Protecting Human Rights in a Changing World
NOTE: This is a guest post from Tori Timms of†The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
Climate change amplifies the world’s social, economic, political and environmental problems. Its ‘multiplier effect’ is pushing some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people deeper into poverty. Millions already face a daily struggle, living in conditions where they are denied their most basic human rights.
Dilipur Kumar Mandor cultivates brinjals, tomatoes, radishes, rice, and betelnut and coconut trees. Although a small-scale farmer, Dilipur has always produced enough to feed his family with produce left over to sell — until recent years. However, over the last decade crop yields have declined and in some seasons whole crops have failed.
Like most farmers in Bangladesh, Dilipur works according to a traditional farming calendar made up of six seasons. Increasingly unpredictable weather means that long-established farming methods are failing them. He reports that, “Now we see warm weather during winter and cold weather during summer.” Lack of rain is making it harder than ever to produce adequate yields.
Increasing salinity is also a significant problem: Dilipur, his family, and more than a thousand other people living in the area rely on a single open water pond to meet all their fresh water needs, including the water needed to raise livestock. There used to be more fresh water sources, but others have been polluted or contaminated with salt.
The quantity of fish and vegetables that Dilipur’s family eat has declined dramatically. They very rarely consume meat as there is not enough water and food to keep cows, goats, ducks and hens. Overall household incomes in the region have declined. Once self-sufficient, the family now has to buy imported rice.
Poverty and food insecurity are so severe in Rampal thana that Dilipur believes that within two or three years people will no longer be able to live there. His family may have to join the many other communities and families that have had no choice but to abandon their homes and land because their lives and livelihoods are under extreme and unrelenting pressures. Families like Taslima’s.
Taslima and her family were unable to salvage any possessions or building materials from their house when it was destroyed by Cyclone Aila. With nowhere to go, they were forced to live on the little fishing boat that had been used to rescue them. The family lived off emergency food and water rations and anything else that they received through the generosity of their neighbours.
Over the next sixty days that they lived on the boat, members of the family began to get sick. Taslima begged her husband to let them move. With no land anywhere else in the country, and therefore no other resettlement options, they travelled to Khulna to look for jobs.
When they arrived the family slept in the ferry terminal until they found a place to rent in one of Khulna’s smaller slums. The house is one of a circle of single-roomed, wooden huts constructed around an open pond filled by drain water. The stagnant water provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and residents must face vast numbers particularly at dawn and dusk.
Taslima and her husband work long hours, but it is not enough to allow them to buy more land to return home. Their children must now go to work rather than school in order to support the family.
There is no doubt that without action on climate change many more livelihoods will fail, food and water insecurity will increase, more homes will be lost to extreme weather events and more lives will be put at risk. Progress on core development targets on education, health and gender equality will be affected.
Over the past four years, the United Nations Human Rights Council has passed three resolutions recognising that climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people around the world and has adverse implications for the rights to life, food, health, water, housing and self-determination.
Despite this, however, international negotiations on climate change have so far failed to adequately address the humanitarian and human rights impacts of climate change.
EJF and partners believe it is now time for the Human Rights Council to take positive action to safeguard these rights under threat and support the governments of the first and worst affected countries. There are particular threats posed by climate change to peopleís human rights that will simply be above and beyond the resources and capacity available to existing Rapporteurs within the Council.
With a new Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights it would be possible to identify and improve awareness of best practices on human rights protection, humanitarian assistance, development and climate change adaptation. It would be a means to provide governments with much-needed information on how they can best safeguard human rights in our changing world.
Establishing this role would ensure that an independent expert is taking stock of the impacts of climate change mitigation and adaptation on human rights and providing inputs to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes.
Please help us to protect the environment and defend human rights.
Join our call to the Human Rights Council for a new Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights by signing the petition.
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is a UK-based charity that works internationally to protect the environment and defend human rights. www.ejfoundation.org
Photo courtesy of Environmental Justice Foundation.