Voices from the frontline of global warming

An IoS special report on the people most affected by climate change



Satim Kahle, 46

Marsabit, northern Kenya

"It has been a great stress for us this period – a depressing time. Working all day on the wells that have no water, we're running out of patience. Before, we had predictable seasons: we knew the dry spells, but we also knew that rain would come. Now, over the past 10 years, the rains can't be trusted. Nowadays, you just have to wait and hope. I used to have 500 animals... now I have 100 goats. But even those are weak again because it is so dry; if it doesn't rain for another month, I can't say if they have a future. If it doesn't rain, we're completely doomed. We don't know what to do. I have four children. If it weren't for the drought, I would have sent more to school. Those that go to school can get jobs and not have to come back to this herding life."

Obbo Jateni, 80


"Previously, conflict was mainly about the raiding of cattle. Now the conflict between neighbouring rural clans is about securing pasture and water, and also for territorial integrity and power. The main problem we face is that rainfall in the past five years has not been enough and has resulted in consecutive years of poor harvests. The lack of rain has also impacted on the availability of pasture and water for animals."


Lorenzo Pavon Carballo, 65

El Pochote, Masaya, Nicaragua

"In the past, the climate used to be much fresher, with more dependable rain. We hardly used to need fertiliser to produce good crops. Now everything has changed. This year we lost our first harvest because there was too much rain, and then the second either failed completely or produced only small quantities because there wasn't enough. A lot of this is due to deforestation. You see trucks loaded with trees coming out of the mountains."

Pham Thi Tuyen, 30

Coastal commune Da Loc, Vietnam

"When the typhoon came, we were instructed to move to a safer place. I already lost one son in another typhoon. He was 10, but couldn't swim and he died in the flood. My newborn child was just one month old at that time [typhoon Damrey in 2005] – so when we got this warning we immediately moved to my uncle's house in Yen Dong village, some kilometres inland from the coast. When I came back, my house was completely destroyed and only the pig shed walls were still standing."


Oliveria Aguilar Perez, 53

Tepexi, Mexico

"Before, the rainy season was May to October but now we are lucky to get two months when it rains. It's also a lot hotter now. Twenty years ago, it was intensely hot throughout March and April, but now it's that hot all year – even when it rains. Climate change has affected us a lot because it has brought with it dryness. There used to be more vegetation because in this region we used to grow avocados and dragon fruit, but now they don't grow anymore. We are seeing increasing extensions of dry areas with no plants or trees. In most of them, all you can find are cacti, because they can stand droughts."

Seidou Samba Guindo, 67

Chief of Anakila village, northern Mali

"We have seen big changes in the past ten years – less rain but when it comes it's heavier. We remember the days when farms flourished and all was beautiful. God help us from having to move our families. The dunes are eating our land; we will never grow a good harvest. We need help – emergency help. My message [to Cancun] is that there have been many meetings, but no agreement. As the dune is consuming our village, they must find a solution."


Rahima Mai, 45

South Punjab, Pakistan

"This year we had very heavy rains. Waters started to rise and soon it reached the edge of our village. We knew it was going to be a big flood, but no one had guessed it would destroy our homes and take away our livestock. When I first looked at my destroyed home, I started to scream and cry. I sat on the ground, asking, 'Why did it have to happen to us poor people?' Now we are back, but everything is ruined. I have even sold my goats as I need money to buy food. My son goes to the city every day looking for work, but returns empty-handed. I fear for his safety. Flood waters took away all I had. I am too tired to start over."

Abbas Ali, 11

Lower Assam, India

"I go into the water to collect fish, even during the floods. My mother told me the floods used to bring many interesting fish from the upper parts of Assam. Now, the floods make the waters dark and muddy, and the fish are hard to find. I swim to the shallow places and wait silently for the fish to come. You have to be careful during the floods. The waters are too angry and they can pull you down. I like to go with other fisher boys to the slow waters."


Khalis Shareef, 34

Maldives, Indian Ocean

"Erosion is our biggest problem. Ten houses are going to be gone in the next three years because of beach erosion. No one can do anything about it, apart from big governments. Also, it is hotter now than ever before, and that causes coral damage, leaving fish with nowhere to live, so they go and live in areas where people throw garbage into the ocean, and then that affects our fishermen. Our island is 7.5km long, and there is erosion taking place along 6km of it. In 10 years it will have affected so many houses and people will not be able to live there."

Claire Anterea, 32

Kiribati, Pacific Ocean

"Living in Kiribati, we understand the impacts of climate change as we already experience them – increased coastal erosion with many houses having had to relocate inland. Many sea walls have been built by people themselves, and by the government in public places. How long will these sea walls last? No one knows. I was in North Tarawa, where the main source of fresh water – well water – is becoming contaminated with salt water. They now import from neighbouring villages, but they can't afford to do this for very long."


Batisse Dassa, 33

Shebedino, Ethiopia

"The main problem for us is lack of arable land. My husband has several brothers, so he only inherited a small area. We produce very little food. There is now less precipitation during the rainy season, and when the rain does come, it is sporadic – sometimes crops die halfway through their growth period. Many of the poorest in the area have cut down the trees above our home. If we receive rains after long dry periods, the soil may be washed out."

Chelimo Pokoti, 9

Tangulbei, northern Kenya

"For two years, there has been no rain and the only plants that grow are poisonous loma berries. The first step is to take off the outer shells and dry them for four hours. After that, we take off the next layer. Then we boil them for 12 hours. Next, we wash off the poisonous water. The last step is to take off one more layer. Making a meal is hard work."

Case Studies from: Plan International, ActionAid, Tearfund, Care International, 350.org, Cafod, Oxfam, and Bluepeace

... and a dozen reasons to be cheerful

The bad news is that there is no sign of a UN deal to unite the world against climate change any time soon. The good news is that governments, businesses and people around the world are taking matters into their own hands.

Here is a reminder of reasons to be cheerful, even in the absence of an international legally binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions.

China The largest single investor in green energy in the G20 group. It will invest $1trn in green technology from 2010-2013. More than 1.6 million LED lights are being used in 21 cities in a pilot scheme that will save 164kWh in electricity a year; an eco-city is being built in Tianjin; and renewable energy projects, such as solar power, right, are in place.

The anaconda A 200m rubber tube capable of producing one megawatt of power from wave power. A cluster of 50 coastal anacondas could generate enough power for 50,000 homes. Professor Rod Rainey, who devised the tube, and his colleagues are looking for investors to back commercial production.

Rice Millions will escape hunger and poverty within 25 years by developing new varieties of "climate-ready" rice able to survive in the face of climate change. The new research programme, by the Global Rice Science Partnership (Grisp), aims to lift 150 million people out of poverty by 2035 and prevent the emission of greenhouse gases by an amount equivalent to more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide.

Sea tubes Two environmental scientists, James Lovelock and Chris Rapley, have a plan to dot oceans with hundreds of millions of 200m tubes which would bring nutrients from the deep up to the surface, encouraging algae to bloom. This would suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lock it away.

Giant mirrors in space Scientists at the Royal Society have proposed artificially altering the climate by using a series of giant mirrors or a constellation of trillions of space craft as a sunshade to reflect solar energy. A 2009 study said the idea was "technically possible".

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently fought off attempts by climate sceptics and lobby groups to derail new state legislation to curb carbon emissions and promote clean energy. A defiant Schwarzenegger said: "The environment is not for sale."

Mirrors in the desert At a cost of £20bn over 10 years, scientists suggest laying vast sheets of reflective material over 1.2 million square miles of the Sahara desert. This would counter the fact that only 30 per cent of sunlight is reflected back into the sky naturally.

Investors The world's largest global investors are calling for national and international policies that will spur private investment into low-carbon technologies. Allianz and HSBC are among the largest-ever group of investors to call for government action. Global clean-energy investments are expected to top $200bn this year, but must rise to $500bn a year by 2020 to restrict warming to below 2C.

Earth sunglasses In 2007, Dr Roger Angel secured Nasa funding for a pilot project, for a £244trn project involving using a huge cannon with a barrel 0.6 miles across to fire trillions of mirrors a million miles above the Earth. These would reduce the sun's rays hitting the Earth by about 2 per cent.

Cars HSBC bank predicts 8.65 million electric vehicles and 9.23 million plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles will be sold globally in 2020, up from 5,000 and 657,000 respectively last year.

Solar power in the desert In 2006 German scientists Dr Gerhard Knies and Dr Franz Trieb calculated that covering 0.5 per cent of the world's deserts with concentrated solar power technology could provide the world with all its electricity needs.

Carbon capture At a cement plant in Texas, construction is under way on a $115m Capitol-SkyMine project billed as the world's first for-profit carbon capture plant, which converts CO2 into baking soda. The plant, due to be finished in 2012, is expected to capture 75,000 tons of CO2 and mineralise the CO2 emissions as baking soda.

Jonathan Owen and Pavan Amara

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