Oxfam’s recent report, Suffering the Science – Climate Change, People and Poverty, argues that the effects of climate change pose the greatest threat to humanity. The following are a few excerpts from the report, illustrated with some of my photos:
The report combines the latest scientific observations on climate change, and evidence from Oxfam’s work in almost 100 countries around the world.
“Women living in poverty, who already face a daily struggle to survive, are being hit the hardest,” – Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada.
A survey of top climate scientists, also published by Oxfam, said poor people living in low-lying coastal areas, island atolls and mega deltas and farmers are most at risk from climate change because of flooding and prolonged drought. The scientists named South Asia and Africa as climate change hotspots.
More people on the planet depend on rice than on any other crop. Rice plants react very quickly to temperature change: they show a 10% drop in yield for every 1ºC rise in minimum temperature. In parts of the Philippines, farmers have had to stop growing rice completely during the droughts caused by the ‘El Nino’ years, and river delta and coastal rice production has already suffered badly accross South-East Asia because of storms that overwhelm sea defences and salt-water intrusion into paddy fields.
An Asian Development Bank report warns that rice production in the Philippines could drop by 50-70 per cent as early as 2020.
Crops are only one part of the food story. Fish stocks are also endangered by climate change — threatening the loss of a significant source of protein and income for the 2.6billion people who get 20 per cent of their protein from fish. In many countries, dependence on fish consumption increases with poverty. In addition, 500 million people in developing countries depend — directly or indirectly — on fisheries for their livelihoods.
Both wild and farmed fish are threatened by a whole range of climate-driven problems — from raised sea levels and floods that damage fish farms on coasts and in river areas, to the increasin acidification of the oceans as a result of GHG emissions. A recent study suggests that 90 per cent of the food resources of the ‘coral triangle’ of the western Pacific will be gone by 2050, potentially affecting 150million people.
In the last few months, several bodies including the Commonwealth countries’ health ministers have concluded that climate change is the greatest threat to health globally this century. The poorest and hottest countries will suffer the most. The loss of healthy life years as a result of global environmental change is predicted to be 500 times greater amongst poor African populations than amongst European populations. Climate change-driven alterations in patterns of disease and illness are already occurring globally, and 99 per cent of the casualties of climate change now are in developing countries.
Rapid urbanization — which can be spurred by climatic factors as people seek new livelihoods in cities — brings disease with it. Urban sprawls often lack health infrastructure, and migrant workers may not be able to afford care and medicine. Some of the worst health statistics emanate from cities.
Small increases in temperatures hit human beings hard. None of us, no matter how well acclimatised, can do heavy work effectively above 35ºC or so. A couple of degrees higher than that, and our bodies soon get exhausted. Once core body temperature passes 38ºC, heat stress may set in. The body tries to cool down by sweating; dehydration may follow. People’s work rate slows. Ultimately, production and incomes decline.
“Working under the open sky during summer has become nearly impossible in the past four years or so — for farmers and their cattle alike.” — Mir Ahmed, Bangladeshi farmer.
Finding and transporting clean water is a central occupation in the working day of many people in developing countries, especially women. When a community is short of food, or suffering an outbreak of desease, there are immediate ways in which they can be helped. However, scarcity of water is a much greater problem. According to the UN Development Programme, over one billion people lack access to safe water today, and that number can only increase.
2009 is one of the most important years in human history. In Copenhagen in December, politicians will meet at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Climate Change Convention. This meeting will decide whether we face a future on a hot glowering planet, or whether we set a course for climate safety for everyone.
see the full report for more information and references.