From Lebanon to Brazil: Marginalized communities most threatened by climate change

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Drawing an estimated 400,000 protesters, thereby making it “the largest climate change march in history,” the People’s Climate March mobilized, on September 21, on the streets of New York City, confronting politicians attending the UN security council meeting, creatively demanding accountability and “action, not words” from world leaders. Contingents in attendance included local and external indigenous groups such as Idle No More and Defenders of the Land, both of whom are from “the territory known as Canada.”

The impacts of climate change have long moved resilient indigenous and marginalized communities around the world who continue to combat dwindling access to housing, a lack of employment opportunities and availability, and displacement brought about by external and internal conflicts. In Brazil, where climate change is being spurred on by unyielding deforestation for example, scientists have disclosed that the future of the Amazon is troubling. The Amazon will look like “an impoverished savannah,” according to Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s National Secretary for Research and Development Policies, which will undoubtedly devastate its indigenous tribes. Mozambique’s populace, especially the poor, have continued to suffer under the impact of imperialism, which has influenced much of Mozambique’s social, economic and environmental circumstances. Climate change, which has only worsened this impact, is “expected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events” and thereby affect this Southeast African country’s ‘agriculture, energy, and transport infrastructure,’ according to a 2011 study by Gunilla Ölund Wingqvist of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Though climate change has implications for the entire planet, it is the marginalized that will be forced to endure the most devastation. In the Middle East, specifically in places like Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and the Jordan River Valley, communities face water restrictions with repercussions that will bring about, among other things, a decline in the quality of water and a subsequent decrease in crop yields. If climate change is not vigorously tackled then the consequences will reverberate across communities. According to proceedings of the International Conference on Food Security and Climate Change, edited by Mahmoud Solh and Mohan C. Saxena, which took place in Amman, Jordan in 2010:

"The Bekaa Valley has a semi-arid to continental climate with unpredictable rainfall and recurrent drought. The rural communities living there mostly depend on rainfall cropping… Climate change causes increased temperatures and greater extremes in rainfall, thus resulting in more frequent drought events."

Analysis of the findings provided in the 2010 report, which covers at least three decades, anticipates an ‘increase in the intensity of droughts,’ an alarming reduction in groundwater services, and in the case of the Bekaa Valley, “where farmers have been digging wells deeper and deeper,” a decrease in water resources. Climate change is predicted to greatly influence Lebanon’s agriculture, as outlined by the report, from ‘a decrease in cereal production and the extinction of certain trees and crops to a reduction in entire crop cycles and the appearance of new diseases.’ The threat to food security, especially for those communities who depend on local food production in a region which is already facing water shortages, will certainly become even more palpable for local farmers, their families, and others who are dependent on their goods and services. Without the enhancement of water resources and the adoption of 'climate-resilient production solutions,' measures which are profiled briefly in this report, the restricted availability of water will only intensify conflicts in the region, especially for those already facing war, occupation and internal displacement.

According to Climate Change, Water Conflict and Human Security, a project published in 2013 by United Nations University, the academic arm of the United Nations, the “management and regulations related to water use and associated environmental risks can influence conflict.... Environmental and physical factors as well as political, social, economic and institutional factors in conjunction with climate change, can trigger new conflicts or exacerbate new ones…” Despite the formidable impact of climate change on poor nations the Obama administration, while promising to do more, has not, and reportedly will not, fund the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund, which works to provide financial support for developing countries “to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change”.

Without aggressive domestic action taken against deforestation, carbon emissions, the use of fossil fuels, etc., the suffering of indigenous peoples, of marginalized communities around the world, will continue. Though the effects vary in accordance with the region, the suffering of farmers in Lebanon and laborers in Brazil will be tremendously impactful on not only their respective food security but it will have great influence on conflicts, armed or otherwise.

In 2008 protesters stood in front of Baalbek's municipal building and demanded the Lebanese government take action in response to the declining water supply. It is 2014 and Lebanon has done little to improve this situation. If the farmers of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley are to grow their vegetables without the threat of greater conflict to their livelihoods, then fervent domestic action must taken, and soon.

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator. She tweets @roqchams and writes 'Letters From the Underground.'

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