Fossil Fuels worsen povertyMany people around the world depend on fossil fuels for daily tasks and activities. However, emissions from non-renewable energy sources have harmful effects on health and the environment, with the most significant impacts felt in poverty-stricken countries. Nations with high consumerism, such as China, the United States and India, opt for fossil fuels due to cost-effectiveness and convenience in manufacturing. Over half of these countries’ energy is sourced from fossil fuels like coal, oil and solid biomass. Several developed nations, including Sweden, Germany and New Zealand, are shifting away from fossil fuels, transitioning to renewable energy. However, even though fossil fuels worsen poverty through extreme environmental and health impacts, countries in more underdeveloped areas lack the resources or funding to finance the transition to sustainable renewable energy sources.

Non-Renewable Energy in Numbers

According to a 2019 article by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, the developing world uses more than half the world’s fossil fuels. The demand for energy has doubled over the past 15 years and is presumed to keep increasing at a 30% rate. This upward trend is helping wealthier countries drive their global trade flows but is worsening the climate crisis.

The combustion of fossil fuels releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to heat retention and ozone layer depletion. This triggers adverse effects worldwide, including heightened droughts, more intense weather events and elevated temperatures, showing how fossil fuels worsen poverty.

The 2022 Global Climate Report from the National Centers for Environmental Information confirms a steady temperature rise of 0.14°F (0.08°C) annually since 1981. According to Forbes Magazine, these extreme weather events could push 122 million more people into extreme poverty within the next few years.

Impacts on the People

As extreme weather becomes more common, communities in impoverished areas suffer the most. These communities do not have the resources or finances to bounce back from the impacts of extreme weather events and the destruction of their homes, health and livelihoods.

In Somalia, the last five rainy seasons have been below adequate for harvesting and caring for livestock. This has resulted in a significant lack of food, causing 5 million Somalians to go hungry and 200,000 Somalians to experience starvation. Unfortunately, there is no clear end in sight to the droughts plaguing Somalia.

In 2022, Pakistan experienced a “monsoon on steroids,” as described by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. This extreme weather event lasted from June to October and caused flooding and landslides at a rate 10 times greater than the 30-year national average. Overall, the monsoon-related events affected 33 million people and destroyed 4.4 million acres of agricultural land and 800,000 livestock. Because of this monsoon, the number of people going hungry in Pakistan today has nearly doubled, with about 14.6 million Pakistanis enduring severe hunger.

South Sudan is also one of the countries most impacted by extreme weather events. The temperatures in South Sudan are rapidly increasing at a rate 2.5 times faster than the global average. The weather has caused South Sudan to overflow with water in some parts and shrivel up in others. These factors have contributed to severe hunger, affecting 7.7 million people out of the 12 million population.

Active Solutions to Reduce Emissions

Greenpeace has worked to make the more environmentally sustainable since 1971. By investigating, documenting and exposing environmentally destructive activities, Greenpeace raises public awareness about these issues. By increasing awareness of how fossil fuels worsen poverty and impact the most marginalized and disadvantaged people, Greenpeace is helping to reduce the prevalence of extreme weather events in impoverished nations.

Developing nations are also taking steps. Morocco, for instance, is witnessing a shift from fossil-fuel-based products to solar, wind and hydro-powered alternatives. In June 2021, the country’s leaders pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17-18% by 2030 and will substantially decrease government support for fossil fuels. With rising renewable electricity production, Morocco stands as a leading African country in the fight against extreme weather events.

Recognizing that global fossil fuel consumption contributes to extreme weather events that disproportionately affect the impoverished, affluent nations and impactful organizations must support the transition of developing countries to renewable energy.

– Nina Donlin
Photo: Unsplash

Extreme Weather in RwandaAt the beginning of May 2023, heavy rainfall across East Africa led to flash flooding across the region, most destructively in Rwanda and Uganda. At least 130 people died because of extreme weather in Rwanda, while the chaos displaced entire villages. As a small but mountainous and landlocked region, Rwanda has a very dense population, increasing the number of those affected by the disaster.

Extreme Weather Changes

Rwanda and surrounding nations frequently suffer from the consequences of extreme weather changes. In 2019, 265 people died and tens of thousands had to leave their homes after two months of continuous rainfall. This event affected 2 million people across Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

Then in May 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was tearing through communities across the world, Rwanda suffered 65 deaths and Kenya at least 194 after yet another period of heavy rainfall. More recently, in April 2023, at least 14 people died in southern Ethiopia, when a similar pattern of heavy rain triggered floods and landslides. Alongside fatalities, this destroyed crucial livestock and devastated numerous homes. Now, only a month later, a climate disaster once again struck Rwanda and its neighbors.

Damage in the Region

Damage by the extreme rainfall and consequential flash-flooding has not only led to the loss of lives but also the destruction of more than 5,000 homes, 17 roads, 26 bridges and an entire hospital, according to DW. West Africa experienced similar levels of rainfall, with several storms occurring across parts of Sierra Leone. The flash flooding that followed washed numerous cars and tore buildings apart. A collapsing wall killed six people and another 10 died when a house collapsed during a landslide.

The loss of crops and livestock completely disrupted livelihoods because many people rely on farming to provide food for their families. In an agricultural-based economy that employs 65% of the population, the erosion of land is hugely consequential for the Rwandan people. Extreme weather in Rwanda is not only responsible for the destruction of the environment but also the biodiversity. According to DW, every year, torrential rain causes a loss of almost 600 million tons of soil with the impact being most severe on sloping croplands, which can lead to famine.

The Role of Climate Change

The increasing “frequency and intensity” of extreme weather in Rwanda and across Africa is one of the reasons for a breakdown of the climate, most notably the rate at which the planet is getting hotter, according to The Guardian. Deputy regional director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Africa, Richard Munang agreed, stating that rising temperatures are causing the number of natural disasters to rapidly increase. According to Munang, the planet has warmed to 1.1 degrees Celsius. But even worse, Africa is warming up at double the speed of the rest of the world, DW reports.

In a UNDP report, disasters brought about as a direct result of climate change between 2000 and 2023 have increased by 134%. As a region vulnerable to floods and landslides, Rwanda is a country particularly susceptible to the consequences of the planet getting alarmingly warmer. Because of its inability to adapt to these extreme weather conditions, recovery from such events is even more challenging.

Described as “one of the most climate-impacted nations on Earth,” according to DW, Rwanda has suffered significant fatalities and hundreds of people have been displaced because of flooding and landslides. There is a direct link, therefore, between the rate of global warming and the increasing frequency of extreme weather in Rwanda. Some have proposed relocating vulnerable communities to areas less prone to floods, but whilst this may help in the short term, it does not address the severe issue of climate change, which is only getting worse with time.

Relief Efforts Within Rwanda

After the most recent episode of rainfall and flooding, the Government of Rwanda has implemented a major relief effort, with provisions for temporary shelter, emergency supplies, clean water and health care services. Rwandan Prime Minister, Edouard Ngirente, led a delegation comprising several cabinet ministers and the Inspector General of Police, with which he visited affected regions. In doing so, he reassured residents of government support and relief efforts. In the immediate aftermath, the government established a command center in an attempt to coordinate the response effort and distribute household items such as bedding and clothes.

According to Rwanda’s minister in charge of emergency management, Marie-Solange Kayisire, relief efforts began straight away where volunteers helped bury victims and provided supplies to those who lost their homes, The Guardian reports.

Green Gicumbi Project and the Red Cross

Located in the highlands of Northern Rwanda, the Green Gicumbi Project works among communities to put flood and drought resistance measures in place. In doing so, it has built terraces and storage for water during periods of drought, and this is “rapidly transforming the landscape,” according to DW. Moreover, after funding from the Paris Climate Agreement’s Green Climate Fund, the Rwandan Government was able to transform an arid wasteland into a climate-resilient agricultural region.

The Red Cross also aided relief efforts following the floods, with photographs showing local farmers perched on steep hillsides digging through the mud in an attempt to find those buried in their homes.

Looking forward

Despite the devastating impact of extreme weather events in Rwanda and East Africa, there are positive signs of resilience and relief efforts. The Rwandan government has swiftly responded with a major relief effort, providing temporary shelter, emergency supplies, clean water and health care services to affected communities. Projects like the Green Gicumbi Project, focusing on flood and drought resistance measures, and the support from organizations like the Red Cross are also making a difference in building climate resilience and aiding recovery efforts. While there is still room for progress and additional alleviatory measure, these initiatives highlight the determination and resourcefulness of the Rwandan people in the face of climate-related challenges.

– Bethan Marsden

Photo: flickr