ROME, Dec 2019 (IPS) – By any measure this has been a devastating year: fires across the Amazon, the Arctic and beyond; floods and drought in Africa; rising temperatures, carbon emissions and sea levels; accelerating loss of species, and mass forced migrations of people.
through the eyes of IPS reporters and contributors around the world, 2019 will
be remembered as the year the climate crisis shook us all, and hopefully also
for the fight back manifested in the spread of mass protests and civic
movements against governments and industries failing to respond.
“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that
buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” declared
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
But the heads of government of the world’s biggest emitters
were notably absent, including Donald Trump of the US, China’s Xi Jinping and
Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who refused to host the
meeting, also stayed away rather than face a hostile reception. Protests against the fires sweeping Brazil’s Amazon
rainforest and the government’s encouragement of deforestation are spreading
around the world, especially in Europe. Youth is the new
face of activism as inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and
In one of many scientific surveys ringing alarm bells in
2019, a landmark report by IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform
on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, warned that more than one million
animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.
The climate crisis and species extinction are twin
challenges with far-reaching consequences. IPS this year covered how drought in
some areas of Africa is leading to re-runs of famine and migration.
workers warned in November that more than 50 million people across southern,
eastern and central Africa were facing hunger crises because of extreme weather
conditions made worse by poverty and conflict.
While much of the Horn of Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are
being ravaged by drought, small island states, especially in the Pacific, are
sinking beneath rising sea levels or becoming more vulnerable to
hurricanes and typhoons.
People smugglers make money out of migrants with scant
regard for their safety while other vulnerable people, especially women and
girls, fall into the hands of exploitative human traffickers. As a major source of
migrants heading towards the United States, Central America is an impoverished
region rife with gang violence and human trafficking – the third largest crime
industry in the world. Human trafficking has deep roots in Guatemala, Honduras
and El Salvador for decades and, as IPS has reported this year, it increasingly
requires a concerted law enforcement effort by the region’s governments to
dismantle trafficking networks and help women forced into sexual exploitation.
Over 40 million people are estimated to be enslaved around
the world. Presenting her
report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN expert Urmila Bhoola pointed
out that servitude will
likely increase as
the world faces rapid changes in the workplace, environmental degradation,
migration and demographic shifts.
modern slavery by 2030, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, would
require the freeing of 10,000 people a day, Ms Bhoola reported, citing the NGO
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says
more than 70 million people are currently displaced by conflict, the most since
the Second World War. Among them are nearly 26 million who have fled their
countries (over half under the age of 18). But the response of many countries
has been to erect barriers and walls.
And the plight of some one million Muslim Rohingya refugees,
driven out of Myanmar into Bangladesh, shows little sign of resolution. Paralysis at the U.N. Security Council, where veto-wielding
China can protect its interests in Myanmar, has triggered interventions by both
the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice which
are expected to sit in judgment over the atrocities.
Bangladesh is already struggling with the impact of severe
cyclones in November and, as recently reported by IPS, long-term projects are
helping its own climate migrants achieve food security. Because of
government interventions in agriculture, Bangladesh has already achieved
sufficiency in food. According to the Food Sustainability
Index 2018 of the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) many
farmers have substantially reduced fertiliser use and increased yields.
The SDGs made a solemn promise to eradicate hunger and
extreme poverty by 2030, and that cannot be achieved unless the world’s
smallholder farmers can adapt to climate change.
But since 2016 global numbers of hungry people have been on
the rise again. In September a welcome $650 million of funding reached CGIAR, a partnership
of funders and international agricultural research centres and formerly known
as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research.
At the other extreme, April is Reducing Food Waste Month in
the United States, as efforts mount to reduce food loss and waste, and deal with growing obesity.
For the U.S. and 66 other countries BCFN has produced a food
sustainability index profile that dives into all the relevant sectors,
ranging from management of water resources, the impact on land of animal feed
and biofuels, agricultural subsidies and diversification of agricultural
system, to nutritional challenges, physical activity, diet and healthy life
Nutrition is the best investment in developing Africa,
experts say, with evident correlation between countries with high levels of
children under five years of age who are stunted or wasted and the existence of
political instability and/or frequent exposure to natural calamities. The nutritional situation is worrying in Africa, Busi
Maziya-Dixon, a Senior Food and Nutrition Scientist at the International
Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), told IPS with research showing all
forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, and obesity, are growing.
“We need to educate our governments to link nutrition to economic development
and prioritize nutrition.”
Overall investment in Africa continued to gather pace in 2019,
however. Amid IMF warnings of a “synchronised slowdown” in global economic
growth, 19 sub-Saharan countries are among nearly 40 emerging markets and
developing economies forecast to maintain GDP growth rates above 5 percent this
year. Particularly encouraging for Africa is that its present growth leaders
are richer in innovation than natural resources.
Small steps can bring big results by simply getting
together. In September Manila hosted the first ever global forum for people with Hansen’s disease, commonly
known as leprosy. Participants from 23 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin
America and the Caribbean shared common challenges at the forum organised
Nippon Foundation (TNF) and Sasakawa Health
Foundation (SHF). Last week in Bangladesh, the country’s National Leprosy
Programme, in collaboration with the TNF and SHF brought together hundreds of
health workers, medical professionals and district officers to discuss the
issue under the theme “Zero Leprosy Initiatives”. Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Sheikh Hasina who opened the Congress said, if special attention is given to
its northern region and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, it is quite possible to
declare Bangladesh a leprosy free country before 2030.
All in all however, the SDGs are in trouble, with the U.N. Secretary-General
warning in July that a “much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is
needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our
2030 goals”. A 478-page study by independent experts drove the message home.
Lastly, as 2019 draws to a close, let’s pay tribute to all
those reporters around the world who have bravely covered these issues,
spreading knowledge and defending press freedoms despite obvious dangers and
more insidious campaigns of vilification.
*Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice
President of IPS Inter Press Service; a journalist and communications expert,
she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.