As I write this, I am on my way back from a long, productive week at an environmental conference in Jamaica with fellow Inspired Individuals and colleagues from Tearfund. Scientists, theologians, faith groups and organisations from over 23 countries, came together to get actively involved in protecting our planet and reversing the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable.
As if to underline the importance and urgency of taking action on climate change, forces of nature brought Hurricane Sandy, which has wrought havoc in North America and the Caribbean, on the very day we all arrived in Jamaica. Many were forced to delay or cancel their journeys to such an important conference.
I’m sure the climate skeptics who have the ear of the US government will say there is no definitive scientific evidence that says Sandy was a result of climate change, but there is a clear and obvious connection. As our planet heats up it causes higher water temperatures and sea levels, which increase the destructive power of storms.
Our compassion and prayers go out to the countries affected, many of whom are seriously affected by this hurricane. As this country plays a major role in guiding policies at world level, it is imperative that today the American people choose a President who will consider the question of climate change as a global priority.
It is shocking that, despite the constant news of US droughts and increase of food banks, climate change has not been a topic of conversation in the presidential race until now. In fact, Republican nominee Mitt Romney has been running television adverts in Pennsylvania saying "I like coal" and criticizing efforts to clean dirty coal plants.
Sandy's death toll and the incredible damage to properties and businesses it left should be clear reminders of how fragile our planet is, and how necessary action is now.
Poor countries including my own, Burundi, have very low capacity for prevention and management of this type of disaster. The recent example of the destruction in Haiti speaks volumes.
It is high time that the international community, especially the rich countries, go beyond the phase of interminable debate and complacency to begin an era of radical change aimed at the preservation of our planet.
To be able to stand up to those who are opposed to action because of their own selfish agendas, it is imperative that a strong position is taken immediately, as firm as those needed for the abolition of slavery and apartheid.
And where has the voice of the US church been in this debate? The global church is one of the most powerful and effective ways to help people make lasting changes in their lives and escape poverty, and despite being vocal in US politics, has remained silent on this justice issue. I can only apologise on behalf of my brothers and sisters in the US, that they have not yet made the link between climate change, unacceptable levels of global poverty and natural disasters. I hope and pray that this changes soon and that the church will use it’s powerful voice to reach the most vulnerable people affected by our global changing climate.
Climate change is making people hungry, here and all over the world. This is why in the year 2000 I started the Help Channel Burundi, an NGO that works in areas across my home country. We started an extensive reforestation programme. Indeed, following the massive deforestation during the 13 years of civil war from 1993 to 2005, resulting in the destruction of agricultural land. A serious issue considering the fact that 95% of the population make their living from agriculture. The irregularity of seasons and disturbances to rainfall have led to repeated famines in many regions of Burundi.
When we decided to begin this reforestation programme, there was a very lengthy drought in the north of Burundi and many people starved to death, while others decided to leave the country.
Since we started, we have planted eight million trees in regions across Burundi, seeing massive improvements in the restoration of the environment and to food security in our country.
As food insecurity becomes less and less a ‘third world issue’, and starts to spread across developed nations, the need for strong, political leadership in reversing and adapting to the effects of our global changing climate becomes more evident. We need America to choose a future of hope at the polls today, for all of our sakes.
Today (6th November) is the International Day of Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.