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Living in fear: Ethiopia and the climate crisis

16 Oct 2020

Jane Boswell, from Tearfund’s Campaigns Team, shares her experience of seeing first-hand the impact of the climate crisis in Ethiopia.

Jane Boswell, from Tearfund’s Campaigns Team, shares her experience of seeing first-hand the impact of the climate crisis in Ethiopia.

I sat, hot and exhausted, on a tree stump in the stifling Ethiopian sunshine. I was aware of a worsening, dehydration-induced headache and eyeing the dwindling water supplies in our vehicle with concern.

The irony wasn’t lost on me.

I was visiting a community of livestock farmers in the punishingly hot region of Afar, Ethiopia. Opposite me sat 35-year-old Orbisa. She’s a mother, like me, and just a few years younger than I am. But that’s where the similarities end. While I could look forward to heading to the nearest town for a nice, cold drink at the end of the day, Orbisa faced a ten-hour walk that night to collect water for her family. And not just that particular night: every night.

A few years ago, Orbisa and her community could rely on two rainy seasons every year but now, because of the changing climate, the rains don’t last as long and are less predictable. Orbisa and her children don’t have enough water to survive. So she walks up to ten hours a day to find water for her family to drink. On the way she faces the dangers of wild animals.

Orbisa depends on selling livestock to feed her family – but extensive droughts have killed nine of her ten cows. She’s lost nearly half her goats too. This means less income, less food and poor health for the whole family.

‘We used to get rain every four to five months,’ Orbisa told me. ‘And the area was very fertile and green. But it hasn’t rained for six months and I don’t know when it will rain next.

‘I worry about my children and my family. I worry about the small livestock which are remaining. I feel worried whenever I think about the future.’

This is an emergency
At Tearfund, our partners and teams on the ground see first hand the devastating impact of the climate crisis on people like Orbisa every day. In many countries around the world, climate change isn’t just a future threat. It’s a reality that is endangering lives and pushing millions of people back into poverty. It affects their health, security and access to food. For people who are already vulnerable, it is a life-threatening emergency.

I asked Orbisa if she knew why the rains didn’t come anymore. Her answer was that it’s only God who knows. She also told me that when the rains don’t come, she looks to God for hope. I was struck by her faith and courage.

I was moved to repent too, knowing that Orbisa and her community are paying the price for carbon emissions that have mostly been generated by developed nations like ours. We have pumped more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through transport – including using cars and flying by airplane, the power we use, and food production.

The stark reality is that the poorest 3.5 billion people are responsible for just 10 per cent of these emissions. But it's these people who are the most vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change because their homes are less secure, they rely on agriculture, and they lack many of the protections that we in developed nations take for granted.

A chance for change
Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we see the world, reminding us of the fragility of life and exposing how unjust our world is. But it’s also given us the chance to pause and reimagine what life could be like. Right now, we are at a turning point in history, and the decisions we make now will affect our economy, society and climate for decades.

There’s never been a better time to build a world that prioritises the poor, tackles the climate emergency and works for everyone.

That’s why Tearfund has launched the Reboot campaign, and why we’re currently focusing on the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis as part of the coronavirus recovery. Together, with The Climate Coalition, we’re calling on the UK government to lead the world in delivering a recovery that is greener and fairer and which limits warming to 1.5°C – the highest degree of warming that scientists believe will protect millions of people from the worst impacts of climate change including water scarcity and food insecurity.

Every fraction of a degree matters and, for millions of people, could make the difference that protects them from hunger or losing their homes.

As Christians, we have a crucial role in calling for, working towards and praying for a world that allows everyone, and all of creation, to flourish. Please join me in interceding for a breakthrough in the climate crisis.

Please pray

Find out more information on the Reboot campaign and how you and your church can get involved.

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