If you’re unfortunate enough to have a flood in your area, the first question you’ll want to ask yourself is how high up the hill you are. You’ll want to get yourself to safety and then perhaps give a thought to those lower down. Or, if you’re of a more humanitarian nature, you might head downhill to see if you can lend a hand to those who will surely need it.
The same logic applies to global warming. It’s going to impact those at the bottom of the economic hill, or what economists sometimes call the base of the pyramid, most severely.
A recent video produced by Oxfam America, highlights a number of these challenges, many of which are directly related to water.
- Drought in Vietnam is causing poor famers to lose their crops and suffer water shortage.
- In Ethiopia, it takes poor villagers six hours a day to gather water. Rainfall has decreased, crops are failing.
- Meanwhile, floods in El Salvador lead to contamination of rivers and streams and hand dug wells due to latrines overflowing.
- And hurricanes in Louisiana have destroyed homes creating thousands of evacuees who could not afford to rebuild.
- In Nepal, outburst floods from glacial lakes not only cause damage in the present, but threaten the loss of freshwater supply for up to two billion people in the future when they will eventually disappear.
The current crisis in Pakistan, after four weeks of flooding, has caused millions of people to lose their homes. Taken together, these impacts are threatening to reverse progress made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. As a result of global warming, the weather has become far more unpredictable, farming riskier, water supplies unreliable, sanitation more difficult to maintain. Worst of all, it’s put low lying areas in jeopardy of disappearing altogether, even as fringe groups heavily subsidized by oil billionaires continue to spread rumors, denying the existence of global warming in hopes of casting a paralyzing pall of doubt among decision makers.
A report on Humanitarian Trends and Future Priorities issued by the Red Cross states that, “Most disasters in Sub Sahara Africa are induced by climatic variations and extreme events. Global warming has been a major contributing factor to growing climatic variable change and Africa is considered more susceptible than other continents because of its limited capacity to undertake preventative measures to mitigate the effects of weather and climatic extremes.”
In other areas like Bangladesh, the poorest citizens are often forced to live in the lowest lying areas because that is the land that no one else wants.
The WWF fund issued a fact sheet on global warming and poverty which suggests that, “Governments in developing countries must facilitate grassroots, community-based approaches to reducing harm from extreme weather events, like storms, droughts, floods and changing seasons. In our experience, these practical examples – including water management, disaster relief, storm and flood protection, seed banks, and conservation of forests and other ecosystems – represent effective ways for threatened communities to adapt to at least to some global warming.”
Meanwhile those of us in the developed parts of the world have our own reasons to be concerned. Many of these same impacts can and will affect us. But since we are the ones responsible for the current greenhouse gas levels, we have a moral obligation to take aggressive action to reduce our carbon footprint, even as we reach out help our brothers and sisters around the world who were born into more dangerous circumstances. We can do this by conserving now and by urging our leaders to pass legislation that will facilitate the rapid deployment of renewables and make it easier for everyone to adjust their lifestyles to a more sustainable, energy-efficient model.
RP Siegel is the co-author of Vapor Trails
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