Not your usual humanitarian worker

Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 18:19

My name is Ilana Solomon, Senior Policy Analyst for ActionAid USA, and I am a humanitarian worker. When people think of humanitarian workers they see disaster responders handing out water, food and first-aid kits. However, the majority of my work takes place in an office, in Washington D.C.  The people that I support need developed countries to take responsibility for their role in one of the gravest challenges facing our time: climate change. My job is to hold policy makers accountable for solving the climate crisis and to amplify the voice of people living in poverty who are disproportionately affected by climate change.

As World Humanitarian Day approaches on August 19th, my objective is to increase awareness of climate change and encourage people to raise their voice and take a stand alongside the communities who are most impacted by it.  To me, one of the greatest injustices is that it is those who have done the least to create the climate crisis that are the first and worst hit.    My work is dedicated to advocating for policies that will help poor countries address the effects of climate change.

Some communities in East Africa are currently experiencing their worst drought in over sixty years. Previously, droughts in Northeastern Kenya used to occur every 5 to 6 years, however  since the late 1990s droughts now come to East Africa every 3 months.  With droughts occurring so frequently, communities are unable to main their pastures and livestock- their main source of food and income.  Droughts also increase the potential for the spread of disease by limiting the availability of fresh water and by reducing food security. These circumstances are deepening poverty and forcing those suffering to resort to desperate measures to survive.

Abdi Omar Farah, a Somali pastoralist living in Northeastern Kenya and working with ActionAid Kenya, recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak directly with policy makers and the US public about climate change and drought.  Abdi illustrated how a little support can go a long way to help communities adapt to drought.  He said:

“With resources, my community could adapt and the effects of droughts and other disasters could be reduced.  In between droughts my community experiences flash floods.  If we were able to catch the rain water from the floods and store it, such water could sustain school children in times of drought.  One cistern in my community could serve water to 400 school children for 3 months, and costs only approximately 100,000 Kenyan shillings[US $1,100].  There is water in some of our rivers still, but no way to transport that water to communities.  Irrigation technologies could save lives.  Providing support for livelihood alternatives could be another adaptation strategy.  But all this takes resources, and our community is very poor.”

At international conferences, the United States has pledged to help generate money to deal with the impacts of climate change on poorer countries. So far, they have done very little to actually mobilize these funds. In November 2011, policymakers will go to a major climate conference in Durban, South Africa. A good outcome in Durban— commitment to significant emissions reductions and improved financing  - could mean the difference between life and death for millions of people.  

ActionAid US is working to address these issues.  If you are based in the US and want to help fight injustice and poverty on World Humanitarian Day, please call your member of Congress and tell them that that you care about climate change and how poor countries—those with least capacity to adapt -are affected by it.  You can also raise your voice by signing our petition.  We need urgent action, not just words, in the lead up to Durban and beyond to help countries deal with impacts of climate change.