On International Mother Earth Day, VSO volunteer Marije contributes a blog about her experiences in Malawi, climate change, and how we can begin to tackle this international issue within the communities it is affecting now.

My name is Marije, a Dutch ecologist and VSO volunteer working as climate change coordinator in the Nsanje district of Malawi. One of the poorest areas in one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. You can imagine, I’m living no life of luxury down here.

There is a lot of discussion about the existence of climate change. But the fact is that a lot of countries are suffering from a changing climate and consequential erratic weather. Unfortunately the countries that suffer the most are often also the poorest. Malawi is one of these countries. A country struggling with a history of political difficulties, a devaluation of the currency, an AIDS epidemic  and which now also needs to deal with bush fires, dry spells and flash floods.

The effects of extreme weather in Malawi are huge. Flash floods wash away crops, roads, houses and people. They also bring waterborne diseases like cholera and other health issues. Flooding isolates villages from hospitals and trading centres, prohibiting adequate measures to cope with these problems. On the other hand, there are dry-spells which also destroy crops, make clean drinking water scarce and cause bush fires. The bush fires cause erosion, which in turn aggravates flash floods during the wet season. It is a downward spiral, causing poverty and all its accompanying problems like child deaths, malnutrition, HIV and AIDS and illiteracy.

Climate change has a huge influence on the living circumstances and ongoing poverty in many countries. And it is quite hard to deal with this because of the complex nature of the problem. The only sustainable solutions are long term and demand a lot of commitment. Climate change is such an important and hot topic in Malawi daily life and politics. It’s way more important than back home in Europe.  Different from the rich western world, the big question in Malawi is not if climate change is real. They are way beyond that. They’re asking the question how to deal with it. How are we and our people going to survive this? How do we get out of this poverty, while nature keeps on destroying our livelihood?

While I’m in Malawi, I’m one of many trying to give an answer to these questions. One thing foremost is clear to all of us: the need to cooperate with local communities. Discuss together why this is happening and what can be done. With only limited money and resources available. The WATERS-project I’m working on is trying to achieve this. Giving local people the opportunity to learn about cause and effect in the long term, and how they can prevent problems by using their own surroundings and the eco-system. It will take a long while to get there. But people are eager to learn. They have to. In the meanwhile the rich and industrialised countries continue to bicker about the existence of climate change, merchandising carbon dioxide and calculating how to keep making money on fossil fuels.

More information about the WATERS-project can be found on my website: www.bynatureadvies.nl

Read VSO’s position paper on climate change

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