In the red, sun-baked earth of Tougan, Burkina Faso, people are gathering to plant trees in a bid to save their livelihoods and communities. This is a race against time, decreasing rainfall and the damaging effects of the hot winds from the Sahara Desert.
Years of rising temperatures, drought and deforestation have left lands vulnerable to the encroaching desert. The wind erodes and dries out the unprotected soil, making farming impossible. Without food, people are forced to move to the cities to find work.
Here, as in so many communities throughout Africa, and across the globe, it’s not the threat of a future catastrophe people face, but the very real and immediate impact of a changing climate.
And it’s these trees that are protecting the soil from the wind and helping to retain moisture in this rain parched section of Africa. Trees act as windbreaks and help restore the local ecosystem, providing a natural solution to failing crops, faltered livelihoods, and desolate communities.
These sorts of innovations are crucial. Not just for Tougan, but right across the globe. A recent report from UNICEF makes it clear. The climate crisis is also a crisis for children’s rights. “Almost every child on earth is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, shock or stress such as heatwaves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding and water scarcity.”
Children are more physically and psychologically vulnerable than adults to the effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, and increasing levels of pollution in the air, soil, water and oceans. And they face a difficult future as “...any deprivation as a result of climate and environmental degradation at a young age can result in a lifetime of lost opportunity.”
As a member of my community in Burkina Faso, and as Compassion Vice President for Africa, I can attest that we cannot deliver on our mission to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name unless we also accept and act on the biblical mandate to care for the integrity of God’s creation.
This mandate ensures all children can grow up in environments that provide them secure and sustainable access to the basic essentials of life such as food, water and energy. UNICEF’s Children Climate Risk Index, has shown us that children are at a high or extremely high risk of the impacts of climate change in 70% of the countries in which Compassion works.
Tackling the existential threat of climate change can feel like an impossible feat, but as leading Climate Scientist Dr Kate Marvel says, we don’t have hope we can slow climate change, we have something better – certainty.
Certainty that we have the knowledge, tools and technology we need to make a difference. Technology like the natural wind barrier in Tougan, Burkina Faso, is part of a suite of sustainable land management practises that Compassion is currently undertaking.
In semi-arid Kitui, Kenya, prolonged periods of drought have seen communities rely on hand outs and the kindness of others just to survive.
For years, Lilian, who lives in that rural community, had tried to venture into commercial vegetable farming, but the unpredictable weather patterns and persistent drought made it an impossible undertaking.
Everything changed when our local church partner was able to build a sand dam for the benefit of the entire community.
A sand dam is a wall built across a seasonal riverbed. During the rainy season, when the river runs, heavy sand accumulates behind the dam. Within a few rainy seasons, the dam fills with sand, but up to 40 percent of the volume held behind the wall is water stored between grains of sand.
This innovative solution to water shortages transforms environments beyond recognition.
In Kitui, the sand dam has raised the water table allowing wells to provide water. These days, with her 16-year-old daughter Merrium, who is part of our Child Sponsorship Programme, Lilian carefully tends to her garden where she grows maize, tomatoes, spinach, and capsicum to eat and sell.
There is an old African proverb: “The wind does not break a tree that bends.” If we do not adapt to our changing circumstances, we will break.
These two instances alone highlight the crucial nature of local projects, specific to their geographical context. Our frontline church partners, together with their communities, are adapting and innovating as the climate shifts around them.
Indeed, more than adaptation, local projects like these enable people to become resilient to changing weather patterns. They encourage responsible use of the planet’s resources, educate future generations about how to live sustainably and restore environments so that children and young people can live, develop and thrive.
Far from being the victims of circumstance, we are also seeing children making a stand to protect the environment God has entrusted to us.
In Indonesia, a teacher and graduate of Compassion’s programme is giving back to her community through a waste collection and recycling programme. Twice a week, she gets her students from the Compassion project to clean up and recycle the plastic waste that accumulates on their local beach, which otherwise pollutes waterways and has contributed to the decline in sea turtle population. As well as serving their community, the children and young people play a vital role in protecting their local environment.
In Peru, green initiatives like solar panels are not just an energy saving measure, they are also providing homes with light and power after the sun sets. For 8-year-old Neymar, it means he can draw and colour, study and do his homework before bedtime.
These local initiatives nourish children’s love for the environment and amplify their desire to protect it. Not only is this vital for our environment, but it also offers opportunities to learn skills for green jobs in the future.
As Christians we wait with hope for the future. We pray that our world leaders will make wise decisions to protect the planet. But we also need to act with certainty now – every community must reduce our carbon footprint, mitigate climate change and help those already impacted to adapt and become resilient to its effects. We must continue to bend and adapt to the winds of change for the sake of every child, born and unborn, so that they may live in safety and thrive.