Monday, 12 October 2009
N0 waiting for Copenhagen – African children say, Act Now
In the run-up to the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December, I wanted to look at the point of view of children in Africa. They have contributed the least to climate change, but are the worst affected by it. They are also leaders of change: studies have shown that well educated and informed children are often more willing than their parents to adapt and change in order to fight climate change.
“You people in the first world, can you please fix the hole in the ozone layer?” asks 10-year-old Joseph Davies, from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to school children in the UK through a video link. Across Africa, children like Joseph have contributed the least to climate change, yet they already have to deal with the consequences.
Over the last few years, their communities have faced seasonal drought, flooding, landslides, thunderstorms, heat waves and other natural disasters. This has led to failing crops, water shortage and diseases - and children, being more vulnerable, are hit the hardest. The resulting increased poverty has a shattering impact on their education and future.
In Malawi’s Ezondweni farming community, people used to start planting crops in November, but now they have to plant in December or January because of the longer dry season. “This means we harvest later and less,” says Christophe Koroma, 18. “The longer and hotter dry spells also cause crops and trees to die and this causes famine in our community. For me, the changes mean that there can be no food to eat at times. My education suffers as I cannot concentrate at school.”
Yet, Christophe and thousands of other children across Africa aren’t feeling sorry for themselves. They are full of optimism and ideas on how to tackle these threats to their communities.
“I am not too young to worry about climate change”
“We are the future leaders and we need to protect the environment we live in,” Nyakeh Vandy Konteh, 13, says in a telephone interview from the Eastern part of Freetown. “I am not too young to be worried about climate change, simply because if this trend continues unchecked, nobody will be able to live in this environment.”
Nyakeh and 30 other pupils from the Albert Academy School in Freetown have formed the Albert Academy Young Activists on Climate Change, a club involved in research, education and action on climate change.
On field trips, they have learned that the major cause of flooding in their area was deforestation, so they have launched a campaign to convince community members to stop cutting trees and plant new ones. “I have participated in debates, radio discussions and drawing posters,” says Nyakeh, who is the chair of the club.
They have established a solid waste management system, digging waste disposal pits and starting a recycling programme. And they have planted trees on their school compound and the local community. “We have planted Acacia trees because they are fast growing and can serve as wind breakers, prevent erosion and provide timber, and fruit trees like mango, orange and apple, so we’ll have fruits to eat during lunch.” In addition, they are also working with the Ministry of Education to include climate change on the geography curriculum, using local examples, and pushing for more stringent regulations on deforestation.
“They pick up things we don’t see”
Across Africa, thousands of children are involved in similar work. In many African countries, children traditionally are seen, but not heard, but this is slowly changing. “We welcome what the children do. They pick up on things that we don't see,” says an elder in Falaba, Moyamba District in Sierra Leone, where children worked on renovating a well. “The children are aware and take action. They identified the well as a problem, but the adults had just accepted it. Now we work together with them.”
Nyakeh and his friends’ decided to take action after learning about climate change through “Make the Link, Be the Change”, an international climate change education programme, run by Plan, a leading children’s humanitarian organization. The project links 100 schools in 12 countries in the UK, Asia and Africa, so children can share ideas and strategies about preventing the worst effects of climate change.
Ten years ago in Kyoto, children’s issues were not on the agenda and their voices were not heard. “It is critical that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 puts children at the heart of the discussions and includes their voices in the debates,” says David Bull, UNICEF UK executive director.
Involving children in the fight against climate change is invaluable, adds Nick Hall, head of Disaster Risk Reduction at Plan UK. “Young people are more willing to change and make their lives safer than adults who are more entrenched in their ways and more fatalistic."