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Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

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The green highlands of West Badawacho in south-west Ethiopia are not a place where you would expect to find hunger. The land is fertile and lush. Rain falls on fields covered with waist-high maize and red flowers dot the tree-lined tracks leading deep into rural farming land.

But West Badawacho is in the grip of the worst “green famine” it has experienced in decades and severe malnutrition can be found in many of the villages dotted among these fields. Here, and across Ethiopia, drought, high population density, successive failed rains and rapidly rising food prices are dovetailing to create a crisis. Ethiopia is bearing the brunt of the food shortages currently sweeping across east Africa threatening the lives of millions.

In June the government said 4.6 million people in drought-affected parts of the country required £162.5m of assistance, but unofficial estimates from donor agencies following recent nationwide assessments put the figure closer to 8-10 million people.

In West Badawacho, the lushness of the land masks a near total crop failure across the district. More than 90% of the people here are smallholder farmers, surviving on twice-yearly harvests of maize and root crops. For them the poor harvests of 2007 and the repeated failure of the crucial March-May rains have spelled disaster.

This article was first published in The Guardian in August 2008. Click here to read it in full.

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Miskito children

When the first white cranes started appearing on the banks of the Rio Coco, deep in the Nicaraguan rainforest, Marciano Washington told his sons to start preparing the family’s three hectares of land for planting.

A month later, the weather-beaten Miskito elder from the town of San Carlos shades his eyes from the baking sun and surveys his cracked and barren land. His seed is rotting or has been eaten by rats. The few rice seeds that have sprouted are only inches high, yellow and discoloured.

“All my life the earth has told me when the rains are coming,” he says. “I don’t understand what is happening to our land.”

Miskito boat

The natural signs that Washington’s father taught him to observe, such as the white cranes, flowering avocado plants, silver fish and rapid flashes of lightning, no longer herald the rains that his community so desperately need.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the Miskito Indians who live in wooden huts in Nicaragua’s western territories. They subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers.

Ten years ago Washington said he could harvest 60 bags of rice a hectare. Last year he managed seven. “Every year it is getting worse,” he says. “We have floods in the summer and droughts in the winter. We can’t depend on nature anymore and we don’t know when to plant our crops. I don’t know how I am going to feed my family.”

Miskito boy

Environmental researchers are warning that the effect of climate change is likely to hit indigenous communities like the Miskito the hardest. Many of the world’s indigenous people live in isolated communities and their livelihoods depend on nature and on predicting the weather, making them vulnerable to increasingly unstable weather patterns.

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Oil spills, shipwrecks, dumped waste, a proposed road to the South Pole, an ill-advised nuclear reactor – human interaction in Antarctica has a history of pushing the last great wilderness to the edge of ecological disaster. Now, apart from climate change, which is breaking off great chunks of ice, mass tourism is the greatest threat the continent has ever faced.

For centuries, the pristine region of 14m sq km of ice has evaded the grasp of mainstream tourism. But there is now “congestion” at landing sites as tens of thousands of people, in some of the largest cruise ships, head south.

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Tourism is growing exponentially. Until 1987, fewer than 1,000 people annually travelled to the continent. There were 6,500 in 1992/93, and double that number in 2002/3. This year, more than 28,000 people are expected to come within inches of the kind of wildlife and landscapes normally seen only on film.

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In addition to ship-based tourism, the scale and spread of tourist activities is increasing. Adventurous types can now strap on skis and slash fresh tracks down Antarctica’s uninhabited slopes, take one of the many helicopter rides that clatter daily over breeding penguin colonies, snowboard, climb mountains, kayak or scuba dive.

“Land-based tourism could have severe repercussions because nowhere is out of bounds,” says James Barnes, director of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition (Asoc), a group of 150 environmental groups. “If tourists start treating Antarctica as an activity theme park, instead of respecting its status in international law as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science, we’ve got a serious problem.”

Click here to read this article, which first appeared in The Guardian in February 2006

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