by Ben Price – Ben currently stars as Nick Tilsley in Coronation Street, and has acted as an ambassador for a number of our campaigns and appeals.
Climate change - no longer a distant prediction
The world over, we are seeing ever more cases of extreme weather, from the recent floods in the UK to wildfires in Australia. With each incident comes the familiar assurances that – this time – the necessary action will be taken to make sure there is no repeat.
The reality is we have no choice, as every country faces the fact that climate change – and its impact on the weather – is no longer a distant prediction, but a daily reality. And for the poorest people on the planet, the need to change is not just a matter of saving money, but saving lives. Never has the phrase ‘Adapt or Die’ been so apt.
Extreme weather in Uganda
In January I travelled 4,000 miles to the Ugandan village of Lomunyen Kiryonon, where they are battling to survive more extreme weather – this time prolonged drought. The rains have not come; the crops have failed; the people are close to starvation; and the arid plains grow ever drier under the burning sun.
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The villagers are pastoralists, dependent on their livestock for food, for cultivating the land, and for earning an income. But the cattle are long gone: those not stolen by armed rustlers have died, the first victims of the drought conditions.
Now, their only source of money is making and selling charcoal, but they cannot earn enough from that to feed themselves, so their main source of food is wild, dried-out fruit growing in the distant hills. It is a downward spiral.
Paska and her baby
I meet a young mother named Paska, who every day must leave her four young children behind to go and forage for fruit, running the gauntlet of hyenas on their own search for food. She returns with some bone-dry figs and tamarind for the children to gnaw on, the only meal they will eat that day.
I ask the age of the small baby Paska holds in her arms, thinking he looks about nine months. She tells me he is two years old. I had been told in advance that 38 per cent of children aged under five in Uganda have stunted growth, but no statistic prepares you for meeting a child so small for his age, and seeing the cause – his lack of food – up close.
Hunger is cruel on young and old alike. I meet 78-year-old Otyang, so weakened by lack of food that he can barely stand up any more. He does what he can for the grandchildren that live with him, but his eyes are plagued with worry.
As we get ready to leave the village, I am assured by CAFOD’s local partners that – now the plight of the village has been realised – the next visit they receive will bring emergency food supplies, and eventually, Lomunyen Kiryonon will be helped to become self-sufficient again.
Nevertheless, driving away from Paska, Otyang and the many children they are looking after – literally leaving them on the brink of starvation – is one of the hardest things I have had to do, and I find myself despairing about whether the help they receive will come in time or be enough, or how many other villages there are in a similar state.
Long-term help and adaptation
But one of the reasons I am a long-term CAFOD supporter is that – working through local partners – they will always seek out the most remote and vulnerable communities to see where help is most needed. And their response is never just to hand out emergency aid and walk away, but to offer the long-term help and adaptation a community needs to avoid the next hunger crisis.
I see this for myself the next day in the village of Nakambi. They too are suffering from the lack of rain, but they now have a borehole and water pump so that they can collect clean, safe drinking water, and almost every household now has a kitchen garden where they grow drought-resistant cassava, peas, sunflowers and greens. The community’s farmers have been trained in new agricultural techniques to help them increase their harvest.
In another village, Naloret, I meet the community’s bee-keeping group, equipped with the skills needed to harvest honey, used as medicine, food, and a source of income when taken to market. The chairman of the group, Paul, tells me that farming had become impossible due to lack of rain, but bee-keeping now puts food on his family’s table.
CAFOD’s ‘Dig Deep’ Lent fundraising appeal is built around the idea that – with the right support – every farming community coping with challenges can adapt, survive and flourish. It is built on the principle that no village should be left to starve like Lomunyen Kiryonon; no mother should risk her life foraging for wild fruit like Paska; and no child should grow up stunted like Paska’s son.
Most of all, it is built on the compassion and generosity of people here at home who, perhaps more than ever in the wake of our floods, are alive to the reality of climate change, and aware of how it is affecting the poorest people in the world.
If we all Dig Deep this Lent, we can all make a difference.
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Ben’s blog was published in The Catholic Times and on The Huffington Post.