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.
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.
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.
Africa’s Sahel region is home to some of the world’s poorest and least developed countries. But in recent years, more erratic weather coupled with political unrest, has had grave impacts on Sahelian populations. Instability brought on by conflict and growing food insecurity has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. And these impacts are only likely to increase in the decades to come as millions of vulnerable, agriculture-dependent families across the region face increased climate variability.
Right now, the shell-shocked residents of Moore, Oklahoma, are grappling with the loss of 24 lives and the destruction of entire neighborhoods following a devastating tornado on May 20. Meanwhile, across the globe, tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh and Burma are returning to damaged homes and villages in the wake of Cyclone Mahasen, which thankfully proved more merciful than anticipated.
For most Americans, Earth Day symbolizes the need to protect the natural environment – specifically clean air, clean water, and pristine rivers and forests. In the years following the first Earth Day in 1970, some of our nation’s most important environmental laws were adopted, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Actors like Meryl Streep also caught the attention of America’s mothers by bringing attention to pesticides in the food that we feed our children every day.