A dangerous change in the weather

It was a changing climate that caused the deaths of 10 people in Sierra Leone. The rain would not stop.

In the country’s capital, Freetown, it rained continuously for four days. When it stopped, 10 residents had lost their lives.

The country’s metrological department said the August rains were the heaviest the country had received in the past three years. They blamed it on climate change. Many Sierra Leoneans did not understand the sudden floods.

Umaru Fofanah, the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, said the majority of people in the country were illiterate. ‘This means that a huge number of Sierra Leoneans did not know what killed their family members — or [that they] relate [to] the jargon [about] climate change.”

Across Africa ordinary people whose livelihoods are being affected by climate change do not know what it is. In Mozambique periodic flooding has affected about 1.4-million people.

But Celina Cossa, the founder and president of the General Union of Cooperatives, a network of women farmers in Mozambique, admitted that she didn’t know what climate change was.

Cossa leads about 3 000 members in her co-operative, 95% of whom are women. And one would think that Cossa, as the winner of the inaugural Food Security Policy Leadership Award, given by the Food Agriculture and National Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), would have known about it. ‘We have never discussed the issue of climate change in our meetings,” she said.

She agreed that there had been changes in the weather patterns and that they were affecting crop production levels, but she did not understand why.

Franeiseo Nhaevongue, a Maputo farmer, said: ‘I don’t know what climate change is, but I have heard of it.” She said she had been farming since 1995 and had seen the changes in weather patterns over the years.

‘Now we are having long periods of heat and that has been giving us poor harvests. ‘Before [climate change] the weather was cold and we were producing more [crops].” Nhaevongue said of late they had been relying on irrigation water for their crops because of the lack of rain.

Sindiso Ngwenya, the secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), said: ‘These ordinary peasant farmers do not know the technicalities and the policies attached to climate change, but they know that climate change is there.”

He said civil society and ordinary farmers should be engaging more with the issue. ‘I am disappointed in African delegates who go to these international [climate change] meetings and negotiations. ‘They are always out shopping when these meetings are on because they themselves do not understand the issues and civil society [is] not there to pressure them.”

Ngwenya, who is also the chairperson of the FANRPAN board, said he expected this lack of interest to change because Comesa had identified gaps in negotiating climate change policies.

The network was now partnering with civil society institutions, farmers and researchers who would take the research findings to climate change meetings and summits and support African negotiators at those meetings.

He hoped that this would equip African negotiators with the right information to speak out on the issues of climate change affecting them and make meaningful demands that would benefit the people they were there to represent.

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