On Thursday, the Vatican will release Pope Francis’ first encyclical on the theme of the environment and the poor. In addition to emphasizing how environmental destruction and natural resource exploitation harm the poor, the document is expected to include a statement on role of humans in contributing to climate change. Given the Pope’s popularity, and as the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, his decision to narrow in on environmental exploitation and climate change has garnered significant attention from all sides.
On Saturday, February 22, scholars, humanitarian workers, activists, and religious leaders gathered at Washington’s National Cathedral to discuss why all of us should care about environmental sustainability and climate change and how can we help the people most affected.
As conflicts go, it was relatively short. An ethnic Tuareg rebellion that began in northern Mali in January 2012 spread like wildfire when armed Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda usurped control. A military coup in March of last year further weakened the government’s ability to respond. Fabled Timbuktu and commercial Gao (two major cities in the North) were overrun by rebels, and their citizens suffered such acts of terror and atrocities that many still cannot speak about them. Others cannot sleep without being awakened by horrific dreams of those days.
Despite forecasts indicating a good harvest this fall, millions of vulnerable people across West Africa’s Sahel region will not have enough food to eat again this year. Many are still reeling from 2011-12, when poor rains and high food prices left 18 million people without sufficient food and a million children at risk of starvation.
Omar, 24, lives in the Goudebo refugee camp on the outskirts of Dori, Burkina Faso. Like thousands of other Malian Tuaregs, Omar and his family sought refuge in neighboring Burkina after fighting broke out between Tuareg separatists, Islamic extremists, and the Malian government. In fact, he and his family have been displaced since February 2012, the very onset of the crisis.
In the shade of a tree, a group of girls crush rocks, pounding away relentlessly with heavy stone clubs. It is the middle of the day here in Boulyiba, Burkina Faso. The dry season is almost at an end, and the temperature hovers above 100°F, yet these girls have a great deal of hard work ahead of them. Their father, Assane, has brought a whole pile of rocks back from a gold mine 15 kilometers from their village.
This post first appeared at SahelNOW.
Under a corrugated metal roof at the Goudebou refugee camp in Burkina Faso, eight or nine families huddle in small groups awaiting a food distribution. These are the “new arrivals,” a UN Refugee Agency worker explains – people who recently fled Mali, Burkina’s northern neighbor, and arrived at the camp in recent days.
This post originally appeared on the SahelNow blog.
If you drive along the roads of northern Burkina Faso, as my colleagues and I have these past two weeks, you won’t always see the usual signs of human activity. While the population here is growing rapidly, the Sahel remains a sparsely populated region, and desiccated savannah dominates the landscape – stretching for miles into the distance.