At the Frontier:
Young People and Climate Change
state of world population 2009 youth supplement
At the Frontier:
Young People and Climate Change
state of world population 2009
Youth Supplement to the State of the World Population 2009 ContentS
Martin Caparros (stories and photos), Dr. Laura Laski,
Malak Khatib-Maleh PREFACE iV
Sincere gratitude goes to the numerous UNFPA colleagues in
Country Offices and UNFPA Headquarters, as well as UNFPA
partners for their inputs provided and information shared, with
particular appreciation to Country Offices in The Philippines,
Niger, Morocco and Nigeria, and to the Regional Offices for the
Arab States and the Pacific, for assisting, advising and facilitat- FiL iPi NA SHELL Nig ER iE N CEREAL
ing the interviews of young people portrayed in this publication. FiS HER i N BANK MEMBER
WA R M WAT ER S EARN i Ng RESPECT
AND SECUR i Ng
Special appreciation goes to Werner Haug, Prateek Awasthi, FOOD
Sabrina Juran, Richard Kollodge, Ziad Mikati, Saskia Schellekens
and Dr. Daniel Schensul for their inputs and support, and in
particular to Marjorie, Mariama, Messias, Kilom, Mandisa,
Youness and Fatima for sharing their life stories with us.
ii At t he Frontier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C h A n g e
At the Frontier: Young People and Climate Change
Messias Kilom Mandisa Youness Fatima
A M AZO N i AN MA R S H A L L E S E AMER iCAN M O ROC CAN Nig ER iAN
CO M M U N i TY NOBLE ORg AN iZ iNg FOOTBALLER ACTi Vi ST AND
P R ES i DEN T N OT L E AV i N g FOR LiB E RTY ADAPT i Ng TO O Rg A Ni ZER
P E R M AC U LT U R E THE iSLAND RE S P OND iNg TO A NE W LiFE RE P LACi Ng Fi R E-
P i O N EER A D iASTE R WOOD Wi TH A
C E LL PHONE
13 19 25 31 37
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AT THE FRONTiER:
YOUNg PEOPLE AND CLiMATE CHANgE
This is the fourth edition of the Youth communities, they shifted their focus. long term realization of the Millennium
Supplement to UNFPA’s State of the World Young people all over the world are Development Goals are at risk.
Population Report. This Youth Supplement today standing up and calling for proper As more young people than ever before
addresses climate change and young people, attention to climate change. They are both live in the world, on the eve of events that
through the lens of what impact climate angry with scenarios that in some cases seem will affect them during their whole lives,
change is predicted to have, and what that inevitable and confident that their contri- capacitating and involving young people in
will mean for young people’s lives, liveli- butions will make a difference. The young the response to climate change is crucial.
hoods, health, rights and development. The people featured in this report tell stories that Poverty, discrimination and gender dynam-
Youth Supplement explores these issues give us a glimpse of what impact climate ics are all dynamics that will influence how
because the young people of today will be change might have on young people from young people carry out this task. Unless
standing in the frontline in the coming different backgrounds and cultures, giving young people are equipped with tools
decades, meeting the challenges posed by a deeper understanding of how the lives of such as education and health, including
climate change. young people will change, as the projected reproductive health, their empowerment,
As the Youth Supplement shows, young impacts of climate change arrive. involvement and contributions will not be
people will be dealing with the threats and Climate change is not an isolated phe- possible, or at least a lot less successful.
opportunities of climate change whether nomenon; on the contrary it will affect
they choose to do so or are forced to do young people in all aspects of their lives.
so, and whether they like it or not. Some The impact of climate change will in many
of the young people featured in the Youth cases be strongest in developing countries,
Supplement have started their passage to and thus climate change poses a threat to
adulthood with a strong interest in some- development, as it risks hampering access to
thing completely different, but having water, food, sanitation and security, among
identified the issue of climate change and other things. Indeed, if we don’t implement
realized how it relates to their lives and adequate responses to climate change, the
iv At t he Frontier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C h A n g e
AT THE FRONTiER:
YOUNg PEOPLE AND CLiMATE CHANgE
Climate Change: has also lead to an increase in greenhouse the young people profiled in this publica-
“Warming of the climate system is unequivo- gas emissions by 70 percent, between 1970 tion have experienced are clearly early signs
cal, as is now evident from observations of and 1994, with the most dramatic increase of climate change, some would say that it is
increases in global average air and ocean occurring during the last decade of this peri- impossible to draw such conclusions. What
temperatures, widespread melting of snow od. If the global greenhouse gas emissions is fairly certain however, is that the stories
and ice and rising global average sea level” 1 are not reduced in the 21st century, it is in this publication are examples of what life
Our climate is slowly but surely chang- very likely that the effects of climate change will bring to millions more young people in
ing. On all continents and in most oceans, will be more severe, compared to what has the future, if we fail to take action in order
there are observations of changes in natural already been observed and what is anticipat- to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and
systems. Observations include, but are not ed today. In the long term perspective, it is reduce carbon emissions.
limited to, changes in marine and freshwater likely that climate change will go beyond the Poverty is inextricably linked to climate
biological systems, earlier timing of spring capacity of human and natural mitigation, if change vulnerability, as well as the capacity
events, reduced ice cover and warmer lakes emissions are not reduced.2 to adapt to, and mitigate the impact of
and rivers. These are all phenomena that emergencies and durable changes of living
represent the impact of a changing climate, Young People at the Frontier: conditions. Poorer people have less access
but are at the same time only early signs of In this year’s Youth Supplement to the State of to water, food, livelihoods, infrastructure,
what might be. the World Population, we meet seven young health, housing and services. Hence, a
Emissions of greenhouse gas is the most people who have experienced, or live in disruption or decrease in access to such com-
significant, human caused, contributor to the midst of, circumstances that are likely modities, i.e. projected impacts of climate
climate change. Technology and industrial- to increase in frequency and force, when change, will have a proportionally heavier
ization has provided us with revolutionary impacts of climate change arrive broadly. impact on the lives of poorer people. Further,
means to create wealth and improve health, Among these are floods, reduced agricul- the regions where the impacts of climate
but our way of life, based on unsustainable ture production and sanitation problems. change are predicted to be more severe are
patterns of production and consumption, While some would say that the events that often inhabited by poorer people.
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Climate change vulnerability also has the lives and opportunities for young people unemployed are young people.7 Lack of
gender and age aspects: Women account must be viewed holistically. employment risks leading to a life in poverty,
for about two-thirds of the poor people in Climate change is coinciding with a thus more likely to be deprived of opportuni-
the world, and about seventy percent of the current global trend of urbanization. As ties to acquire necessary skills and means to
world’s farmers, meaning women will face of 2008, more people in the world live in prepare them for climate change effects, and
the lion’s share of the challenges in many urban areas than rural, with many of these adapt to such effects. Young people’s capac-
rural areas.3 Young people between 10 being young people.4 This is both a chal- ity to adapt will be increasingly weakened if
and 24 years constitute over 1.5 billion lenge and an opportunity, as urban areas their health concerns, including reproduc-
people in the world, of which 70 percent emit high levels of greenhouse gas, but pro- tive health concerns, are not adequately
live in developing countries. Thus, young vides possibilities for a more climate friendly addressed. The lack of opportunities and
people, especially young women, are par- organization of waste management and capabilities, combined with the exposure to
ticularly vulnerable to projected climate transportation, among other things.5 Young climate change effects, increases the pressure
change impacts. people in cities are characterized by a similar to migrate and leave their places and coun-
The young people of today are standing dualism – they are more educated than their tries of origin.
at the frontier of climate change. Today’s parents, but face greater risks of ending up If young people have the ability to take
actions of governments, the private sector as slum dwellers, compared to adults.6 Thus, decisions on when and how to form a fam-
and civil society will determine what lies in if young people in cities are to be able to ily, and have the tools to protect themselves
store for them, and how well equipped they exploit the environmental potential of cities, from HIV and stay healthy, paired with
are for what is to come. A great number of attention must be given to improvement of opportunities for housing, livelihoods and
today’s youth are growing up in parts of the their livelihoods. access to commodities such as safe water,
world where the impacts of climate change It has been estimated that in the com- they stand a chance of being better prepared
will hit hardest; there is an urgent need to ing decade, 1.2 billion young people will in meeting the impacts of climate change.
address their capacities in taking on the chal- enter the working-age population. At the Unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted
lenges that stand before them. In doing this, same time, over 40 percent of the world’s infections and HIV would be less of a chal-
vi At t he Frontier: Yo ung Peo Ple And C limAte C hA n g e
lenge, and hence less likely to interfere with variety of human activities, from farming to Several of the young people we meet in
young people’s capacity to adapt to, and transportation, if the young people of today this publication are involved in such activi-
mitigate, climate change. Inversely, if we want to be able to continue carrying them ties, providing examples that young people
fail to address reproductive health concerns out at all. in all parts of the world have strong ambi-
of young people, we risk making the task With projected impacts of climate tions to do their part in adapting to climate
more difficult. change, many young people will be forced change, and mitigating its impact. Young
to migrate, but at the same time, migra- people’s commitment to the well-being
New technologies, new solutions: tion as an adaptation strategy to changes has of the world in which they live is a fact.
Because of climate change, the young people occurred all through human history. While However, such ambitions must be met by
of today will need to do things differently some changes, such as migration, are certain opportunities to increase capacities. Young
than previous generations. Indeed, as gener- to come about, the manner in which we people should not be limited to being bene-
ations have shifted over the course of human respond to them will determine the outcome. ficiaries of adaptation and mitigation efforts;
history, progress, development and the shift In a wide range of initiatives during the we have to give them the opportunity to
in life styles that comes with changes, have past decades, people have sought ways of liv- play an active role in the formation and
always come to pass. The difference lies in ing that emit less greenhouse gases, are less implementation of responses, if the responses
that effects of climate change will force the toxic and function more in harmony with the are to be sustainable.
young generation of today to lead a differ- Earth. Progress has been made on virtually all
ent life than their parents and grandparents, fronts. The next step must be to make suc-
with new set of factors in play, some of cessful inventions available to more people,
them potentially making life exceedingly dif- particularly young people, while making
ficult. The development of new technologies sure that young people are included in the
and solutions will not only be triggered by implementation of these inventions, so that
a need to increase wealth and welfare. New they can carry the torch forward, today
inventions and methods will be needed for a and tomorrow.
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AT THE FRONTiER: YOUNg PEOPLE AND CLiMATE CHANgE
FiL i P i N A SH ELL F i S H E R
iN WAR M WATE RS
he first thing that struck her by the mere question and said no, there was On the island – where it is uncommon
was the space: on the island of no way she wanted to go back. She liked her for a woman to have fewer than six or seven
Zaragoza, everything seemed enor- life on the island. She liked running around children – Marjorie’s parents had more kids.
mous, so much sky and light, so many trees. all day, playing with her cousins; she even Marjorie started elementary school and, like
Marjorie had spent her first five years in liked it when they laughed at her because all the children, soon would go out fishing
a slum in Cebu City, the capital of Cebu she couldn’t swim like them: they had always with her father. Her father and her grandfa-
Island, in the southern Philippines. There, played in these crystal clear blue waters. She ther would toss the net off of what the locals
she had lived in a dark room where the only liked it even more when, at low tide, they call bancas, narrow canoes with a rocker on
window was a television. Her father had waited for her to teach her how to swim each side. Then her father would dive in the
been born there, and her mother had arrived and laugh together. water to scare the fish into the net. From the
a few years before, leaving behind that The island of Zaragoza is separated from banca, Marjorie would help them pull in the
island, where life seemed too narrow. But the coast of Southern Cebu by one kilometre net. For her it was more fun and play than
the city was no better: he worked whenever of sea and coral. The island is a 170-hectare work: fishing was for men.
he could in a hollow blocks factory and she piece of stony land with wooden houses, But things were getting harder. There
did whatever jobs came her way – in a fur- sparse vegetation and amazing bougainvillea. were more and more fishermen competing
niture store, in a tiny popular eatery – but The 300 families who live on the island have for the catch. And the older folks noticed
there was never enough money. The city was managed to domesticate it, planting gar- that the water was warmer and, as a result,
too expensive, because they had to pay for dens and raising pigs and chickens. But the the seaweed that the fish used to eat was
everything – water, food, electricity, rent. Islanders’ main occupation has always drying out. That meant that fewer fish were
On the island, on the other hand, they could been fishing: sardine, danggit, tuna, mack- able to find food in the waters surround-
build a cabin, plant corn, cassava, bananas erel, squid and so many others that the ing the island. Specialists say the rise in the
and, mostly, fish: the sea promised food. men would bring in every morning or temperature of ocean waters is one of the
In 1996, they moved. Months later, afternoon, which the women would sell most striking effects of climate change. But
when her mother asked her if she wanted to at the market in Badian, the town on the even before they had heard of global warm-
go back to the city, Marjorie was frightened other side of the water. ing, the fishermen from Zaragoza knew that
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something was going on. It was even harder lend her. For two years, Marjorie and her sand. She also has a string tied to her waist,
to make ends meet: many families could no mother went out fishing in one banca every whose other end is tied to the bow of her
longer afford to eat three times a day and day while her father and younger brother small banca. If she works constantly for five
some had to ask their children to help out. went out in another. To get just as much hours, diving in and out of the water time
as before, if not less, it was necessary to and again, she can, on a good day, earn 50
One day, when I was 13, my mother asked work harder. Philippine pesos, or about one dollar.
me if I could start fishing more seriously, as
if it were a job. Who would get more fish, you and your Are you ever afraid in the water?
mother or them?
Sometimes I am. When the water is not
“i don’t like what they call feminine They would, because they went to the clear I imagine that there may be a shark
work. i like the way soldiers are trained deeper parts. or an eel.
and i feel that i can do it as well.”
Why didn’t you go to the deeper parts? Are there sharks here?
Because the net would be very heavy there, Yes.
How did you feel then? it’s more appropriate for the men.
Do they kill people?
I was happy, because I had noticed the After a time, Marjorie was able to catch
hard times we were going through, and enough alone so that her mother could stay We’ve heard a lot of stories.
I knew I could help to catch more fish. home and take care of the other six children.
The problem was one year later, when my During the day, she would go out to fish All the time in the water could however
mother told me that things were worse and sea shells: in good times, the Islanders only not make Marjorie forget about school. Her
I had to leave school, so I could work more fished them for their own consumption, cousins had already graduated and Marjorie
and save the costs of studying. but lately they had come to represent an thought that she would never be able to fin-
important source of income. Marjorie fishes ish, that she had missed her one chance.
Marjorie’s school is public, and there are sea shells in the same way her ancestors did
no fees for public schools in the Philippines: for centuries: the only difference is that she I really wanted to go, because once I gradu-
when she speaks of the costs of studying, wears a tiny pair of goggles when she dives ate I will be able to help my parents send my
she is referring to notebooks, pencils, and into the coastal waters to look for the ani- other siblings to school, says Marjorie, shed-
the occasional book that her cousins couldn’t mals hiding in the coral or buried in the ding a few tears that she tries to hide.
2 At t he Fro ntier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C h A n g e : m A r j or ie
Last year she and her mother had a
serious conversation: Marjorie promised
that, if her mother let her go back to
school, she would not neglect her work;
in fact, she would work a little more
to pay for school supplies. Her mother
agreed, and Marjorie has finished a
whole year. Now she is about to begin
her second to last year of school.
I’m just so excited at the thought of
finishing school. I was supposed to graduate
two years ago, and now I’m afraid that
I won’t be able to make it.
rainy season will be, they plant when it has ing, and sleeps for a while. Marjorie tries to
Marjorie works hard. During the sea- rained two or three days in a row. But they be organized to take full advantage of her
son of small fish, she goes out at night in a never know: oftentimes, the rains stop and time, but some things she cannot control:
larger boat; the only one that can carry the the plants die. They can no longer get salt like that day, a few months ago, when her
large nets needed to catch those fish. There, from the sea, another of their resources; the banca was capsized by winds that eventually
Marjorie is an employee who gets a share of salt is ruined if it gets wet during the drying brought in a typhoon. Marjorie was really
the money – and who works, of course, at the process. Hence, the Islanders’ income has scared but somehow managed to swim back
same pace as the others. But in recent years been infringed upon from all directions. to the coast; then she went home to change
it’s gotten harder to catch these fish: they So, in search of fish or sea shells, and rowed her way to school again. Marjorie
always used to come in the summer, when it Marjorie often goes out alone in her banca. really wants to graduate.
was dry and hot, but now it rains in the sum- And every morning, at seven, she sails to
mer too and the small fish flee to the open the high school in Badian. If she has been If I don’t, people will assume that I don’t
sea: another side effect of climate change, fishing all night, all she has time to do is know anything and I won’t be able to work
says Isyang, Marjorie’s aunt and the captain to stop by her house and pick up her stuff. in the city.
of the boat. It is not the only one: before, Those days, she gets everything ready in
the Islanders used to plant corn in the rainy advance, to save time. Other days she comes So you want to go the city? Your
season; now, since they never know when the home earlier, at around one in the morn- mother went there and came back.
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Well, that’s why I need to study. And I Well, I’d be happy if I could shoot before pesos – 10 dollars – to buy the cube, so she
want to go because I want to work there. the other person did. had to make do with a generic version that
If here on the island there were fish like she could afford. That cube was so stiff it
before, I would stay, because people You wouldn’t feel any regret? was hard to rotate; Marjorie tried everything
lived well here. But now, with the to loosen it up including oil and shampoo
climate change, it’s impossible to make No, I wouldn’t, because I know that if but to no avail. So she started getting to
a living here. I didn’t do it, my mates may be killed school a little earlier to borrow an original
by that person. cube from a rich girl in her class who had
What kind of work do you imagine one. Then the day of the contest came.
yourself doing? Marjorie says that, for now, she does not
want a boyfriend. She can’t see herself car- It was a memorable day for me: I won.
I want to be a soldier. rying around so many children like women No one expected me to win; I didn’t expect
on the island do. A small man and father to win. I won 5 pesos, and I was so happy!
Marjorie says that since she was a child of twelve, Rogelio, the president of the I saved the money to buy something I
she has liked the independence boys have, Zaragoza Cooperative, says that having so need or want.
and that she wants to be able to make her many children is the ancestors’ command-
dream come true. ment and it must be respected. If not, the That evening Marjorie thought that
ancestors will get angry, he says. Ysiang maybe someday she would be able to finish
I don’t like what they call feminine work. counters by saying that the ancestors know school, maybe even go on to get a degree
I like the way soldiers are trained and I feel nothing about how hard life is now: those afterwards, and live her dream of becoming
that I can do it as well. were ideas for other times, she says. Marjorie a soldier, or become a teacher like her moth-
listens in from afar, and smiles. She prefers er wants her to, and go to the city. She says
Soldiers are trained to kill people, studying, swimming and fishing with the that she will miss the island, her family, the
and sometimes they do. If you were children from the island to going out with sea, the open space. And that if there were
a soldier and had to kill somebody, her classmates, “who spend all their time just still enough fish around, she would stay.
what would you do? texting and dancing, and I’m not like that.” But everyone says that things will not get
Except when it comes to the cube: recently better – in fact, they will only get worse, she
Marjorie laughs discretely and shyly. the Rubik’s cube has been all the rage in the says. And what can a small person like me
Marjorie is always trying not to bother Philippines, and even the high school in do, she asks, in the face of something so big?
anyone, not to call any attention Badian organized a contest. Marjorie liked
to herself: the challenge, but she did not have 500
4 At t he Fro ntier: Yo ung Peo Ple And C limAte C h A n g e : m A r j or ie
F I shINg ANd AquACuLtuRE:
WO RkINg IN thE WAtER
Climate change is already affecting and altering snowmelt, and rising sea levels. While it is difficult are more vulnerable as agriculture workers. The
marine and freshwater food webs over the world. to give exact estimates of what will happen, a sea agriculture sector is counted among the top three
The long term impacts on fishing and aquaculture level rise of 20 cm would, according to models, dangerous sectors in which to work, in terms of
from climate change are still unpredictable, but we lead to dramatic changes in species in the Lower the number of work-related deaths, accidents and
can expect to see changes in productivity within Mekong Delta.2 cases of occupational disease and ill health.5 In
ecosystems. In warmer waters, the effects are likely South-East Asia, many poor families rely heavily
to mean less fish, in colder waters more fish. The While changes in species might not necessarily on small-scale agricultural fishing for their liveli-
fishing industry itself is a small, but still significant, lead to a decrease in the amount of catch avail- hoods, and with effects of climate change starting
contributor to climate change; the average ratio of able, a loss of biological diversity may have health to show, they identify new threats to their already
fuel to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for capture implications for humans. Research suggests that fragile positions.
fisheries has been estimated at about 3 teragrams tropical diseases posing a threat to humans are
of CO2 per million tonnes of fuel used.1 buffered by the diversity of species that exist in As women and young people make up a large
tropical countries. A decrease in biological diversity share of fisher people, ensuring that small-scale
Poorer people are generally less capacitated to hence means a risk in increased spread of tropi- fishing survives, through enhancing the capaci-
adapt to the projected declines in ecosystem pro- cal diseases. Many argue that such diseases are ties of women and young people to carry out their
ductivity. For fishermen and fisherwomen in poorer responsible for the lion’s share of tropical countries’ work, is crucial in the face of climate change. At
regions, which are the regions that will see most economic challenges.3 One of these diseases is the same time, initiatives that make it possible for
of the negative changes in productivity, fewer fish the hookworm infection, considered a neglected children and young people, particularly adolescent
will therefore mean more hardship. Based on the tropical disease, causing childhood and maternal girls, in fisher families to enroll in education, are
expected effects of climate change, fishing will anaemia, which risks leading to disabilities. 4
imperative. Adolescent girls without education
need to be undertaken in more extreme weather, or only primary education face higher risks of
farther from land, and require more human As the story of Marjorie shows, young girls in unwanted and/or unsafe pregnancy, lack of
resources. More working hours and more fuel will developing countries are often involved in agri- sustainable livelihoods and lack of opportunities
be needed in order to gather the necessary catch. cultural work and work to support the home, such for empowerment.6
as gathering fuel and carrying water, instead
In areas where fisheries are a substantial part of of staying in school. For families who work in
the economy, climate change will affect a great the informal agriculture sector, taking children
number of people. In the Lower Mekong area for from school to the farm is often necessary. It is
example, two thirds of the population, or 60 million important to note however, that in developing
people, are in some way working in fisheries, or in countries, children’s contribution to a family’s
sectors related to fisheries. Their work and living by yield are often insignificant in the efforts to lift the
the Mekong will change as the Mekong is expected family out of poverty, since children lack neces-
to change, due to altered patterns of precipitation, sary training and experience. In addition, children
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AT THE FRONTiER: YOUNg PEOPLE AND CLiMATE CHANgE
NigER i EN C ER EA L B A N K ME MB E R
E ARN i N g R ES P ECT A N D S EC U Ri N g FO O D
ariama has a husband, three clean, bring water in from the well and fire- What did you most like doing when
children, dozens of relatives, wood down from the bush. She also helped you were a teenager?
an adobe hut with a straw her mother with her crops: women often
roof, a few hens, five dresses, some colour- grow gombo, a common local condiment, What I most liked doing was filling up
ful scarves, a mortar, a hoe, a dozen plates on their own. my belly, getting dressed up and reading
and cups, some spoons, four pots, some Her parents never sent her to school. the Koran.
jerricans, four light bulbs, three bracelets Her brothers went, but she didn’t, and
and a very pretty necklace. Mariama knows now she regrets it: she believes that, had Ten years ago, when Mariama was six-
that she was born in 1983, but she does not she gone, she would have had more oppor- teen, a man from Dalweye, thirty kilometres
know the exact date – and it never occurred tunities, like some of her neighbours who away, came to Dokimana: his name was
to her that she should know it. became teachers and earn a salary and don’t Aboubakar. He was twenty-five years old
Niger is one of the poorest nations in the spend their lives grinding millet. When she and had some relatives there and, it later
world, a very large country full of desert; the was ten though, her mother and grand- became clear, he was looking for a wife. One
birth rate of its 15 million inhabitants – 83 mother started to teach her the Koran: day, the man walked up to Mariama, looked
percent are farmers – is among the high- Mariama learned to recognize those letters her straight in the eye, and told her that he
est on the planet: 7.7 children per woman. and, after a time, she was able to remember loved her. Then he went back to his town to
Mariama was born in Dokimana, a town and reproduce sounds that, together, made tell his parents that he had found his wife.
with no electricity or running water about sentences in Arabic which she, of course, did
60 kilometres from Niamey, the capital not understand. It was like singing a song Here, we don’t spend a lot of time convers-
city – where her father worked two or three whose lyrics, she had been told, were the ing, dating, stuff like that. If a boy wants
hectares of land. Mariama was the fifth of word of God. Later, each night at the town’s to marry a girl and the girl agrees, they get
seven siblings, so she always had someone to Koranic school, by the light of oil lanterns, married as soon as they can prepare
play with around the house or near the river. the marabou – the religious wise man – the wedding.
When she was six, she began helping around would explain to her what the words she
the house: she would help her mother cook, was repeating meant.
StAt e oF Wor l d P o P u l At i o n 2 009 Yo u t h S u P P l e m e n t 7
Dalweye is a very poor town, a hundred Mariama’s family – and most Nigerien Before, an average field, three or four hect-
adobe constructions scattered on dry ground. farmers – eat, if they can, three times a day: ares, could yield up to 300 heaps of millet.
Mariama was afraid: she was no longer at dawn, a ball made out of millet that has Now, if it yields 150 that’s a lot. And
under the control of her father but of her been ground for hours in a wooden mortar, before each heap yielded seven or eight tias,
husband, and she was going to spend the mixed with a little milk or water; at midday, and now they never yield more than three.
rest of her life with a man whom she barely the same millet dish or a soup that consists
knew in a place that was not her own. of hot water with millet flour. Dinner, when The most common measure in Niger, a
night falls, is the most elaborate meal: it tia, is a bowl that contains two and a half
Weren’t you happy to get married? consists of millet or corn paste with a sauce kilos of grain. And Mariama says that the
made from baobab leaves, gombo or whatev- grains don’t ripen because the lands are used
No, well, yes… I knew that I could trust er there is. Two or three times a month they up, the fertilizer is very expensive and there
my husband, he was not a stranger to my also eat fish, or some chicken. And on holi- are no carts to bring it in. And there are few
family. But the man is always stronger days or special occasions, Mariama makes trees left because they have been chopped
than the woman, and you never know white rice with a sauce made from sorrel, down for firewood and to build houses and
what will happen. squash, tomato and peanut paste. utensils – “If you don’t have wood, you can’t
do anything here” – and that, since there
But sometimes we don’t have much are no plants, there is less water. But the
“i also see myself differently, because
food, and we can only eat twice, or worst thing is that now it rains much less
i know that i make a contribution to even once, a day. Or we don’t have than before, she says, less and less. Without
the household.” anything at all. naming it – she wouldn’t know the name –,
Mariama speaks of climate change.
The most difficult time of year is the In 1999, when she arrived to Dalweye,
Mariama became a wife: she cleaned the period they call “la soudure”. In June, when Mariama found out that some women there
house, ground the grain, washed, cooked, the rains start, the peasants plant millet had started a support group. In Mariama’s
and went to the fields to take her husband and corn to be harvested in October; those town nothing like that existed and at first, a
millet paste for lunch. One year later, she months when the earlier harvest is running shy newcomer, she didn’t dare ask them to
had her first child; the girl was born at out and the next one has not yet begun – let her in. But she did follow their activities.
home under the care of the town midwife. especially August and September – are times The first group of women from Dalweye
She had a normal life full of hard work; it of hunger. Mariama has always known was formed in 1997 following a Care
might have been calm if there were not the hardship, but the situation is getting worse International initiative. It consisted of forty
constant threat of hunger. every year. women who got together, talked about
8 At t he Fro ntier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C h A n g e : m A r iA m A
their problems and tried to contribute 100
francs – about 20 US cents – every week to
build a fund that would offer them loans
of 5,000 to 10,000 francs to help start up
a small business: selling fritters, couscous,
milk. The group helped them to get by, but
eventually they learned out about cereal
banks, and wanted to form one.
Cereal banks are one of the most effi-
cient ways to fight the threat of hunger
following droughts in Niger. There are
already 2,000 cereal banks in the coun-
try. The mechanism is simple: a group of having to walk dozens of kilometres to the No, we men helped out, says a
women who have been active in their villag- nearest market. The bank also regulates pric- representative of the village chief.
es commits to build a warehouse, and they es, since the bank’s prices are always below
receive from the World Food Programme – the market. Primarily though, the bank is a You did some work, but we women
through different NGOs – an initial capital resource that reduces the threat of hunger, provided the money.
in the form of grain, usually one hundred and earns women a place of respect in their
100-kilo sacks of millet, corn and rice. communities and homes. Amidst laughter, the debate at the
The bank sells and/or lends small Dalweye women’s assembly carries on. They
amounts of grain to the community at two Now my husband looks at me differently. have gathered this morning at the hirara –
key times of year: in the month of June, He knows that without the bank we “the place of the words” in Djerma – under
when the first rains say that it is time to sometimes would have nothing to eat, the mango tree to discuss the figures for
plant, and when “la soudure” comes. The and we women are the bank. I also see the last year. The president shows them the
women, who are divided into commissions, myself differently, because I know that books: they have 821,930 francos in cash
run the bank, though all the major decisions I make a contribution to the household. and 153 100-kilo sacks of grain. Mariama
are made in a general assembly. In order to sits among the women. She joined the group
be sustainable, the bank annually “capital- In 2002, the women from Dalweye seven years ago, when the warehouse was
izes”, and buys more grain for the following joined all their resources to build the ware- being built, and now she participates in all
year. Through the bank, women are able house. They say proudly that they did it of its activities: discussions, debates, training
to get grain in their hometowns, instead of by themselves. classes, and a literacy course. When
StAt e oF Wor l d P o P u l At i o n 2 009 Yo u t h S u P P l e m e n t 9
“la soudre” comes round, Mariama often the house, grinds the millet, talks to her Yes, I have been there to see relatives. I like
buys grain: a few years ago, the women relatives, cooks the midday millet, takes it it very much. The food is good, and you
from Dalweye decided not to make any to her husband, tends to her small lot of can tell that people are well fed. They are
more cereal loans because it often took gombo, washes the clothes, looks after the attractive and clean, their skin is shiny and
them too long to get them back and that children, makes dinner and goes to bed. She their clothing pretty. The poor people in the
created problems. sometimes sells couscous outside the school. city are better off than the rich people here.
In 2005, electricity came to Dalweye.
Before, night in the town was gloomy and Is there ever a day when you Would you like to live there?
silent; now people don’t have to go to bed don’t work?
when it gets dark. And the mill works better, Yes, of course.
and some people even have a fridge to cool No, why?
water to sell. Mariama only uses electricity Why not try?
to light her house with a few light bulbs: Just asking.
that’s the only electrical gadget she has. Because we don’t have enough money to
That year, Mariama had her first son, No. Only when I am sick. But if not, no, I live there. There you have to have a lot
and she was very relieved. A boy can help work every single day. of money, because you have to pay for
his father in the fields and, when he gets everything: wood, water, food, everything
married, he doesn’t leave but brings his wife And would you like not to work is for sale.
home; the boy’s mother can finally rest as one day?
her daughter-in-law does the housework. A And if one day a magician came along
son is labour and the promise of retirement. Yes, I would. But I know that is never and told you could be whatever you
And Mariama knew that women who do going to happen. Well, maybe when my wanted and do whatever you liked,
not produce male offspring can be scorned children are grown up, but not before. what would you choose?
by their husbands. Indeed, if they can, such
husbands may take a second wife, because Mariama thinks that if her children learn What I want is to have enough money
they never believe it could be their fault that how to read and write, even to speak a little to buy some cows and fatten them up, to
they don’t have male children. French, maybe when they are grown up they plant spices and sell them at the market,
Mariama’s life varies little from day to will have a trade and, perhaps, even be able to have a fridge to cool water and sell it,
day. She gets up with the sun every morn- to support her. to really start a business. That’s what I
ing, goes to the well to get water, makes would choose to do. To know that I will
breakfast, sends her children to school, dusts Have you ever been to Niamey? never go hungry.
10 At t he Frontier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C hA n g e : m A r iA m A
d RO u g h t A Nd dEsERt IF ICAtI ON
FARMiNg A WARMER EARTH
In the coming century, regions in the world The toll of more frequent and stronger droughts sand and dust. Drought and heat waves amplify the
regularly experiencing droughts and heat waves and heat waves will be both human and economic. process. Currently, as much as 40 percent of the
are likely to experience more frequent extreme Although current droughts are not all associated earth’s land is threatened by desertification.5
weather conditions because of climate change. with climate change, analyzing their effects hints
Further, vulnerability to droughts, in both develop- as to why mitigation of the effects of droughts is Desertification does not only bring challenges in
ing and developed countries, is estimated to be essential. In West Africa, long droughts have forced terms of food shortage, sandstorms or disrup-
higher than previously believed, based on observa- some nomad populations to settle down, radically tion of water flows; it is also a serious challenge
tion of recent events. 1
transforming centuries-old ways of living and forc- in terms of security. Desertification risk triggering
ing people to learn new methods of farming and crisis in regions characterized by famine, political
As Mariama’s story shows us, many women caring for their cattle. While there might be no alter- and civil unrest, migration and war.6 It also has a
assume farming responsibilities at an early age. natives to such change, initiatives to strengthen the gender dimension. Traditionally, agriculture work
But her story also shows us that there are ways to capacities of former nomad populations are crucial, in drylands is heavily gender-segregated, with
safeguard the availability of seeds and food while and need to be sensitive to what the change might women assuming large responsibilities for gather-
empowering women, including young women. This mean culturally. ing and preparing food. Thus, women’s status and
is important, as experts suggest that the manage- livelihoods are jeopardized when droughts and
ment of drylands will only be successful when men More frequent and stronger droughts and heat desertification threatens access to food. Women’s
and women participate fully and equally in the work.2 waves also risk having vast impacts on biodiversity socio-economic status is therefore a component
and desertification. Desertification; the degradation that must be included in work aiming at adapting
A dryer land affects both rural and urban popu- of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas to and mitigating the effects of drought and deser-
lations, with the impact being more difficult to (not the expansion of existing deserts), occurs when tification.7 Further, it is essential that both men and
mitigate for poor people and people living in dry- a number of factors interplay: One is the removal women are involved in initiatives that potentially
lands. Agriculture will suffer not only from smaller of forest and plants from land (to be used as fuel or change power dynamics, if changes are to
yields, through weaker soil, lack of water and dam- giving way to farming, new construction and urban be accepted by the community as a whole and
age to crops, but also threats such as increased expansion), as it means there is nothing binding the persevere. Mariama’s experiences stand as an
death in livestock and more frequent wild fires. soil any longer. Another is eroding of topsoil through important example.
Cities will suffer from lack of access to water herding of cattle. A third is overexploitation of soil
and water pollution, bringing sanitation problems through farming.4 The term drought may refer to a meteorological drought (pre-
cipitation well below average), hydrological drought (low river
as well as shortage in water needed in industry flows and low water levels in rivers, lakes and groundwater),
and construction. People living in cities can expect All of these factors relate to poverty and lack in agricultural drought (low soil moisture), or environmental
a magnified extent of droughts and heat waves, capacity to sustainably farm the land. About 90 drought (a combination of the above). The impact of a drought
is dependent on human behaviour, such as how land is used,
as cities are hotter than nearby rural areas. percent of the worlds dryland populations live in
how water resources are exploited and the size of the popula-
The risk of spreading of food- and waterborne developing countries. Wind and water erosion tion living off a specific water source.8
diseases increases.3 enhances the process, leaving the land in a mix of
StAt e oF Wor l d P o P u l At i o n 2 009 Yo u t h S u P P l e m e n t 11
AT THE FRONTiER: YOUNg PEOPLE AND CLiMATE CHANgE
AM AZO N i AN CO MMU N i T Y P RE S i D E N T
PERM AC U LTU R E P i O N E E R
t all started as a joke: “This kid talks in a straw-roofed hut next to the river; his Urubú is a secluded and isolated zone
so much he should be president; yeah, father worked for a local landowner. In a to which there is no land access; few boats
he doesn’t stop, he’s like a fish out of world where most are newly arrived settlers, make it there. There was no electricity
water,” the older folks would say. But, one Messias’s parents are Amazon natives, chil- and the pace of people’s life was – and
joke at a time, they started to take him seri- dren of Amazon natives, landless Caboclos. still is – set by sunlight. Messias was six or
ously. A few months later Messias, at the Messias grew up watching his siblings go seven years old the first time his parents
time age twelve, fifth child of Maria and away: there was not enough money and, took him to a city, to see a doctor. He
Raimundo, was elected president of the one by one, the older children had to leave was shocked: he had never before seen a
community of Sant’Antonio, on the island to make a living. They worked as sailors on paved road, a car, a two-storey house, street
of Urubú, district of Boa Vista do Ramos, the river, and they always sent something lights, those markets full of objects, fruits
state of Amazonas, Brazil. back home. Messias was like an only child; and vegetables.
The Amazon is the largest green reserve his illiterate father would take him along At that time Messias also came across
on the planet: five and a half million square when he worked the land, and would always that strange creature that his richest
kilometres – divided between Brazil, Bolivia, tell him that he must not depend on bosses neighbours had brought from faraway: a
Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and and merchants: to be free, he had to be able television. Full of wonder, the locals would
Guyana – that house much of the world’s to produce his own food. Some nights they gather in front of the gadget to watch soc-
biodiversity and reabsorb large amounts of would go into the woods to hunt venison, cer matches. Each one put in fifty cents to
CO2, reducing the greenhouse effect. The giant armadillo, paca and tapir – which still pay for diesel for the generator; the ones
Amazon also has a great influence on the cli- abounded – and he would teach Messias who didn’t have any money could also watch
mate of the whole continent. But, in the last everything he knew about plants and ani- through the window, but everyone wanted
forty years, ever faster deforestation to plant mals. Or they would go fishing with bow to stick his nose up against the screen.
soy and raise cattle has devastated more than and arrow – “that’s right, like Indians” –
500.000 square kilometres of forests. with a net, with harpoons. By the time It was amazing. Before, it was just radio,
Messias was born on December 5, 1984 Messias started school, he knew a lot about radio, and more radio. You could listen but
–“or was it 83? Truth is, I can’t remember” – the river, the jungle and the crops. you could not see anything.
StAt e oF Wor l d P o P u l At i o n 2 009 Yo u t h S u P P l e m e n t 13
Soccer was an important part of his life: The president is the person who organizes Manaos, who wanted to start up a project in
every Saturday and Sunday, the whole com- the community and its relations with the the countryside.
munity would gather around the field for a authorities. He also looks after the com-
game, a little bit of music, conversation and mon property, makes sure that every mem- Permaculture – or permanent agriculture –
some beer. Messias was twelve by then, and ber is contributing, organizes the Saint’s is the science of the obvious: observing
he spent the whole time talking to people: celebration, ensures cleanliness, keeps nature in order to learn how to produce
he told them that they should produce their track of the teachers’ work, mediates food without destroying it, says Carlos
own food to keep from depending on cit- between neighbours. Miller, who, along with Ali Sharif,
ies, that they could grow crops closer to founded the Instituto in 1997.
their houses so as not to walk so much. In Many preferred to do things right from the
the Amazon, it is common to use a slash- get-go rather than withstand the shame of
and-burn system that produces a great deal being scolded by a kid like me… It means coming up with systems of sus-
of CO2 – contributing to global warming tainable crops where all the components are
and wearing out the soil. Under this system, At first, Messias was afraid of not doing interrelated and benefit each other, because
each parcel can be used for two years and a good job or of being ignored; little by everything is connected: permaculture
then must lie fallow for six or seven, so the little, though, he learned and gained is not about the soil, the trees, the rain,
confidence. Times were hard: his father’s the sun, the animals, but the connections
boss had fired him for no reason after forty between them. We always say that no ele-
“...i tell them we have to take care
years on the job. Raimundo sued, but mean- ment performs just one function: they all
of it. it’s not just us, the whole world while, money was tight: Messias went to have several, and you have to know how
needs the Amazon.” work on other ranches, fished for food, and to combine them. The idea is to create a
grew desperate. new equation for wealth in the Amazon
peasants can’t harvest as much as they need. When he was eighteen, his girlfriend got in order to preserve the region: wealth that
In fact, eighty percent of the food consumed pregnant and they had their first child, but does not mean destruction,
in the “lungs of the Earth” is brought in Messias did not want to move in with her.
from elsewhere. By that time, his father had received as sev- Before the Instituto, Miller had worked
Messias’s neighbours listened to him: in erance pay the land where they had always in ecological NGOs that, in order to protect
the next election, Messias defeated one of lived, and Messias was able to attend the certain areas, emptied them out:
his cousins – on the island everyone is more agro-technical school on the island. That’s
or less related – and was elected president of where he met the people from the Instituto I was not comfortable with that: how was
the community. de Permacultura do Amazonas, based in it possible that, in order to save a piece of
14 At t he Fro ntier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C h A n g e : m e SSiA S
land, it was necessary to expel the people fruit, guava, açaí palm and many others.
who lived on it. When I learned about There is also a greenhouse to grow more
permaculture, I thought it might be a plants; chicken and quail coops for eggs
solution. When man plants, he removes and fertilizer; a system to gather and filter
everything he finds and plants in the vacu- rain water; solar energy panels; a compost-
um he has created. The Amazon forest does producing toilet. In a pond fish are bred,
just the opposite, because it rests on land and there will soon be a pigsty whose detri-
that has few nutrients, and needs to live off tus will be turned into methane gas. The
of itself, of its own decomposition. We copy project has to be self-sustaining and, above
that system, using natural fertilizers and all, it has to serve as a model to further
combining plants that help each other grow community development by showing the
without destroying the environment. neighbours that they can survive without
wasting so much energy and time, and so They are very dependent. If no one is
Messias was excited: he thought that this many natural resources. pushing them, they spend the whole day
could be a solution for his people. Miller gazing up at the sky, passing the time. I
told him to keep studying to prove to him It’s not easy, because of their culture: burn- try to tell them that they have to do things
that his interest was real. When he gradu- ing, planting and fishing. When you tell on their own, for themselves, but it’s still
ated, in October of 2004, Messias went on them that they can produce without burn- me saying it. Anyway, that’s our role here:
to study at the Instituto de Manaos that – ing, without destroying nature, some tell showing them that it’s not necessary to
in conjunction with the district of Boa you you’re crazy or ignorant, says Messias, burn to raze the woods or to fish with nets.
Vista – was putting together the Proyecto sitting at the entrance to the hut where he Some of them understand and put it into
Casa Familiar Rural on the island of Urubú. has always lived. practice. Fewer people burn the woods,
The project was run by Genice, a young more people fish more carefully. They have
indigenous woman. In 2006, Ali and Carlos One of the problems, he says, is that banned fishing in certain lakes. People
invited Messias to join in. the communities in the area are too used have started planting gardens and fruit
Now, the project revolves around a large to public assistance. A few months ago, for trees, and beekeeping. We want this region
cabin in the middle of a hectare – just one instance, the project built and furnished of the Urubú River to be an example for
hectare – full of resources: more than one a chicken coop in a nearby community. other communities, so that they can see
hundred varieties of productive plants: corn, Shortly after finishing, the neighbours how our lives improve and how they
cassava, sugar cane, rice, onion, banana, cof- sold the chickens and asked them to buy can apply and spread these practices
fee, pineapple, avocado, chestnut, passion them more. in their areas.
StAt e oF Wor l d P o P u l At i o n 2 009 Yo u t h S u P P l e m e n t 15
Messias is still very enthusiastic but he Well, before people didn’t worry about children, because no one ever talked to them
knows that many are opposed to the model: it. They used to think, if I have some- about family planning:
the ranchers, because they want more land thing, what do I care about people who
for cattle; the merchants, because if the don’t? But now there is a different vision It’s a vicious cycle. To feed so many children
peasants produce their own food, they won’t in our region, because people here know with this slash-and-burn system, there is
buy it from them. Messias looks to the that a lot of the work we’re doing locally more deforestation, more destruction of
government for help and tries to explain to depends on money from other countries. nature. So the land stops producing food
his countrymen that if they don’t preserve So I tell them if others help us, we have to and, when these kids grow up, they will
nature they will lose everything. He tells help them. We must stop thinking about have nothing to eat. Family planning is
them that preserving nature is their duty as ourselves all the time and understand very important to preserving nature.
Amazonians, because the degeneration of the that when we burn land a lot of carbon
forest has consequences for everyone. goes up into the atmosphere and ruins Messias has recently been asked to run
it. That’s why the climate keeps getting for councilman on the ruling Partido dos
We all see now that in many African stranger, and if it keeps going like this Trabalhadores ticket, and he doesn’t know
countries there are terrible droughts and where will we end up? what to do. His politics are social, not
hunger, so I explain that that’s because partisan, he says, and he wants to keep it
past generations did not think about Messias makes a living from his crops, that way because party politics are full of
today’s generations: they forgot that their his 470 beehives and his salary at the proj- dirty money, secret deals, pressure and cor-
children, grandchildren and great-grand- ect. He still plays soccer every weekend and ruption... But if he really wants to change
children were going to need nature, and hates cities: things he might have to join a party, he
they kept destroying the forests, and that’s says, and, for the first time in many years,
why things are the way they are now. I can’t stand the noise, the stress. I am calm he doesn’t know what to do next.
Besides, the world needs the pure air we here and I breathe good air. If I want to
have here to breathe, so I tell them we eat, I go fishing. I don’t have to lock my
have to take care of it. It’s not just us, the door, I’m not afraid of being robbed. I only
whole world needs the Amazon. go to the city to learn things that I can
bring back here, to my people.
But when someone is hungry and thinks
that by burning he will get food, he doesn’t In the meantime, he has had another son
usually worry about whether people in with the same woman, “his friend.” Most
China or Italy will be able to breathe. women in the region give birth to many
16 At t he Frontier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C hA n g e : m e SSiA S
FO R Ests
THREATENED HOME TO iNDigENOUS PEOPLES
Between 2000 and 2005, the global annual loss of Such changes have occurred all throughout the Peoples, adopted in 2007, Indigenous Peoples are
forest area was over 7 million hectares, or 0.18% of history of the Earth, but with global warming the often ignored or systematically marginalized in
global forest area.1 Globally, deforestation affects speed dramatically increases, not allowing the soil decision-making related to their homeland forests.8
over one billion people, of which a majority live in and ecosystems to adapt the way they have histori- Exclusion of Indigenous Peoples stem from both
developing countries.2 cally.6 In the eastern regions of Amazonia, increased government institutions and programmes, as well
temperature will most likely by the middle of the as from the private sector, and risks leading to loss
Rainforests in particular produce oxygen and store 21st century induce a decrease in soil water, which of traditional knowledge about forests.
carbon, which mitigates the impact of carbon emis- in turn will lead to tropical forest being gradually
sions on climate change.3 Unfortunately, rainforests transformed into savannah.7 For developing coun- Children and young people are particularly
are also under threat from deforestation. In Amazonia, tries, mitigating the effects of climate change on affected by deforestation, in short and long term.
deforestation is projected to reduce precipitation, as deforested areas is greatly challenging, due to pov- Deforestation and other unsustainable uses of
about half of the precipitation is generated by the erty and institutional constraints. In many countries, forests increase the number of poor people, and
rainforest itself, through evapotranspiration from public, private and non-governmental actors find the number of people who will face poverty in the
trees. The loss of precipitation risks being as high as themselves lacking adequate resources to tackle future. This directly affects young people’s choices;
20%, leading to future dry periods, higher surface the challenges, risking a continuing spiral of one example is threats to school enrolment.9 As
temperatures and change in forest structure. 4
negative effects that will be even harder to coun- effects of climate change increase in strength,
teract. Mechanisms that could provide financial young Indigenous People living in rainforests will
Deforestation is a contributing factor to climate incentives for alternatives to the clearing of have to manage the response to tomorrow’s chal-
change, and climate change in turn risk accelerating forests are rarely in place. lenges. In order to do be able to do this, they must
deforestation. While there are many efforts in place be capacitated to be fully involved in work already
to halt the immediate loss of forests as a result Further to ecological shifts, deforestation and being carried out. Hence, efforts to curb climate
of deforestation, the long-term effects of climate climate change also directly impact Indigenous change and its effect on rainforests must include
change on forest areas are becoming increasingly Peoples, who inhabit rainforests all over the world. strategies to increase education enrolment and
harder to avoid. As the global temperature warms Indigenous Peoples face challenges not only in improve the livelihoods of young people.
up, forested ecosystems risk being displaced, as terms of effects such as extreme weather threaten-
warmer temperatures will move climatic zones ing crops and traditional lands, but also of political
suitable for temperate and boreal plants. Evidence influence, as their forests gradually become more
suggests that plant migration previously has taken politicized through efforts to curb deforestation
place at a pace of 20-200 kilometres per century. and climate change.
Currently, the northward migration of climatic
zones suitable for temperate and boreal plants risk While the rights of Indigenous Peoples are increas-
being as much as 200-1,200 kilometres by the year ingly recognized, most notably through the United
2100, meaning that plants risk lagging behind.5 Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
StAt e oF Wor l d P o P u l At i o n 2 009 Yo u t h S u P P l e m e n t 17
AT THE FRONTiER: YOUNg PEOPLE AND CLiMATE CHANgE
MAR S H ALLESE N O B L E
NOT LEAV i N g T H E i S L A N D
hen Kilom was eight years old, 1986, the Marshall Islands became indepen- lands in Majuro and in other islands in the
he enjoyed listening to the sto- dent, a republic in free association with the archipelago. Kilom already loved his country
ries that the old man would tell United States. but, from then on, he felt bound to it in on
him in his cabin by the sea. In Majuro few The old man would tell him stories an almost supernatural level.
houses are not by the sea: Majuro is an atoll, about the islands, their myths and customs.
a coral island formed by a circle of narrow One afternoon, the old man told Kilom that I feel so attached to this land. Land is very
and spotty land around a lagoon. From coast he, Kilom, may inherit all the land one day. important to us, it is a precious gift. Our
to coast, the width of Majuro is usually no He told him that he was an “allab”, a noble, land is very limited, so we really have to
more than one hundred meters: it is 40 kilo- because his mother, Takbar, was a “le-iroij”, take care of it, to fight for it.
metres long but its surface area is not even a queen, and so he had to be all the more
10 square kilometres. loyal to his land and respectful of its tradi- Kilom grew up; life was quiet. In those
Majuro is the capital of the Republic tions. Kilom’s father, Molik, was the son of years, there were fewer inhabitants and
of the Marshall Islands, in Micronesia, a Japanese merchant who had come to the fewer houses on the Island. Kilom used to
thousands of kilometres away from any Islands in the 1920s – when Japan occupied go to a beach directly in front of his house,
continent. The Republic consists of a group them. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, where there is now a warehouse and a dock.
of 29 atolls that include more than 1200 Kilom’s grandfather decided to go away for During the week, Kilom went to school,
islands and islets whose total area of solid good. But in Marshallese culture, blood played basketball or baseball, studied. On
ground is no more than 200 square kilo- and possessions are passed on through the Saturdays and Sundays he would not only
metres. Only 70,000 people live in the mother, and his mother was a “le-iroij”. In go to the church, but also fishing on neigh-
Marshall Islands. A few years earlier, when Marshallese, that word means “everyone”: bouring islands or hang out with friends,
Kilom was six years old and in first grade, the king or chieftain had to take responsi- occasionally with a girl. But he had to be
he, like all the other children, had to march bility for everyone else. Kilom found out back home by 10 pm: the authority of the
down the main – and only – street on the that, centuries before, his mother’s ancestors elders, at that time, was fairly strict.
island with many others; flags were waving had come from an island, Mili, which still With no computers and little television,
and music playing: that day, October 21, belongs to the family. They had conquered the outside world was quite distant.
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But there were, from time to time, jolts, had to do something; to start, he decided to the changes that his country and its culture
like those days in 1990 when the Gulf War study marine biology. had undergone in the previous decades:
began and the Marshallese were frightened: the most visible example was the food. For
their largest atoll, Kwajalein, is a major I realized that the sea level rise was a many years, the Marshallese just ate what
part of the US missile system and, for some matter of life and death for us: if the they had: fish, shellfish, breadfruit, taro,
weeks, they feared an attack. Island sinks, we just disappear as a coconut, sweet potato, banana, cassava,
Later on, Kilom came across other words country, as a people, as a culture. sugar cane, chicken, pigs. But from the
that would mark his life. He was in his final Japanese they had gotten used to eating
years of elementary school when, for the One year later, when he was 20, Kilom rice and noodles, and from the Americans
first time, he heard the terms climate change found out that the Japanese government bread, and now they had to import these
and sea-level rise, but he didn’t think they offered scholarships. He was interested; it things, and almost any other: foods, bever-
were important. Those foreigners who said was a good opportunity to learn new things ages, clothing, notebooks, safety pins,
that the Marshall Islands would sink into and to find out about the other culture that cars, detergents, televisions, dishware, medi-
the sea must be joking. Years later, when he carried in his blood. He was selected; he cines and, mostly, fuel for transportation
travelled and studied civil engineering. Life and electricity.
in Tokyo was not easy; he had to learn the Mostly, Kilom thinks, what changed
language and, moreover, how to live in a the Marshallese culture was the advent
“i feel this place is part of me and highly technological, work intense society, of money: before, it did not exist on the
i’m part of it. it’s sad for me to imagine in a huge city where he had a 45-minute Islands. People used to share what little they
that, but it’s going to happen: in the commute to the university every morning had – a fish, some vegetables, the labour
present situation there’s not much on a crowded train; in a country where there required to build a house or a canoe – but
we can do.” was such a thing as, for example, cold. But then they grew greedier. He also noticed
there were rewards; he saw snow for the first other problems:
time; he learned a great deal, and he met
Jane, a young Samoan woman also studying The island has developed and that’s good,
he was finishing high school and trying to in Japan. When they graduated, Kilom and but it wasn’t properly planned, so now we
decide what to study, he came across those Jane went to Samoa, where they got married are facing sanitary, environmental and
terms again, but this time they did seem and had their first son. Six months after he health issues. The demographic growth
important. If it was true, as some believed, was born, they were in Majuro. has been very quick and the infrastructure
that the ocean was rising, his country would When Kilom went back to the Islands, can’t handle it. But I’m still proud to be
certainly end up disappearing. Kilom felt he he had taken enough distance to recognize Marshallese. We are inventive people who
20 At t he Fro ntier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C h A n g e : kilom
came to this island long ago and created
new ways of living here. We are considered
among the top navigators in the world; our
people were able to sail hundreds of miles
in their canoes, with no instruments
whatsoever. We Marshallese are a part of
this land and of this sea.
And Kilom became obsessed with his
old issue: climate change and sea level rise.
Kilom joined an NGO with whom he had
worked, the Marshall Islands Conservation
Society. So he started to address the issue
Part of my work consists of advocating
for protection of the reef and the marine grow healthier and faster to provide us ture of the reefs is debilitated and reduced,
resources we have. If we lose them we’re with shelter from the waves, and more the Island is further exposed to winds,
doomed: we lose our source of revenue and food. But I don’t know... It’s only small storms and floods. In December 2008, for
the possibility of increasing tourism. But, stuff that’s not going to make any difference example, a surge in ocean waters flooded
most of all, when the reefs are healthy, they if the sea level increases rapidly. the Island. Thousands were forced to leave
build up really fast, maybe faster than the their homes and, on Christmas Day, the
sea level rises, so they could prolong our One common way to stop the land government declared a state of emergency.
time above water. from eroding is planting trees on the coast; Now, scattered in the sand along the beach,
in Majuro that is very difficult because on are the gravestones of a cemetery that was
Do you really think that the Islands almost the entire shoreline there are houses washed away.
might sink? and families, and not much room left for
trees. Near the airport, the government has On the island, there are no construction
Well, until now the experts can’t say how built a few seawalls to hold back the water, materials, so if you want to reinforce
fast the sea-level is rising, so basically what but they use limestone that, with dynamite, one part of the island you have to
we can do for the moment is help the reef they blast out of the coral reef. As the struc- sacrifice another.
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Further, there are cement blocks called The highest point in Majuro is three think that all the things you work for, you
rib raps, which are strong and efficacious meters above sea level. Here, the threat is fight for, are going to disappear. Sometimes
but expensive, and the government doesn’t felt all the time. I ask myself, “Why am I doing this, why
have money to buy them. In any case, these am I doing that?”
are temporary solutions that could work for What do you think about the people
just a few years. from other threatened islands who are And what do you answer?
looking for land elsewhere, like the
I know there is going to be a time when this Tuvalus or the Maldivians? That it’s better to do something, even in
Island will be underwater. I don’t know these conditions, than nothing at all. And,
what’s going to happen to our people, our way Well, there are even some Marshallese who anyway, I’ll do as much as I can to delay
of life. There will no longer be a Marshallese would prefer to go to the United States. my land’s sinking. At least, I will have
language, a Marshallese culture, and for me Not everyone’s the same. tried, and that’s my obligation.
that’s really hard, because I feel so bound to
this place. I love it and I consider it my own. In the Marshall Islands there is a great
deal of poverty and unemployment, and
But you think it’s inevitable? many young people don’t think the way
Kilom does; they prefer to get out while they
It is inevitable. It is happening; the polar can and – thanks to the free association –
caps are melting rapidly and the sea level they have the right to live in the United
is rising accordingly. You can delay the States. In recent months, for instance, there
process, but in the end we’ll be underwater. was a program by which North American
Maybe in a hundred, maybe in two hun- hotel companies hired 800 young people
dred years, who knows. But for me, if this from Majuro to work at their establishments.
happens in my lifetime, I’d rather die with In a population of 25,000, the sudden depar-
this island than go elsewhere. I’ll sink with ture of 800 young people is a major blow.
the ship, because I feel this place is part
of me and I’m part of it. It’s sad for me to But for me, this is the place where I’m
imagine that, but it’s going to happen: in going to die. My grandma, my great
the present situation there’s not much we grandma, they are all buried here, so I’ll be
can do. Imagine if your country was going buried here too. I can’t imagine living in
to disappear under water. another country for long. But it’s hard to
22 At t he Frontier: Yo ung Peo Ple And ClimAte C hA n g e : kilom