Armed Conflict, Global Warming Intensify Mass Famines

Nnimmo Bassey explains why many of the world’s poor are forced to migrate due to policies that allow western industries to continue polluting

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KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. More than $4 billion is needed by the end of March to help nearly 20 million people who risk starvation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday in the first Declaration of Famine since 2011. Let’s take a look at the clip from the UN press conference.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: The situation is dire. Millions of people are barely surviving in the space between malnutrition and death, vulnerable diseases and outbreaks, forced to kill their animals for food, and eat the grain they saved for next year’s seeds. This is preventable, if the international community takes decisive action. I urge all members of the international community to step up and to do whatever is in their power, whether that is mobilizing support, exerting political pressure on parties of the conflict, or funding humanitarian operations. And I want to make a personal appeal to the parties to the conflict, to abide by international humanitarian law, and allow aid workers access to reach people in desperate need. The lives of millions of people depend on our collective ability to act. And in our world of plenty there is no excuse for inaction or indifference. We have heard the alerts, now there is no time to lose.

KIM BROWN: Citing armed conflicts and climate change as part of the reasons for the food emergency, Guterres lead a call for $5.6 billion in funding for humanitarian operations in the four countries this year. Of which, $4.4 billion is needed by the end of next month to “avert a catastrophe”. And with us to discuss the hunger crisis in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Northeast Nigeria is Nnimmo Bassey. Nnimmo is one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and for human rights. Nnimmo has stood up against the practices of multinational corporations in his country and the environmental devastation that they leave behind, destroying the lives and ignoring the rights of the local population. His recent article on fossil fuels, social change and transformation, published by the International Social Science Council, is titled, “System Change will not be Negotiated,” and we appreciate Nnimmo joining us today from Nigeria’s capital. Nnimmo, thank you for being here back with us on The Real News.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you so much for having me.

KIM BROWN: So, Nnimmo, the UN representatives called, they cited both armed conflicts and climate change as part of the reasons for the food emergency. So, is this the case for all of the regions where there is a food crisis? And are different influences at play, say in South Sudan versus Somalia versus Yemen versus Northeast Nigeria, for example?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, unfortunately in most of the areas we have these two key factors: climate change and armed conflict. But of course, there are other places where you cannot blame this on armed conflict, like you have food shortages in parts of Kenya, Northeastern Kenya that’s not exactly caused by conflict; although, you can trace some elements of conflict there. In places like Somalia they have been in a constant state of conflict for a very long time. In Southeastern Ethiopia there’s also food shortages that is mostly climate change. In Northeastern Nigeria it’s a combination of climate change and conflict, which is really very disastrous. So, in some, you could say that conflict compounds the food shortages that would have come mostly from global warming. So, it just makes the situation worse than it would have been.

KIM BROWN: Hmm. So, last week the UN representative they said about these different reasons factoring in and we hear about the civil strife in Nigeria from Boko Haram and/or which South Sudan has been mired in civil war since 2013, with fighting splitting the country along ethnic lines, of course. There has been a civil war in Yemen and the African Union and Somalian troops fighting in the extremist group Al Shabaab in Somalia. So, is this strife the result of food shortages, driven by climate change? Or are food shortages being exasperated by these violent conflicts? Or is it a bit of both?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Uh, well, there’s a (?) of conflicts around the world and there’s some people benefitting from misery, benefitting from destruction and wars. War is a big industrial complex because those who manufacture the weapons are perpetually looking for a way to test their weapons, they’re looking for new markets and they’re just enemies of peace. It’s so shocking that in a world as advanced as we find ourselves in now, we’re still engaged in the most primitive forms of warfare, even using high technology. And so the hunger and famine we’re experiencing in many countries right now, a large part of it, is being increasingly compounded by conflict. Take a place like Northeastern Nigeria, Northeast Nigeria used to be the waddi, the most fertile bread baskets of Nigeria, with most of the population engaged in farming and feeding the rest of the country with their products. They have very nice weather, very nice fertile soil, but with Boko Haram farmers have been displaced from their farms. And those who have stayed back have been killed. Whole villages and towns destroyed by this kind of violence. So, you find that people have not been able to respond to their loss of farms. And famine is extremely dangerous when you’re exposed like them without any defense. And so that has locked in hunger in Northeastern Nigeria. And efforts are being made right now to get the farmers back to their communities and back to the land. So, that is the only way to solve that problem is to build peace in that area. The same thing is in Southeast Sudan. Southeast Sudan is not a place that should be in famine right now, but years of conflict, years of displacement have forced farmers off their lands and even those who farm today, they don’t easily find means of sending the food crops to areas where they’re needed because of insecurity in so many territories. So, violence is one of the biggest challenges they are facing in these nations that are confronted with famine at this moment.

KIM BROWN: Nnimmo, in your recent article titled, “System Change will not be Negotiated,” you write, “Poor, vulnerable and cash-strapped nations that contribute little or nothing to global warming see the trickles that drop in their empty bowls from market mechanisms, while their citizens are displaced from their territories, forced to bear a disproportionate level of real climate actions.” So, is the level of African migration rising due to climate change, and is this famine an example of things to come in your opinion?

NNIMMO BASSEY: The famine we’re seeing now is a very stark picture of what we may see in the future. And it is our hope and expectation that this would not come to pass. But this is being extremely optimistic because indicators show that things are going to get worse before they will ever get better. And it’s mostly, as I said in that article, the poor people will never … by the one who are forced to take climate action, by having their forest designated as carbon stocks or carbon saves(?) and they’re dismissed(?) from using their resources that they have. So, the little they have they are being excluded from using it, because somebody thinks that carbon in any part of the world is equal to carbon in another part of the world. So, someone in the United States can keep polluting, pumping carbon from either fracking or extraction of tar sands in Canada, or some dirty industry polluting the atmosphere, and then you keep communities away from their forests in Africa and the carbon industries I equated to the carbon that is being released into the atmosphere from polluting industries in North America. This is grave injustice. It keeps people in poverty. Keeps people away from their food sources and of course, migration would have to happen. Because you said recently, it is a common saying, when you push a man to the wall, and he has nowhere else to retreat, he has to push back. One of the ways of pushback is to find where they can find some food, or where they can find a semblance of peace, away from the violence that they have been forced to experience both from climate change and from open violence. So, no matter the kind of walls anybody builds on the borders of other countries, desperate … refugees will climb over those walls.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. We have been joined today with Nnimmo Bassey. He is one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights. We’ve been discussing the United Nations call for more than $4 billion to go to four countries that are in desperate need of food aid: South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Northeast Nigeria. The United Nations Secretary General says that over $4 billion is needed by the end of March to “avert a catastrophe.” Nnimmo, we appreciate you joining us and speaking to us about this very serious subject. Thank you very much for your time.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you very much. People always worry about $4 billion of money — a lot more than that is being spent on warfare on a daily basis. So, it shouldn’t be a problem finding $4 billion even tomorrow.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. And thank you for watching The Real News Network.

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