Photo credit: Christian Aid/Hannah Griffiths
I was recently sitting on the floor of a family home in the Kurdish region of Iraq, just 50km from the frontline with the so-called Islamic State. I was chatting to a man called Ibrahim and was stunned to hear his say: "please put pressure on the UK government as climate change is a responsibility for all." It was surprising to hear him speaking with such urgency about climate change when live conflict was just around the corner. But for Ibrahim the problem of global warming is a clear and present reality. He described how his yields of wheat, barley, chickpeas and other crops continue to decrease as Iraq suffers from its 15th year of successive drought.
Ibrahim lives in Hashazini, a small community of 60 people in Chamchamal District, and like most in his village he relies upon agriculture as his main source of income. Some of the men from the village have joined the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. Job opportunities are scarce due to the poor state of the economy, partly a result of the conflict with ISIS in this area since June 2014. Climate change is compounding this with rising temperatures and declining and irregular rainfall. These climatic changes are amplifying stresses caused by unsustainable abstraction of surface and groundwater across the region.
While Ibrahim was showing me around his dry farmland I was impressed by how informed he was about the global causes of climate change. Ibrahim passed me his mobile phone showing his recent Facebook posts about the shrinking Arctic ice cap, and a graph comparing rising global temperatures and carbon emissions. It was striking to me how in the UK people use Facebook to watch videos of ISIS beheading their victims while here on their doorstep people are using the same social media platform to share articles about the effects of carbon pollution. He said: "Climate change is a global issue, and countries which emit the most carbon emissions need to start reducing them quickly. This must be the first step in tackling it."
Photo credit: Christian Aid/Phoebe Rison
Although links haven't been made connecting the rise of IS with climate change, earlier this year scientists at Columbia University found that the effects of rising temperatures amplified the risk of conflict in Syria. They found that global warming intensified the region's worst-ever drought, forcing an exodus of the rural poor to the cities where they were met by government inaction.
The slow creep of climate change may seem like a distant problem for us in the UK but for those who rely on the land for their livelihood, even in the neighbourhood of ISIS, it is a matter of urgency. Christian Aid's local partner organisation, REACH, is supporting farmers like Ibrahim in Hashazini and the surrounding area to adapt to changes in climate by providing training in climate resilient harvesting techniques, and water saving. Simple practices can vastly increase harvests; for example, planting species with deep roots near other thirstier plants can provide water to parched crops. Such techniques provide a vital lifeline for farmers in communities like Hashazini where the 30 water sources which existed 15 years ago have reduced to three now.
REACH is also supporting farmers to push the Iraqi and Kurdish Regional governments for fair and accountable allocation of resources and services. This includes a national advocacy campaign to develop a regional early warning system where farmers would receive regular text messages with accurate and localised weather information. This would enable farmers like Ibrahim to adapt their planting and harvesting schedules based on the weather information received, increasing yields and income.
Ibrahim's plea for action is a timely one as this year world governments meet in Paris to agree a deal to address the problem. Such is the growing recognition of the danger of climate change, thousands of people took part in a lobby of Parliament in Westminster on June 17th, urging their MPs to make creating a safe, clean and prosperous planet, a government priority.
The world faces numerous problems but climate change is unmatched in its scope and how indiscriminately it affects people regardless of faith, creed or colour. If even those living on the edge of war in the Middle East can see the need for serious action then maybe it's time for us to use our voice and help them.
Hannah Griffiths is a Programme Officer at Christian Aid.