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  May 23, 2016

Climate Change-Fueled Droughts Pushing Africa to the Brink

Environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey says Africa remains on the front lines of climate change impacts, while wealthy nations fail to act with urgency
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Nnimmo Bassey (born 1958) is a Nigerian architect, environmentalist activist, author and poet, who chaired Friends of the Earth International from 2008 through 2012 [1] and was Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action for two decades.[2] He was one of Time magazine's Heroes of the Environment in 2009.[3] In 2010, Nnimmo Bassey was named co-winner of the Right Livelihood Award,[4] and in 2012 he was awarded the Rafto Prize.[5] He serves on the Advisory Board and is Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an environmental think tank and advocacy organization.[6][7] Bassey was born June 11, 1958. He studied architecture and practiced as an architect "in the public sector for 10 years." He was active on human rights issues in the 1980s when he served as on the Board of Directors of Nigeria's Civil Liberties Organization. In 1993, he co-founded a Nigerian NGO known as Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria) in order to advocate, educate and organize around environmental human rights issues in Nigeria. Since 1996, Bassey and Environmental Rights Action led Oilwatch Africa and, beginning in 2006, also led the Global South network, Oilwatch International, striving to educate and mobilize communities in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville), Ghana, Uganda, South America and in Southeast Asia to "resist destructive oil and gas extraction activities." [8] At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Bassey - despite being accredited - was "physically kept out" of a meeting.[9]


SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The world is currently experiencing drought on 5 continents. 2016 continues to break global temperature records and water wells around the world are drying up. India and large parts of Venezuela have been undergoing drought for 3 to 5 consecutive years. Parts of Africa have also been hit hard. The Kenyan government announced on Wednesday that it would be shutting down refugee camps near its border with Somalia, where according to the United Nation reports severe drought has effected nearly 1 million people, where close to 1 in 12 are unable to meet their food requirements. 10s of thousands of people have fled the country to the refugee camps in Kenya. In southern Africa, Lesotho, Milowai, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are teetering on the brink and have declared droughts a national disaster. Further north in Ethiopia where they are also in the middle of a political unrest, more than 36 million people are threatened by food insecurity.

On to discuss all of this Nnimmo Bassey. Nnimmo Bassey is a Nigerian architect, environmental activist, author, and poet. He chaired Friends of the Earth International from 2008 through 2012 and was executive director of Environment Rights Action for 2 decades. His accomplishments are so many, too many to mention here. So please do read his full bio below. Thank you so much for joining us Nnimmo.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be here today.

PERIES: So Nnimmo, the situation is really difficult in Zimbabwe. We’ve heard reports of that. But the whole South African region is experiencing this unusually high levels of drought, food insecurity and of course at the heart of it, all malnutrition of children. Give us a sense of the gravity of the problem you’re dealing with and is there a large level of mobilization in a response to this?

BASSEY: The challenge Africa always faces in regard to global warming impacts are enormous. This is why when our policy makers and governments go to climate talks, we expect them to address the root issues as they effect us at home, and not just follow what other governments, what polluting nations are doing or are unwilling to do. You will recall at the Paris agreement which has been celebrated by many leaders, the agreement, the preamble to the agreement said that they would try to keep global temperature increase to be about 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Or well below 2 degrees Celsius.

Now, all that was said about any real decisions and actions that would bring the global temperature increase to those margins, which means that Africa will continue to experience this kind of dramatic weather events- droughts, floods. We have extreme, one extreme to the other. The droughts are so severe right now [inaud] in places like southern Kenya and of course also in Nigeria. We’re have water stress in northern Nigeria and this has continued to open conflict and violence because of the conflict between [inaud] and farmers in other regions that are less stressed by these weather events. So it’s a continental disaster really. A continental emergency which requires very close look at what we can do to defend our continent.

So it’s a good movement. But these movements are generally [inaud] on the different settings we have the [inaud] African Climate Justice Alliance which is bringing together all those who work on climate justice issues through out the continent. We also have All Work Africa, which looks at the root cause of Global Warming and the impact on Africa which is the continual dependence on fossil fuels globally.

PERIES: Nnimmo, highlight for us where the crisis is the greatest. And is the response at this time adequate or has there been any effort to shed more resources into the areas that are hardest hit?

BASSEY: I think the most dramatic impacts we see right now is in Kenya, especially with the threat and the possibility of closing down of refugee camps, which would compound the crisis, refugee crisis, in that part of Africa, the horn of Africa in that region. So to me this is very dramatic, a very dangerous move. And in that part of the continent, what happens sometimes is rather than fall on the continent, falls in the Indian Ocean. And all this is because climate change.

In Nigeria, which is where I live, you must of heard about Boko Haram phenomenon, which has led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians. This is a situation that is now- when the war against Boko Haram, is being won by [inaud] but now we are having a new kind of violence caused by [inaud] who are displaced by the shrinkage of water in Lake Chad from 22,000 square kilometers in the early 1960s, to less than 2,000 square kilometers today. So, it’s [inaud] unfolding even as it’s very precarious at the moment.

PERIES: Now what’s unusual about this level of drought we are seeing throughout the world- I mean, places like Venezuela, lush tropical climate, places like Kenya, and other parts of Africa, where normally, these are green and lush areas, are now suffering the plight of drought. Now, some people have referred to the El Nino effect here. Is there a discussion about that and is this going to be the situation we are going to face for time to come?

BASSEY: Well, I think the best way for me to respond to that question is that in Africa unfortunately many times we are taken by surprise by this phenomenon because of, because- a lot of people are just seeing the experience of these conflicts, with out looking at the root causes of the problem. And this is why the response has to be more intense than it is right now. Many activist and communities who are engaged on this issue, do employee that this is related to El Nino and that sort of climate manifestations. Also many cases, many issues that raise special concerns for us.

If you look closely at the entire climate scenario and the solutions that are being offered by rich powerful nations, some of the suggestions are going into- I mean global warming is mostly man-made, no matter what they are saying. And we are the victims, Africans are victims, [inaud] are victims. Solutions like engineering would pose special problems for Africa, because all these scenarios, engineering attempts of reflecting heat from the sun, whitening of clouds, [inaud] all this would not respond equitably for everyone on the planet because it would mean that certain people, certain investors, certain industrial sectors and certain governments would be holding the global climate thermostat. And Africa is not does not have the clout right now to be able to compete in that dimension.

And of course, I believe it would be a crime against the planet and against the people if such technologies are allowed to take root. So yes, going back to the question- what we’re experiencing now, unless real action is taken to combat global warming, this is going to become compounded unfortunately.

PERIES: Alright Nnimmo, we are going to take up discussing this in a second segment, please join me.


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