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Day-by-day impact of climate change explored at Ecumenical Advocacy Days workshop

Droughts, flooding and other disasters a sign of the times for many countries

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

A Hope Restoration South Sudan field worker makes her way through the floodwaters in Mayendit County to do outreach to rural farm families. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Fabienne Jean of Haiti doesn’t need anyone to tell her that climate change is real. Her country and its people already are experiencing its effects.

From hurricanes and tropical storms to flooding and droughts, “Haiti is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change,” said Jean, coordinator of the Hands Together Foundation of Haiti (FONDAMA).

She spoke during “Climate Change and Disaster: Chilling Impacts of a Warming World,” which was hosted by the Presbyterian Hunger Program this week as part of Ecumenical Advocacy Days.

Fabienne Jean (Contributed photo)

Haiti’s climate has changed over the last few decades, said Jean, who noted an increase in the average temperature, the variability of seasons and more seasonal drought. Flooding also is a major problem, she said.

The cycle of droughts, storms and floods negatively impacts agriculture in Haiti and inhibits farmers’ ability to thrive, Jean said.

“More than 4 million people are tortured by food insecurity, and the situation is getting worse day by day,” she said.

The workshop also featured Angelina Nyajima, director of Hope Restoration South Sudan (HRSS), and Anita “Ani” Fête Crews, national director of Blessed Tomorrow, a leading faith engagement program that works to increase visible national leadership of faith institutions on climate change solutions and advocacy.

All three organizations — HRSS, Blessed Tomorrow and FONDAMA — are partners of PHP, which focuses on alleviating hunger and eliminating its causes.

Valéry Nodem (Screenshot)

“In our work with churches, nonprofits and communities around the world, it’s incredible how the stories of a rapidly changing climate are almost the same everywhere, and how climate change has become a central piece in understanding and fighting hunger and poverty,” said Valéry Nodem, Associate for International Hunger Concerns for PHP. “From Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, we are hearing the same disturbing stories.”

Climate change is a justice issue, although that’s not always obvious to people. So it’s important to connect the dots, Crews said.

“We know that issues of dehydration from drought, waterborne disease, the inability to recover from flooding that is happening now, more and more frequently, over and over, are perpetuating and creating poverty and economic distress for many, many people and primarily in communities of color and indigenous communities,” Crews said.

In some places, such as Central America, climate change is affecting migration patterns, Crews said.

Anita “Ani” Fête Crews (Screenshot)

“As extreme weather events occur, individuals and families are forced to relocate and more people in an area means insufficient resources,” and conflict can occur, she said. “Migrants are already some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

In South Sudan, flooding has led to massive migration from one location to another, spurring an increase in gender-based violence and other problems, Nyajima said. Many crops also have been destroyed.

In a prayer offered during the workshop, Jessica Maudlin Phelps, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns for PHP, alluded to the need for compassion for people affected by such disasters.

“Good and gracious Creator God,

We pray that today we would embody your good news for the Creation and the Created. We know that at times we find ourselves caught up in violence against our fellow creation and today we seek to be builders and not desecrators as we commit to offering better ways of being humans, neighbors and citizens of this Earth.

While we must be honest about the realities of the world in which we live, where too often the most vulnerable people and creatures are not protected, we also acknowledge that you taught us about the ways of inhabiting the Earth that you hoped for.

We open our hearts to be taught as your Spirit moves and we join you, O God, in working for a world that is more loving, liberating and safe for all. Amen.”

For faith communities that desire to work toward solutions, Crews suggested having community conversations and making use of available resources, such as “Moving Forward: A Guide to Climate Action for Your Congregation and Community.”

Some ways to address climate change in your community.(Screenshot)

She also encouraged faith communities to ponder how to become places of refuge.

“We need to prepare for these increased disaster events because of the increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather, flooding, sea level rise, wildfires, wherever you live,” she said.

For example, “if you’re in an area that’s expecting more high heat days, maybe you consider becoming a cooling center,” she said.

Nodem said churches can make a difference when they put their faith in action. “Communities of faith have a lot of power and are able to achieve so much when they all work together in advancing human dignity.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It is supported by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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