What about Those Already Hit by Climate Change? ANALYSIS Climate Change Has Already Affected Some of the World's Poorer Communities as Oxfam's Maya Segas Found out in Sri Lanka

The Birmingham Post (England), May 30, 2007 | Go to article overview
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What about Those Already Hit by Climate Change? ANALYSIS Climate Change Has Already Affected Some of the World's Poorer Communities as Oxfam's Maya Segas Found out in Sri Lanka


Byline: Maya Segas

Birmingham is set to be the worst place in Britain by the end of the century. According to a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit, Birmingham will be 4C (39F) hotter due to climate change. Add to this increasing pollution and more extreme weather conditions such as tornadoes, and Birmingham could become a very unpleasant place to live.

Now Birmingham, as a city, is already looking into how we are going to cope with this change. It's something that is going to affect all of us and we are trying to do something about it now.

But what is happening to people elsewhere who are already affected by climate change? What about the people who are simply too poor to cope? In a report launched this week by Oxfam, the costs for poor countries to adapt to climate change are estimated to be at least EUR50 billion (pounds 25 billion) a year, and far more if emissions are not cut rapidly.

Oxfam is calling on the world's richest countries, which are most responsible for climate change and most capable of paying, to foot the bill for poor countries to adapt.

I have seen at first hand how climate change is already having a devastating effect on some of the world's poorest people when I recently went to Sri Lanka to look at how Oxfam projects are run there.

I knew that I would meet people affected by the devastating tsunami that hit Sri Lanka two years ago and I tried to prepare myself emotionally, focusing on the fact that Oxfam contributed swiftly to the emergency response after the disaster and that I would see how Oxfam has helped to rebuild communities.

What I was not prepared for though was the extent of the effect that the recent droughts and floods are having on the rural population. After over two years of hard work to get their lives back to normal, Sri Lankans now face a new emergency.

My first clue that something wasn't right came when we were driving on the bumpy roads out to the east of the country. We saw mudslide after mudslide. Sudha, a local Oxfam field worker, told me that they had experienced the worst flooding in recent years and that mudslides of this nature had not happened at any time in the 30 years since the road was built. This rough weather has put a strain Sri Lanka's already stretched government resources and reconstruction has taken time.

The floods have also had an effect on farmers' lives, as have prolonged droughts. Considering that almost half the people in Sri Lanka live on less than two dollars a day and depend on agriculture, this extreme weather is a worrying and new trend.

I met Kumara Singhe, a tea farmer in Gurukele, a small village nestled in the hills of central Sri Lanka. "This drought took us by surprise," he said. "We have always had dry spells, but we always had some rain in between. This has been a very long drought."

Kumara told me that the drought had killed many of his tea plants, and meant he effectively lost his entire crop, altogether a loss of about 50,000 rupees, or pounds 230. When you think that the average rural income in Sri Lanka is pounds 150 a year, you realise that this is an awful lot of money for him to lose.

Fortunately for Kumara, he can turn to the Small Organic Farmer's Association, or SOFA, for help. SOFA was set up in 1997 by a group of local farmers who realised that they could sell their tea at a higher and more reliable price if they used organic farming methods.

Oxfam helped strengthen SOFA by providing leadership training and workshops to help farmers increase their yields. Thanks to SOFA and the relationship that Oxfam helped them to foster with a local buyer, the price of organic tea has risen. They have even reached the international market and I found their 'Ceylon Green' tea for sale in my local Oxfam shop.

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What about Those Already Hit by Climate Change? ANALYSIS Climate Change Has Already Affected Some of the World's Poorer Communities as Oxfam's Maya Segas Found out in Sri Lanka
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