Humanitarian effects of climate change – what happened to the girls of sub-Saharan Africa?

The article dives into the ramifications of climate crisis on human rights in high risk areas, focusing on the viewpoints of women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa and partially South Asia. It reflects on how international organizations are tackling the issue through monetary means and what role the global community holds in this dimension.

Climate change is undeniably the most talked about topic of the past decade. We have seen the IPCC-report shake the world. We have wondered upon the consequences of the 6th extinction crisis. We have witnessed a 16-year old Swedish schoolgirl encourage young people to march together and give a voice to the climate crisis. We have heard how those voices became millions through global demonstrations and #FridaysForFuture. As impressive as it all is and continues to be, while we wrap the year of 2019 up, I would like to highlight an area which is too often forgotten in this discussion. 
Looking at the statistics, it’s hard to understand how or why the consequences of the most straining climate actions conducted in our backyard actually carry out in the distance of thousands of kilometres. As humans, we often grasp on the most visible aspects of climate catastrophes, usually the ones that the media provides. These tend to be the melting icebergs, the suffering arctic species and the almost spectacular amounts of waste fields all around. However the humanitarian aspect of climate change is too often forgotten or sidetracked as it takes place gradually, which is why I have drawn up a few facts and figures to give you a feel into this field and the global effects on human rights, especially among girls.

Breaking the Western Bubble

It is quite simple: girls must be included in climate action more. It’s certain we can’t have thousands of Greta Thunbergs, but we can have advocates and examples to help us understand the issues they experience in order to also focus our efforts better. It takes radical stories of reality for us to understand the reality of some. In our Western bubble, it might seem like an impossible scenario to imagine our actions resulting in someone having to trade sexual favors for food and water or especially in understanding how it could be caused by a shortage of goods resulting from climate change. For some it’s a fact of life since disasters like the climate crisis are proven to increase vulnerability with certain groups of people. Malawi, a country plagued by natural disasters, experienced major flooding in 2015 after which it has been estimated that 30-40 % of child marriages in said country are the outcome of climate change. (Plan International Suomi, 5/2019)
On to the question which tickles everyone’s lips: why focus the humanitarian angle and government provided foreign aid strategies specifically on girls? It’s statistically proven that girls are in the most vulnerable position in areas of low income and poverty such as the sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, all the while they are the most valuable workforce in many areas of agriculture. The UN Women Headquarters states that women make up on average nearly 43 % of the entire agricultural labour force in developing countries, while simultaneously nearly 60 % of the chronically hungry people of the world are women and girls. As 8 % of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty today, this equates to 60% of the estimated amount of 590 million people. (World Poverty Clock) If these women had the same access to productive resources and wellbeing as men, they could in fact increase their yields on the farms up to 30 %, which would in long term reduce the number of hungry women in the world from 12 to even 17 percent. 
What is it then that is blocking this development? It’s quite simple when we go back to the basics of a secure life: resources and money. The developing countries located in the sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are geographically in an unfortunate location and due to the historical aspects of colonization, conflict and replacing the original resources the natural raw materials are sparse. The survival of the population is often dependent on the weather conditions which either provide or block the success of their crops and agricultural attempts. During the past years, natural disasters and climate changes have made it at times impossible. To put it in perspective, a global average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees would put 350 million more people in danger of fatal heat waves by 2050 in areas of already risen risks. (IPCC, 2018) As the traditional saying prevails, actions do have consequences. As an outcome, instead of reaching their potential in educational or professional ways, people in these high risk areas are too often busy surviving.

Ways to combat the humanitarian climate crisis

Not to leave it all dark and devastating, what are we doing right now? The current solution has been to deal with the issue through monetary means by helping the developing areas with development aid, of which international humanitarian organizations have carried a large part. On a larger scale, the EU is in fact the largest donor of development aid in the world. It invests nearly 50 billion every year towards goals such as mitigating climate change and overcoming poverty by supporting projects in developing countries. The eager plan is to double the total budget of climate finance up to 20 % from the total budget by 2020.
I argue that the key issue here however is not the finance but the two D’s of diplomacy and dialogue. In order to reach a long term plan the first step is to get past the global blame that surrounds the climate talks towards the global sharing of responsibility and the realization that climate change is in fact a question of human rights and continuity. This has been part of the objective in both the Paris agreement of 2015 and the latest UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, designated to activate global factors into working together and get past the bureaucracy into the humane aspect of the climate crisis. 
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A hope igniting factor in unified action has been the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) adopted by all the United Nations Member states in 2015. Despite the fact that it consists of guidelines, the process of building these goals together has proven efficient in also following and adapting them widely. The combined goal of the agenda is to tackle climate change while preserving nature and ending poverty, all the while strategizing through improving health, education, reducing inequality and deprivation, in addition to increasing economic growth in sustainable measures.
The EU has a one of a kind role and potential in being the international frontrunner both in climate regulations and enforcing the SDGs as well as showing an example to the rest of the world when it comes to setting and following strict measures among the member countries. For example in 2018 Finland directed 14,6 % less funds towards development aid than the previous year, but in 2019 managed to raise it with 10 % again. In addition to the modification of strategic viewpoints to fit the current state of the world and those in need of acute help, this is a step towards the right direction but still void from the international goal the UN and EU have set. The amount still places Finland as the 9th biggest contributor of the EU member states, indicating space exists for development the member countries have in achieving their set goals. 
There is a solid value and economy based ground to build on in the following years but only time will tell how the global phenomena will shift and develop. The best case scenario would allow us to lean on our local and global formal agencies in solving these international matters, instead of shifting the responsibility to the many gretathunbergs and charitable organizations of the world. Perhaps 2020 is the year of claiming global responsibility.
TEXT Amani Al-mehsen @AmaniAlmehsen

The writer is a third year BA student of political sciences from the University of Jyväskylä. Her special interests consist of crisis and conflicts studies, and the human rights perspective on an international political and humanitarian sphere.