Climate Change Is Here — and It Looks Like Starvation

But don’t expect to hear about it on the nightly news.

By Ben Ehrenreich

Famine and drought in Somaliland

As famine and drought spread through Somaliland, a vil­lager car­ries bags of rice, sug­ar, dates and palm oil back to his house after col­lect­ing food from a char­i­ty, May 2017. (Joe Giddens /​PA Wire)There’s a blur where the hori­zon once was, a ques­tion mark nag­ging at every sen­tence you might think to form. The daf­fodils are pret­ty, but aren’t they a lit­tle ear­ly this year? Is it okay to enjoy the warmth of the sun on your bare arms in February? Some of us get to expe­ri­ence cli­mate change as some­thing like a mood, an unwel­come sixth sense that allows us to imag­ine every­thing we know and love in ruins. It becomes con­crete only in sud­den, head­line-grab­bing bursts: a typhoon here, a wild­fire there, anoth­er species some­where lost. It’s real enough, we know, but main­ly we expe­ri­ence it as a shad­ow cast by some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened yet. To some of us, at least.


It is not every­where so abstract. In 2017, I vis­it­ed the inde­pen­dent but unrec­og­nized nation of Somaliland, the north­ern third of what usu­al­ly gets called Somalia. Crisscrossing the road­less savan­nah, I quick­ly learned that cadav­ers meant a vil­lage was near. Usually they start­ed a few miles out: main­ly sheep and goats, but also camels and don­keys dry­ing to leather on the bare, red earth. The pre­vi­ous year, the autumn rains had failed to arrive. The spring rains didn’t come either. Everywhere peo­ple told me drought had tak­en as much as 90 per­cent of their herds — the pri­ma­ry form of cap­i­tal in an over­whelm­ing­ly pas­toral econ­o­my. And every­where I saw peo­ple on the move: in des­per­ate search of pas­ture, or, hav­ing already lost every­thing, of some oth­er source of sus­te­nance. New com­mu­ni­ties were form­ing on the edges of the cities, ragged camps of the dis­placed, once-proud herders reduced to gath­er­ing grav­el for pen­nies a day with no prospects ahead but fur­ther loss.

That was near­ly two years ago. Last year, the spring rains came hard, but the herds were gone, the dam­age done. Most of the country’s wealth had been reduced already to bones. The fall’s rains were weak again, and hunger is once more on the march. In the Horn of Africa, invis­i­bly to most Western eyes, the cat­a­stro­phe of cli­mate change has already altered every­thing.

Last week, the inter­na­tion­al NGO CARE pub­lished its third annu­al report on the world’s 10 most-under-report­ed human­i­tar­i­an crises. Being a bat­tle­ground in the US war on ter­ror still gets you in the news some­times, which is like­ly why Somalia did not rate a men­tion, but its neigh­bor, Ethiopia, received the unwel­come hon­or of mak­ing the list twice. It held sec­ond place for hunger in its east, where the same drought that hit Somalia two years ago has left more than 3 mil­lion peo­ple in need of human­i­tar­i­an aid, and sev­enth place for mas­sive dis­place­ment in the south, where vio­lence broke out between pas­toral and agri­cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ties last spring. (Throughout the con­ti­nent, drought is spurringdead­ly con­flicts between herders and farm­ers over land rights.) By the end of the sum­mer, near­ly a mil­lion peo­ple had fled their homes.

This year, CARE high­light­ed the fact that almost all of these crises can be traced in large part to cli­mate change. In Sudan, unpre­dictable rain­fall has meant “fre­quent droughts,” occa­sion­al flood­ing, and “extreme hunger.” In the island nation of Madagascar, “at the front­line of cli­mate change,” cyclones and drought have put 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple at risk of hunger and, accord­ing to UNICEF, a stag­ger­ing 49 per­cent of the country’s chil­dren have been left stunt­ed by mal­nu­tri­tion. In the Philippines, 2018’s fiercest storm, “super-typhoon” Mangkhut, fed by the heat of the warm­ing oceans, dis­placed more than a mil­lion peo­ple. In Niger, deser­ti­fi­ca­tion has spurred vio­lence and dis­place­ment, just as it has in Chad, where near­ly half the pop­u­la­tion is now chron­i­cal­ly mal­nour­ished. The major source of fresh water in the region, Lake Chad, has shrunk to one-twen­ti­eth the area it once cov­ered. In Haiti it was drought again, plus three dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­canes over two con­sec­u­tive years, leav­ing near­ly 3 mil­lion peo­ple in need of imme­di­ate aid.

The num­bers, all those mil­lions upon mil­lions, are abstract. The real­i­ties are not. Imagine a child you can­not com­fort, a par­ent you can­not save, a lover lost in the con­fu­sion, a home you’ll nev­er see again. Imagine all pos­si­bil­i­ties fore­closed, and then begin mul­ti­ply­ing those imag­in­ings by thou­sands, and thou­sands of thou­sands, and on.Of course, cli­mate change is far from the only cause of all this suf­fer­ing. Infrastructure was already poor or absent, inequal­i­ty and insta­bil­i­ty already pro­found. All of these crises took shape in a glob­al eco­nom­ic sys­tem in which wealth and resources flow in one direc­tion — from poor coun­tries to rich ones — and mis­ery flows in the oth­er. But the droughts and the storms have trig­gered what Christian Parenti has called a “cat­a­stroph­ic con­ver­gence” in which dis­as­ters do not mere­ly hap­pen simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, but “com­pound and ampli­fy each oth­er.”

Read more here: https://​www​.then​ation​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​c​l​i​m​a​t​e​-​c​h​a​n​g​e​-​m​e​d​i​a​-​h​u​m​a​n​i​t​a​r​i​a​n​-​c​r​i​s​es/