*CLIMATE CHANGE: Angry Greenhouse Gas Victims Demand Action*

By Paul Virgo
[image: Climate change witnesses / Credit:Paul Virgo/IPS]
 Climate change witnesses

Credit:Paul Virgo/IPS <>

VITERBO, Italy, Nov 28 (IPS) - ‘Angry’ is not the adjective that comes to
mind when you first meet Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei.

The immaculately dressed 53-year-old Kenyan is generous with her time and
with the smiles that light up her beautiful face and never misses a chance
to crack a joke before punctuating it with hearty chuckles.

But the rage wells up when she speaks about how her life as a farmer in the
Kericho District of Western Kenya has changed over the last 20 years.

She is angry because deficient rainfall has slashed the yields of her
once-plentiful crops. She is angry because she is struggling to provide for
her family. And, above all, she is angry because she believes that her
troubles are due to climate change caused by rich nations burning carbon to
fuel lifestyles that, in relation to hers, are lavish.

"It used to be a high yield area. There used to be rain throughout the year.
But now the rains can fail up until November. Food production is down by
three-quarters," she told IPS at the ‘Greenaccord’ conference in the Italian
city of Viterbo, near Rome.

"We have tea as a cash crop, maize for food and sometimes sell the surplus,
(as well as) beans and vegetables. We used to have so many heads of cattle
but now the grass has dried up and so we can only keep two or three for good
milk production.

"These days we have to go a very long distance for water. The little streams
have dried up completely. It’s becoming almost impossible to maintain
families. I can no longer even maintain my mother. I can no longer maintain
my in-laws. I can only afford to feed my eight children. If I fall sick I
cannot afford to go to hospital. Yes, it makes us angry."

Nelly is among 10 people the WWF environmental organisation has brought to
Greenaccord from countries like Australia, Guatemala, Mongolia and India to
testify how climate change is devastating their lives and call on world
leaders to take action at next month’s United Nations climate change talks
in Copenhagen.

Experts say the poorest are set to feel the effects of climate change
hardest, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, in a world
where many already suffer chronic food insecurity, with the ranks of the
hungry passing the one-billion mark for the first time this year, according
to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The International Food Policy Research Institute said in a September report
that the output of rice in South Asia would be 14 percent lower in 2050 than
if there was no climate change, while yields of wheat, rice and maize would
drop by 34, 15 and 10 percent respectively in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Like Nelly, Mbiwo Constantine Kusebahasa, a 70-year-old farmer from the
foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, is already feeling the
affects of changing weather patterns. He used to have two planting seasons
for his crops of maize, sweet potatoes, beans, cassava and vegetables each
year, in March-April and July-August, but erratic rains mean his planning is
now reduced to guesswork.

"You have to imagine when to plant crops because the rain does not come as
we are used to seeing it," he told IPS. "I just use my imagination and plant
food. The yields are very, very, very low.

"It’s having effects on my children because I’m failing to get their school
fees. Hunger is a problem in the whole country. It’s caused by the changing
climate. There’s a lot less rain. Many people are in my situation. Most of
the farmers are badly off. Sometimes we feel angry because we know the
factors that are the causes of the drought,’’ Kusebahasa said.

Drought is just one of the problems though. Increasingly frequent extreme
weather such as storms and flooding are also affecting harvests, while
rising sea levels and the withering of the glaciers that feed many of the
world’s biggest rivers are big threats too.

"A one-metre sea-level rise will inundate large low-lying areas of Asia,"
Janet Larsen, the U.S. Earth Policy Institute’s director of research, told
the conference.

"Seasonal glacier melting sustains many rivers in that region, such as the
Ganges and the Yangtze and if they were to go, irrigation would be hit…
Copenhagen is really a conference about food security,’’ Larsen said.

WWF said its experts have verified that Nelly, Constantine and its other
climate witnesses are affected by climate-change-induced phenomena, not
temporary weather variations. What’s more, lower food production is not the
only negative impact.

Both Nelly and Constantine, for example, say rising temperatures have
enabled mosquitoes to spread to their high-lying areas, leading to rising
rates of malaria.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the U.N.’s
Rome-based rural poverty agency, says world leaders must prioritise the
plight of people like Nelly and Constantine at next month’s talks, given
that smallholder farmers and their families in developing countries are
highly exposed and number around two billion people, almost a third of the
global population.

As well as decisive action to slow global warming, what they need from the
states and leaders meeting in Copenhagen is help in adapting to a problem
that is not of their making, with funding for agricultural investment to
give them the know-how, tools and seeds required to keep up yields.

Indeed, the farmers at the five-day Greenaccord meeting, which runs until
Sunday, insist they want a hand-up, not a hand-out.

"I would like to tell them (the leaders in Copenhagen) to teach a person to
fish, don’t give them fish. They should not be giving blindly, they should
follow to see the production on the ground. Donors sometimes don’t follow to
see the impact of their donations," Nelly said.

"Our African communities should be educated, informed, empowered to
withstand the impact of climate change. For example, if we could afford to
buy for each household a harvesting method for the little rain water we get,
maybe for the irrigation of small kitchen gardens for some vegetables, this
would be great. Give Africans the farming methods to put food on their
families’ tables and be strong."