Fighting climate change: Three snapshots of building resilience

August 20, 2018
Written by Kristin Myers

Climate change has the power to push millions into poverty. But many communities are building resilience to climate change — with just a little help from Concern.

Would you be surprised to discover that climate change is one of the biggest threats in the fight to end global poverty? It’s true — and according to The World Bank, the effects of climate change have the power to push an additional 100 million people into poverty over the course of the next decade.

It’s clear: we must tackle climate change if we want to tackle poverty.

Since conflict and climate disasters are two of the biggest drivers of hunger and poverty, building resilience to the specific risks they each present is critical.

Dead livestock in Somaliland

The carcasses of hundreds of dead sheep and goats litter the landscape in Somaliland, a self-declared, autonomous region of Somalia, as pasture and water supplies disappear across the Horn of Africa. Photo: Kieran McConville

Both require urgent action, but our focus here is on climate-related natural disasters, including the widespread droughts caused by El Niño, which leave millions of people without food, pushing them further into poverty, and making recovery more difficult. Across the developing world, progress thought to be sustainable is undone by these recurring, climate-induced shocks.

Concern incorporates climate change resilience into nearly all its programming, but today, we bring you three tales of battling climate change.

Chad

In the 2016 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Chad was ranked as the world’s most vulnerable country to global warming. This is no more evident than in Lake Chad, which straddles its western border with Niger and Nigeria. The total volume of the lake’s water — a vital resource to some 50 million people in the Lake Chad Basin — shrank by a staggering 90% between 1963 and 2013.

To the east, periodic droughts and flooding have made life increasingly difficult for farmers. Here, 85% of the population relies on rain-fed crop production to eat and earn money. But with increasingly erratic rains, many face food shortages. Through a consortium called BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters), a multi-agency, mutli-national initiative, Concern helps people like Achta Sakine battle against the effects of global warming. In Wandalou, the 27-year-old mother of 5 struggled with low harvests.

Grafting techniques are taught to farmers in Chad.

In the Sila region of Chad, farmers and children are taught the different methods of agroforesty, including grafting. Photo: Kieran McConville

With little income, she was forced to withdraw her children from school. But that changed when she learned about climate smart agriculture, a way of planting crops that preserves as much moisture in the soil as possible. She also started a home garden, of wild and domestic fruits, to encourage diet diversity. The garden helps the soil recover from the planting, so that Achta’s harvests are more successful.

In this area, Concern has also helped introduce agroforestry, the intentional planting of trees for environmental (and economic) benefits. The crop-friendly trees improve the soil’s fertility, and provide mulch, which helps the land retain its nutrients and moisture.

As for Achta, she now grows sweet potatoes, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and more. And in the last year, thanks to her home garden, she grew enough to not just feed her family, but send her children to school with the money from selling the surplus.

Somaliland

We’ve detailed the effects of climate change on Somaliland before: a blistering drought has ravaged the area, littering the landscape with the carcasses of livestock that have died from dehydration. Concern has ramped up its emergency response, but recovery is expected to take at least two consecutive seasons with good rainfall.

A young girl drinks water in Somaliland

A young girl drinks water trucked into Somaliland by Concern Worldwide. Photo: Kieran McConville

Predictions show that for many in Somaliland, there will not be enough to eat. And so, it is vital not just to help people through this drought, but to help communities better cope with these climate shocks in the future. To do this, Concern is part of the BRCiS Consortium, Building Resilient Communities in Somalia.

Concern has introduced new approaches, such as earthen berms to protect topsoil and help prevent rainwater runoff. Structural improvements are combined with training of farmers on how to make best use of the dry and sandy soil in Somaliland, supplying seeds and tools in addition to training.

A farmer stands next to a tree in Somaliland

Before, Sheikh Muhumed Dhinbil Cumar grew only maize and sorghum. Now he grows nuts, citrus and more, and wants to teach other farmers the techniques he has learned. Photo: Masha Hamilton

One of the most successful initiatives has been the establishment of fruit tree nurseries. These trees continue to produce fruit like lemons and oranges, despite erratic rainfall and long dry spells. They also help soil fertility, increasing the likelihood that farmers will be able to harvest other crops. Fruit tree farmers produced on average 13 bags a year of each fruit type. In Somaliland, these trees provide a surplus of fruit that can be sold for a profit, and help many in the community make it through drought.

Malawi

Malawi was hard hit by the El Niño induced droughts 2 years ago, leading to one of the worst crop failures in a generation. Up to 4 million people needed assistance, and a national disaster was declared by the President. Malawi’s economy is dependent on its agriculture, so climate-related shocks are especially damaging.

A boy watches his cattle as they graze in the flooded maize fields

Heavy rains and flooding also caused a severe food shortage in Malawi, leaving people with no reserves to survive the current drought. Here, a boy watches his cattle as they graze in maize fields flooded by the Shire River. Photo: Alexia Webster

Concern works with communities in some of the worst affected districts to build resilience to global warming. In Malengachanzi District, households have been trained in conservation agriculture, including irrigation training, to maximize water efficiency. This is vital in Malawi, where increasingly erratic weather can cause food shortages.

Fishani Nyirenda’s family received vines of sweet potatoes, which can be fairly drought resistant and have a short cycle, meaning they can be planted, grown, and harvested quickly. For Fishani, planting sweet potatoes has been a success. She is no longer as reliant on growing corn, which is very susceptible to changing weather patterns, and she looks to invest the income she receives from selling her surplus.

A woman and her daughter with sweet potatoes in Malawi

Fishani Nyirenda and her daughter Winnie received sweet potato vines from Concern Worldwide. She has since harvested her sweet potato crop and plans to plant them a second time. Photo: Jennifer Nolan

Concern also worked with nearly 16,000 families in Mangochi, establishing backyard vegetable gardens and planting almost 450,000 trees in woodlands, around homes, and on bare hills and riverbanks. As in Somaliland, these trees help hold dry soil, and increase its fertility to make planting more viable. Vetiver grass was also planted to reduce erosion in flatlands and gullies. These small climate-focused initiatives have made huge changes to communities here, building their resilience to droughts and floods in the future.

Want to help us increase climate resilience to more communities?