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Climate Refugees shock demands new action

Published: September 5, 2011, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

It is both shocking to the soul and profoundly disturbing to the mind that human beings are in this age made to suffer a horrible death from famine and the world sits idly in its fear of economic collapse. Climate induced drought is sweeping the charred grounds of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti leaving more than 12 million people at risk of famine. Mother Jones reports that 29,000 or more children died of starvation in Somalia in the short span of 90 days–a cold average of more than 300 children a day with another half million children at risk of death by starvation.

Could this disaster be avoided? Can it be remedied now?  The answer on both counts is, yes!

Climatic changes are rapidly inflicting great pain all around the world. Droughts, floods, hurricanes, freezing snow and ice and raging forest and savannah fires strike at human and other animal and plant populations with tremendous force and increasing regularity.  These aren’t sudden occurrences despite the news reports that give each event a singular immediacy. They are cumulative events building over months, years and decades.

The present catastrophe in sub-Saharan Africa has been building for nearly thirty years.  In that time, whole populations could have and should have been moving from the threatened areas into less threatened areas of land to the south and to the west.  Human movements are, however restricted by the boundaries of states as if fences have been arbitrarily placed across the land. The rules for state sovereignty, laughingly introduced into Africa by European powers since the 15th century make no sense politically and certainly they make no sense geographically.  Restricting human and other animal movement in Africa through the artificially installed “fences” are a major factor in Africa’s human misery suffered now. Human movement must be thoughtfully facilitated to ensure minimal suffering and the maximum of safety and security.

Another major contributor to human suffering in Africa and elsewhere (as will increasingly become evident with climatic changes) is the systematic restriction of human food producers to less productive lands favoring large centralized corporate land holdings that neither produce food for people nor increasing human access to food.  Removing people from the land so they can no longer produce or generate food for themselves has been the central theme of colonialism and is the central reality of neo-colonialism acted out by powerful state interests and corporations.

Centralizing political control over land and establishing restrictions on human migration combine to create massive imbalances threatening human food security and creating shockingly disastrous consequences for millions of people we will increasingly describe as “climate refugees.” While many will claim the present disaster in sub-Saharan Africa is an “act of God” the truth is that like so many other disasters afflicting human beings this famine is a human induced calamity that could have been avoided.

Flexibility of borders is essential to prevent many of these disasters allowing human migration to take place freely in response to changing climatic conditions. Land tenure laws of states governments and the corruption that goes with them must be reversed when they favor corporations or other powerful interests seeking to profit from the misery of others. Industrial food production must be restrained and small family land owners or land users and food producers must be encouraged and celebrated.

Food production methods must be encouraged to flourish according to the geographic, climatic and environmental conditions instead of standardized as if everywhere in the world food production must be conducted with machinery, fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. Companion planting, controlled slash and burn, milpa, intercropping, forest and jungle harvesting and a myriad of other food production approaches have developed over the centuries in places all around the world.  These methods produce as much as 40% more food that is more nutritious than industrially or commercially produced foods. Indeed, the refinement of foods denudes natural foods of their nutrition causing commercial food producers to fortify their packaged products. Only close human-land relationships can ensure the high quality of natural foods–and yes foods in abundance.

Local food production has historically been the source of human nutritional and biological success. The tendency toward standardization, uniformity and centralized control over land and food together demonstrate failure for human well being.

Restore human mobility, human access to the land and diverse food production methods and restrain centralized control over people, lands and methods.  Human diversity as much as environmental diversity require flexibility and not the rigidity that comes with centralized standardization. Food security must be understood as a fundamental human necessity and therefore requiring renewed action from those at the top of the decision-making scale to those at the bottom.

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