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Climate talks in Copenhagen are just a few weeks away. Here at my desk in Boston, I’m hearing a growing urgency in the pitches from campaigners who have been working long and hard to get the United States and the European Union to own up to their responsibility for the future that is facing us all.
But what I hear louder, still, are the voices of the people I met in Ethiopia in August for whom changing weather patterns and increased cycles of drought mean failed crops, skipped meals, and deeper poverty.
For them, climate change isn’t just an abstraction discussed in terms of cap-and-trade policies in global halls of power. It’s far less complicated than that—and frightening in its simplicity.
It’s about hunger.
“I don’t know the reasons, but I know the climate is changing,” said Medhin Reda, a 45-year-old farmer eking a living for her family from two rain-fed fields in northern Ethiopia. “I don’t really remember drought seasons as a child,” added Reda. “The rain was good.”
And that meant families got plenty of milk from their cows and goats and farmers harvested crops from their fields. That’s what Boru Gelma, a 65-yearold herder and farmer living near the Kenyan border in southern Ethiopia, remembers from his childhood.
“Now, we get nothing,” he said. “Many people don’t have enough food to eat.”
“Before,” said Damise Jilo, 39, “we were pastoralists and gradually we lost our livestock and started farming and started practicing farming and animal breeding side by side. But the crops started to fail, too.”
East Africa—including Ethiopia–is now in the grip of a prolonged drought that has left 23 million people facing life-threatening shortages of food and water. With climate change, the challenges of drought will only grow more acute. And that’s why Ethiopians are adding their voices to a steadily growing chorus for action. Among them is the Forum for Environment, an Addis Ababa-based group deeply concerned about Ethiopia’s environment. The group has launched a petition calling on President Obama to take the lead in pushing for a fair climate deal in Copenhagen.
All voices are needed now.