As I sit down to write this post, I have just arrived at the Tanzanian / Malawi border. A journey of 1,600 Kilometers and Malawi just like other African countries is not exempt from the effects of climate change.
Karonga district, where the border lies, is among the districts most vulnerable to climate change catastrophes and it is here that I met 33-year-old Patricia Kamogo, irrigating her 3 acre farm using a plastic can. Patricia lives in Masulana village, which is 20 Kilometers away from her farm and the only water source. She tells me that each day she has to wake up at 5 am and walk to Songea River, a journey so tiresome that she has thought of giving it all up but she can’t because of her four children.
"For the last three years, the rainfall has been too little to support any meaningful agriculture and this has made people insecure about their food since the majority of the population are farmers who rely entirely on rain water," Patricia informed us, as her youngest son-Adusai Muhangu followed her around.
She owns three acres of land, which she uses to grow maize, green grams and millet. "The last time I had a good harvest from this farm was three years ago, I got ten bags of maize but since then the harvest has been deteriorating. I have been reduced to a beggar thanks to the scarcity of rainfall. Nowadays, I can only manage to get one bag of maize or sometimes nothing,’’ Patricia added as she stared at the sky.
I have been reduced to a beggar thanks to the scarcity of rainfall.
Out of the three rivers that used to surround Patricia, two of them – Kagugu and Ntakisha have all dried up. They have been left to use Songea River for farming, for domestic use and also for their animals.
The walk up the river is exhausting even for the strong and the healthy. It is even worse for the disabled people like her, she has no option but to wait for someone to show up at the river to help her. "It’s a tough task" Patricia says.
In addition to her routine duties of cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood, Patricia who also happens to be a widow and sole earner of her family, is forced to make and sell charcoal to feed her four children. But even that is becoming difficult, because grass and leaves used to cover the cut wood for smoldering, are scarce.
It is not as if she is unaware of the impact of cutting down trees. But she is convinced that the devastation would not lessen unless the world realizes the importance of collective responsibility.
Even if the entire African continent was to be made a forest, if industrialized countries fail to reduce carbon emissions, it will never help anything.
In a day, Patricia can make a maximum of 200 Kwacha, a sum that is not enough to cater for her family but she is hoping that one day things will change and their farms will be fertile once again.
It is a very sorry state. With four mouths to feed, no food, no job because of her disability and no resources that she can sell, Patricia stares into uncertainty. With the climate so erratic, she is unsure if and when she will have her next meal.
"Even though I am not travelling to Durban, please tell the world leaders that we are suffering and climate change is real and it is here with us. It is the reality of our lives." Patricia leaves me with those words, binding her trust in me to portray the bitter realities of climate change to the decision makers; the living stories of devastation and the unheard voices of the victims of our collective ignorance.
Please tell the world leaders that we are suffering. Climate change is the reality of our lives.
As I left Patricia, I met 68 year old Donna Karago – whom I was informed used to be the richest farmer in the village - perched in a shade she shares a historical narrative of her life and the village.
"This place used to be very fertile and we never suffered from drought or hunger but that is not so today" Karago reminisces as she walked me around her land. What used to be one of the most lavish farms of the entire village is now ten acres of barren land.
From being one of the richest farmers in the village, she has now become a beggar, forced to depend on others’ mercy for survival. Everyday, she stands at the border to beg for help; money, food or whatever she can get. After the death of her sons, all four of them, begging seems to be a better option than walking 20 kilometers to fetch water. At 68, her body is incapable of the exhaustion the journey may bring.
She is ignorant of the reasons that contribute to climate change - a change so drastic that has it has completely reshaped her life. For her, the reasons are simple; it is God’s wrath, a punishment for their sins. For her it seems no other reason could justify the agony in her life.
As I travel to Durban for the Cop 17 talks, I take with me a hope that our world leaders will listen to the voices of Patricia and Donna. That they would feel their pain, pay heed to their suffering and be motivated enough to come up with measures that cut the green house gas emissions by adopting appropriate mitigations strategies and to develop mechanisms to adapt to climate change.
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