Development

In a nutshell: Climate Change & Development

We are facing a global climate crisis. How does this affect the world’s poorest communities? Tim Dunwoody continues our In a Nutshell series…

Reston Njema, Makwasa, Malawi, stood in a ‘run-off pit’ as he spoke to me. His use of the pit, mulching and intercropping were all in response to the more unpredictable weather patterns his community was experiencing.

Farmers in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nepal and South Africa have all told me the same thing. It is becoming more and more difficult to determine when to plant and harvest and to irrigate sufficiently.
Whatever the cause, climate change is happening and the materially poor are the least able to prepare, cope or recover from the consequences.
They may lack the know-how to mitigate against effects and not have the safety nets of savings and insurance to recover when disaster strikes.

Climate change should influence development.
That’s why development programmes need to deliver new ideas and skills for farmers. The traditional ways may no longer be enough.

Unexpected Bonuses in Bolivia

If I give money to an organisation, I may simply be expecting the thing they said would happen, to happen. If that was the case, I’d probably be happy enough. However, often when good development activities are carried out, there can be positive ramifications beyond what was expected.

If I may use the example of Irish Methodist funded work in Bolivia. The basic idea was to provide solar ovens (10% of cost was paid for by recipient) for domestic use. The results:

1. As intended, time has been freed up for women to explore other productive activities or even recreational pursuits. As one women has said, “I think I love my oven more than my husband!”

The forests, previously used as the source of firewood, are being conserved. All this was hoped for before things started.

However, there have been other consequences:

2. The involvement of the Methodist Church in Ireland has led to new Bolivian Methodist communities joining the scheme.

3. Because of the ‘extra’ time now available to women, community discussions have been initiated and training delivered around gender roles within the community.

The solar ovens have become less about economics and the environment and more about women’s empowerment.

4. The ‘ovens project’ is happening where a proposed hydroelectric dam may be built. It is risky to do leadership training in such an area as the powerful and wealthy do not wish to be challenged.

However, the ‘ovens project’ provides a cover under which such training can happen less obviously so that local people can understand the issues and mobilise themselves to lobby for their rights.

5. The ovens and their success has been seen by other local NGOs and this has led to an increase in demand. A deal is now being brokered with local commercial enterprises to produce the oven parts locally and the increased demand will mean a reduction in cost.

Also, importantly, it is expected to lead to 800 new jobs.

As was told to me by Emma Donlan, Christian Aid Country Manager for Bolivia, “The Methodist Church in Ireland has been the springboard”. It is great when development throws up unexpected bonuses and very significant bonuses at that.

NB Irish Methodist World Development & Relief co-funds some work with Christian Aid Ireland. In the above case the ‘shared’ partner is the Bolivian NGO, Soluciones Practicas.

 

Could you dumb that down for me please?

If anyone missed it, the United Kingdom is currently trying to extract itself from the European Union i.e. Brexit. This has been one of the most contentious national issues in the UK, ever. No one seems to understand what Brexit will mean for UK citizens. In mid-November, a draft withdrawal agreement (between the UK and EU) was presented by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May. The media tried to help us understand the document’s contents.

If we really want to understand what is on offer, we could read the document but we’re just not going to do that, are we? It is 585 pages long, will contain big words, stuff that goes right over our heads and many particular elements that don’t interest us. At the end of the day, most of us want a nice bite-sized summary that gives us the gist of what is going on. However, in reducing a 585-page document, the media is bound to dumb things down a bit and we end up not getting the full story, creating our own ‘fake knowledge’ and, despite our good intentions, not actually understanding the situation fully at all.

Recently, I was visiting Dabane Water Workshops (WDR partner) in Zimbabwe. What an impressive outfit they are; working with local people to access water and address broader water management issues and livelihoods in rural areas. One conversation with Stephen Hussey, the Director, stays with me.

Why is there water scarcity in parts of Zimbabwe? If you were standing by the riverbanks as I had been, the answer would seem obvious; there is no water in the rivers because the rains are seasonal and when rivers do flow, they may only flow for a few days. That’s the simple answer or the ‘dumbed down’ answer, if you like. It seems to make perfect sense, satisfies a superficial interest or concern and can be used to give rise to some simple (dumbed down?) opinions, even solutions.

The Mahwanke River in September

The Mahwanke River in September

When Stephen and I discussed why there was water scarcity where these people lived, his answer was much more complex. Indeed, rains are sporadic and inconsistent. Why? Well, the changing rainfall patterns, he sees as part of the documented global climate change. Immediately, any long-term solution is now going to need to address that massive problem and it involves governments and their policy making, not just a local water project on the Mahwanke River. So why don’t people move nearer more reliable water sources? Where they are now, may be the only land they have as a result of colonialists taking the better irrigated and productive land. So now we’re into colonial history and land rights. How are these factors, perhaps defined centuries ago, addressed justly? That question brings in national and local leadership. Let’s not forget tribalism. And then there is the question around why countries like Zimbabwe don’t have the wherewithal to sort out these problems. Yes, there has been corruption and leadership deficiencies but there is also a global economy dominated by the rich West. It is extremely difficult for developing countries to get a foothold in international markets, get fair deals and benefit sufficiently in order to improve the lot of their citizens.

Tim listening to Stephen outside the Dabane offices

Tim listening to Stephen outside the Dabane offices

 So why have people in Matabeleland been struggling to access sufficient water? It’s complicated and, therefore, the solutions are not straightforward.

Many of us are genuinely concerned about the plight of the materially poor. But we mustn’t be lazy in trying to understand the “Why?” and the “How can we best respond?”. Let us commit to going a little deeper in our understanding of people’s suffering so that we can get more fully behind good potential solutions or lobby for necessary change to happen.

And was that the full explanation of why some people in Zimbabwe do not have access to water? No. It’s even more complicated than that. I dumbed it down a bit so we could all try to understand it a little better. Sorry about that…