World’s poor feeling effects of climate change

By  Jennifer Burke, Catholic News Service
  • August 20, 2007

{mosimage}ROCHESTER, N.Y. - When Hippolyt Pul was a young boy, farmers in his home country of Ghana often referred to the feast of the Ascension as “the feast of the bean leaf.”

Rain came like clockwork each year right after Easter, so farmers planted their first seeds no more than two weeks after the holy day.

“The black bean was one of the first crops to be planted, as its leaves served as an important stopgap food for the many households whose granaries would have run empty by this time of the year,” Pul recently wrote in an e-mail to Dennis Fisher, education program officer for the Northeast regional office of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.

The rainfall was so consistent that “by the time Ascension was celebrated, the hungry would be fed with the bean leaves. By the third week of June, the bean crop itself was taken in to boost household food security,” wrote Pul, director of CRS’ West Africa regional office.

But farmers in Ghana no longer refer to the “feast of the bean leaf,” said Pul. The rains have become erratic in recent years, affecting the traditional planting season, and he believes the disruption is caused by global climate change. Long periods of drought punctuated by heavy downpours and flash floods have made it impossible for people to plant soon after Easter and expect a harvest by the feast of the Ascension, he said.

Ghana’s bean farmers are not the only ones to feel the effects of global climate change. CRS staff in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Niger and Nicaragua also have witnessed changes in their local weather patterns, Fisher said. Severe flooding in Bangladesh has left many people homeless, while farmers in the other areas are now dealing with warmer winters and increased drought, flooding and food insecurity.

Poor and impoverished people will inevitably have a harder time adapting to new weather patterns than will their more affluent counterparts, according to Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Policy.

“The poor by the very definition of poverty have inadequate resources to address many problems, including climate change. They often live in the flood or drought plains (and) depend upon natural resources for sustenance,” Wenski said.

{sidebar id=2}“An easy example is New Orleans. While no one can say (Hurricane) Katrina was caused directly by climate change, one can easily see that the poor were disproportionately affected. This is usually the case in most of these natural disasters.”

Poor people have fewer resources to deal with life’s challenges to begin with and do not need more hurdles to jump, noted Kathy Dubel, justice and peace co-ordinator for Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler counties in the Rochester diocese.

The issue of global climate change has been on the Catholic Church’s radar since at least 1990, Dubel noted, when Pope John Paul II mentioned it in his World Day of Peace message, titled “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility.”

“That was what I think got us moving in the United States and around the world, looking more closely at environmental issues and Catholic social teaching,” she said.

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