By Maria Grant and Natalie Walter
Climate Change is a Social Justice Issue
These days perhaps more than ever, we see tragedies caused by natural disasters over and over again in the news. Communities all over the Americas and the Caribbean are facing hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and other forces beyond their control. And we know that in the cases of some of these natural disasters, their tragic effects are exacerbated by climate change. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
But did you know that climate change also exacerbates the health problems AMOS addresses in our work every day, such as diarrhea and malnutrition? According the the World Health Organization, climate change presents a serious risk to our health: “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” 8 Furthermore, they note that areas with weak health infrastructure will be disproportionately affected. 9 We are all too aware of the effects of climate change in Nicaragua, a country very vulnerable to the effects of climate change – in fact, we are ranked by one recent study as the country 4th most affected by climate change in the world over the past decade. 10
The destruction of people’s homes and lives that we are witnessing are not simply meteorological events – they are social justice issues. The people throughout the world who are already most vulnerable are those who feel the effects of climate change the most 11 12 – vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women are more at risk due to the health burdens they already face, 13 and lower-income countries are more effected than their industrialized counterparts. 14 AMOS Health & Hope recognizes the real threat presented by climate change, and we are committed to empowering the communities we work with to combat its effects. We can do something about this – together!
Addressing Climate Change Through Community Organization
AMOS has seen very clearly Nicaragua’s vulnerability to climate change in the communities we work with. At the beginning of the rainy season this year, the community of El Bambú in the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS) experienced extreme rain that caused deep flooding in the roads and rivers of this rural community. Flooding caused a decrease in agricultural productivity, reducing the community’s ability to plant their crops, and leaving the community with a limited food source.
The heavy rains in El Bambú also caused an increase in waterborne diseases. These diseases affect the most vulnerable disproportionality, and account for a high percentage of death among children worldwide. According to the Center for Disease Control, “diarrhea kills more children than malaria, measles, and AIDS combined.” 15 More children die from diarrheal diseases because flooding and contamination exacerbate a situation in which access to health facilities is already limited. 16 This access is especially limited in communities as dispersed as those in the RACCS, where most communities are at least three hours away from the nearest hospital or health center.
“Many moms living on the other side of the stream in the community of El Bambú have told us that they cannot take their children to the community clinic when it’s raining, because the stream turns into a strong river and becomes too dangerous to cross by foot,” explains Patricia Pérez, AMOS Health & Hope Field Supervisor.
Empowering Communities for Adaptation
In response to these circumstances, AMOS aims to improve community organization by training local leaders in how to respond to these types of emergencies. The health committee from each community has organized to administer an emergency fund – money collected by members of the community. This way, they can respond when someone is injured, such as a pregnant woman or a severely sick child who needs to get out of the community to reach the nearest hospital or health center. We have also on several occasions delivered emergency relief to communities facing extreme flooding – or, on the other extreme of the spectrum, communities more towards the dry north which experience a lack of food caused by a severe, years-long drought.
AMOS uses a community-based participatory research model so that communities are able to develop a learning cycle in response to the main problems in their communities. The cycle shows them how to plan, adapt to their local context, carry out an intervention, and monitor the process to learn from it and improve. AMOS works alongside communities utilizing their own resources so we can all take part in the solution. Adaptation to the local context is key to community-based primary healthcare, and communities like El Bambú develop adaption plans for their own specific risk factors in health, and the changing environment.Tackling Climate Change – Together
Climate change is a problem of such magnitude that it can seem impossible to address. But one thing is for sure: if we are to take on this challenge, none of us can do it alone. Some of the most important actions that are needed to help the people already vulnerable to natural disasters or disease must happen at the local, community level. Nicaraguan or North American, whether facing floods, fires, droughts, or hurricanes – we must all do our part for the good of all in the face of one of humanity’s greatest challenges.
Thank you for your support of Nicaraguan communities confronting health and development challenges in the face of climate change. We are in this together!
For more resources, check out the World Health Organization’s fact sheet 17 on climate change and health, or Catholic Relief Services’ resources 18 for communities of faith who want to take action on climate change.
1. “As climate change makes bad weather worse, countries must strengthen resilience, UN officials urge.” UN News Center. September 18, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=57543#.WcF-70pSyqR.↩
2. Drash, Wayne. “Yes, climate change made Harvey and Irma worse.” CNN. September 15, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/15/us/climate-change-hurricanes-harvey-and-irma/index.html.↩
3. “Hurricane Irma: 5 Ways Climate Change May Make Storms Worse.” Time. September 8, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://time.com/4933743/hurricane-irma-climate-change-global-warming/.↩
4. Shankleman, Jess, and Stefan Nicola. “Hurricane Irma Made Worse by Climate Change, Scientists Say.” Bloomberg.com. September 06, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-06/hurricane-irma-was-made-worse-by-climate-change-scientists-say.↩
5. Meyer, Robinson. “Has Climate Change Intensified 2017’s Western Wildfires?” The Atlantic. September 07, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/09/why-is-2017-so-bad-for-wildfires-climate-change/539130/.↩
6. “Global Warming and Wildfires.” National Wildlife Federation. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Threats-to-Wildlife/Global-Warming/Global-Warming-is-Causing-Extreme-Weather/Wildfires.aspx.↩
7. “Half of Weather Disasters Linked to Climate Change.” National Geographic. August 29, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/151105-climate-weather-disasters-drought-storms/. ↩
8. “Climate change and health.” World Health Organization. July 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/.↩
9. “Climate change and health.” World Health Organization. July 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/.↩
10. Kreft, Sönke; David Eckstein, and Inga Melchior. “GLOBAL CLIMATE RISK INDEX 2017 Who Suffers Most From Extreme Weather Events? Weather-related Loss Events in 2015 and 1996 to 2015 .” The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development November 2016. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://germanwatch.org/de/download/16411.pdf . Page 6.↩
Unfccc.com. “Vulnerable Children Most Impacted by ClimateUNICEF Annual Report.” UNFCCC. August 2, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2017. http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/climate-change-mainly-impacting-vulnerable-children/.↩
“Climate change and health.” World Health Organization. July 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/.↩
EPA. January 5, 2017. Accessed September 28, 2017. https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2017/01/ej-climate-change/.↩
14. Kreft, Sönke; David Eckstein, and Inga Melchior. “GLOBAL CLIMATE RISK INDEX 2017 Who Suffers Most From Extreme Weather Events? Weather-related Loss Events in 2015 and 1996 to 2015 .” The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development November 2016. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://germanwatch.org/de/download/16411.pdf . Pages 2-4. ↩
15. “Safe Water System.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 02, 2014. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/safewater/disease.html.↩
16. “Waterborne Diseases.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/climatechange/health_impacts/waterborne_diseases/index.cfm.↩
17. “Climate change and health.” World Health Organization. July 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/.↩
Admin. “Laudato Si’ – Our Common Home and Climate Change.” Catholic Relief Services. May 09, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017. https://www.crs.org/climate-change.↩