned, the idea is to make sure that every young person has a chance to go to primary school, and Rwanda is doing an excellent job on that, really making sure that kids can go to those early grades, but also - offering opportunities, excuse me, for even secondary and university education.

In that connection, I had a chance to visit the Kigali Institute of Technology, which is a university-level technology school, where Rwanda has really received the support of the international community to begin to rebuild its human resources following the genocide, and to ensure that on technology, science -all these different fields - engineering - that they build cadre of young people who really have knowledge that can be used to help them move into the future and into the challenges that the 21st century offers.

Rwanda's also doing quite well on the gender; that is the promoting gender equality goal. As I'm sure you know, Farai, they are doing better than any other country on the number of women in their parliament. They have virtual parity in the number of women in their parliament. They're doing quite well in women's representation in their government. So, I think I would definitely hold them up as one country where I've been able to see real progress made in some areas. They still have some challenges to face, but they are making huge advances in some of these areas.

CHIDEYA: Cassandra, thank you for the update.

Ms. WALDON: Thank you, Farai. Pleasure to be with you.

CHIDEYA: Cassandra Waldon is chief of external communications at the United Nations Development Program.

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