By Kathleen Colson, Founder and CEO of the BOMA Project
Earth Day has become a worldwide call to action to address the many critical consequences of climate change and global warming: deforestation, species extinction, ocean acidification, rising seas, extreme weather. The impacts of climate change are also acutely felt in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Africa – over 40% of the continent. While residents of these regions are accustomed to extended dry seasons, the cycles of drought are now more severe. The United Nations announced in March that in East Africa, 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, a consequence of drought and severe civil conflicts, which uproot communities and disrupt the distribution of food aid by humanitarian organizations.
There is a direct causal relationship between climate change and conflict in these areas. As communities struggle over dwindling resources like grazing land and water, violence is too often the result. Meanwhile, humanitarian aid networks struggle to deliver essential supplies and services, and vulnerable populations become overwhelmed by the two-fold tragedies of famine and violence.
As a non-profit organization operating in Northern Kenya, where the government recently declared a national disaster in 23 counties due to drought, we see every day the impact that climate change has on the most vulnerable members of extreme-poverty populations—women and children. The result is costly humanitarian aid programs that create a cycle of dependence, treating residents as passive beneficiaries instead of participants in the building of the resilience of their communities. Humanitarian response is important and saves lives, but it must be coupled with proven, holistic, resilience-building programs to help people make a meaningful transition from dependence to self-reliance, even in the face of severe and frequent shocks such as climate change and conflict. Globally, the poverty graduation approach has been proven to break the cycle of extreme poverty and lift families into self-sufficiency. In the face of growing skepticism about foreign aid, and significantly reduced funds for humanitarian responses, the global community has a responsibility to invest in programs that help families withstand the impacts of climate change and build resilience in their communities. If we don’t, we will see repeated cycles of expensive humanitarian responses that do little to solve the long-term problem.