World Humanitarian Day was first celebrated on 19th August, 2003 in honour of 22 aid workers who lost their lives in the Canal Hotel, Baghdad bomb attack. Since then, it has been celebrated in honour of humanitarians who have lost their lives in the line of duty and to applaud others who continue in spite of risks involved to offer this service. This year’s theme focuses on the impact of the global climate crisis and attempts to push leaders to take concrete action to mitigate against its effect on the most vulnerable persons in society.
Droughts, famine, floods, cyclones, heatwaves, wildfires, erosion are outcomes of the increased frequency and intensity in the change in climatic conditions and they hit hardest at the world’s poor who depend largely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. In periods of droughts and famine, farm produce dwindles leading to less availability of food to eat, less produce for farmers to sell and the skyrocketing of food prices. Rivers and lakes may dry up or may overflow causing fishermen to struggle to earn a living. Dwindling resources translate to competition and ultimately conflict. Communal clashes such as the Fulani herdsmen and Benue indigenes over grazing land will continue to abound in such circumstances.
Unfavourable climatic events may cause persons or communities to move. People search for better living conditions or are forced to flee in order to save their lives. The recent massive earthquake in Haiti has led to heavy loss of lives and property; wildfires have ravaged cities in Greece and the US; and floods in Germany and Belgium have taken their toll. Coming closer home, the drought in Southern Madagascar is causing severe hunger amongst its poorest inhabitants; an unusual dryness is reported to be persistent in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya; and heavy rainfalls recorded in various parts of Nigeria has caused severe damage to lives, homes, infrastructure, crops, animals and livelihoods. These are just few of the disasters suffered globally in 2021.
Conflicts also make people flee. As stated earlier, lack of resources lends its own contribution to survival of the fittest and the need to fight. In conflict areas, people are pre-occupied with keeping safe. When the motive is to save lives, they move to other communities. The receiving community is forced to stretch its own resources and this may breed some hostility towards the ‘guests’. Displacement is another crisis on its own which leaves people helpless and traumatized; and is a strain on governments whose responsibility it is to cater for its citizens. There are about 2.5million displaced persons in Nigeria. Clashes and natural disasters can proudly lay their own to this displacement crisis.
While we celebrate our day as humanitarians, we should think of the little ways we can help to reduce the effect of climate change in our own part of the world.
One major target is to reduce the use of fossil fuels – oil, carbon and natural gas, replacing them with renewable and cleaner energy sources. As Nigeria has been identified as the biggest importer of fossil fuel powered generators in Africa and one of the greatest transmitters of greenhouse gases, switching to solar power instead of generators is a great, first step. We can tackle pollution by using our cars less. Using other forms of transportation such as walking, cycling and use of public transport will make a difference.
Giving up or reducing our intake of meat and dairy products is another welcome measure. Cattle are one of the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases. We can choose to be either vegetarians or flexitarians. Flexitarians do not completely give up but reduce their intake of animal proteins. In the long run, cutting down our intake of animal proteins is a health benefit as we end up reducing carbon in our diet.
Using ultra clean smoke stoves to cook instead of engaging in open air cooking promises to be a novel and fantastic experience. Open air cooking requires the use of biomass (wood, agricultural waste or charcoal). The method releases black carbon into the atmosphere and is harmful to health. It also gives rise to deforestation – another undesirable practice that harms the environment.
Letting our voices be heard. Speaking for and about change in daily habits that harm the environment to our friends, colleagues and families.
These are small changes that collectively make a huge difference.
Happy World Humanitarian Day!
***Ogonna Kanu, a DHI volunteer wrote in from Lagos