Millions of people are becoming ‘climate refugees’ as a result of environmental and socio-ecological degradation.
10-year old Sharikon from Bangladesh stands on a mud hill where her home used to be, with nothing left but her life and the clothes she is wearing. Shakiron and her family lost everything as a result of their village being hit by floods, which are increasingly common in many parts of South Asia.
Sadly, this story is only one of countless testimonies laying bare the impacts of climate change on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people - those who did virtually nothing to cause it. This is the standpoint manifested by The (In)Human Face of Climate Change photo exhibition presented by CARE in partnership with the Austrian Cultural Forum in Prague.
The exhibition showcases an impressive selection of photographs from across the globe, extending from countries like Chad to Nepal, with each shot telling its own story. Having said that, all the photos on display share one symbiotic message: climate change not only refuses to respect national borders; it refuses to discriminate on grounds of age, race, ethnicity or gender and it is letting its angries out on those who played virtually no part in bringing it about.
Being one of the world‘s largest humanitarian organisations, CARE combines poverty-reduction strategies with climate change adaptation measures to strengthen the role of the world’s poorest people and to ensure the interests of ‘climate refugees‘ are not marginalised in the highest of decision-making processes. The photograph of Shakiron, which viewers will recognise from the exhibition banner, captures the true extent of the devastation caused by a natural disaster, and the impending sense of fear you feel from gazing at it will send shivers down your spine.
Another shot that catches the eye shows a young woman and child sitting on what appears to be a wooden mud barrier (seen above). Although women play a central role in society, the reality is that women and children suffer the most from climate change and thus bare the heaviest burden. With continuing risk reduction and adaptation projects in place, such as the self-help group for mother and child in Nepal, CARE underlines the undisputable link between gender, conflict and human security by ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable are not forgotten.
Undoubtedly the most uplifting of all the photographs is that of Sayed Hekmat from the remote mountain province of Afgani Charkent in Afghanistan. It reminds us how the struggle for control over natural resources can, in many instances, create fertile ground for tension and violent conflict, especially in resource-rich countries. Renewable resources provide a climate-friendly means of creating energy and drastically reduce dependency on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
Thanks to a local CARE initiative focused on community empowerment and natural resource management, Sayed is now able to make use of solar energy which generates electricity for his entire village. These type of projects strengthen the backbone of fragile communities and allow those in need to utilise environmental sources of energy and to achieve a state of being in which they are self-sufficient.
The drastic impacts of climate change pose one of the greatest threats to global security and a challenge to eradicating poverty. Over the next decades, environmental degradation will result in millions of people losing their livelihoods, their homes and many will be forced to relocate.
The CARE photo exhibition showcases people from across the world and highlights the inhuman face of climate change with a very human reflection. Although each photo tells its own story, the exhibit as a whole is a demonstration of how, in many ways, injustice continues to be the rule of the road and echoes the proportions of human strength and perseverance in the worst of conditions.
CARE is working relentlessly to tackle the challenges caused by increasingly frequent floods, droughts and other natural disasters and to address the absence of energy-efficient and climate-friendly systems in many developing countries.
As I took one last turn around the exhibit hall, I couldn‘t help but think back at what Kumi Naidoo said in his open letter to the governments of the world meeting in Durban in December last year, with one statement resonating in my head: climate justice is not an abstract aspiration, it is a moral imperative and one which we expect you to meet. Let’s hope our leaders keep this in mind when they pack their flip flops and sunscreen for Rio in 3 months time.
The CARE photo exhibition can be viewed daily at the Austrian Cultural Forum and runs until 11 May 2012.