climate change media social justice

The unreported climate crisis in Zambia

Every year the NGO Care International compiles a list of under-reported humanitarian crises. They do this by tracking news stories in the global media, and seeing which ones got the least attention. I wrote about it in 2020 and in 2021, and some themes emerge – Africa dominates, and so does climate change and conflict. Some situations blend all three.

The 2022 list found that the world’s most under-reported humanitarian crisis of the last 12 months was Zambia, where a drought led to 1.2 million people experiencing hunger. There were 512 news stories about this around the world. For comparion, Harry and Meghan talking to Oprah generated 362,522 articles.

With this in mind, I featured Zambia in my recent article for BBC Future, and I asked the Zambian climate scientist Mulako Kabisa about how climate change is affecting the country.

“Zambia has been experiencing the negative impact of climate variability and change for the last three decades” she says. “The biggest impact has been increased temperature and reduced rainfall, resulting in climate shocks that include droughts and floods.”

This is projected to get worse, with consequences for agriculture in the country. “Being an agrarian economy, the sector provides employment for 22% of the country. These changes in rainfall and temperature have resulted in crop failure, livestock deaths, and reduced contribution to the country’s GDP.”

Kabisa confirmed that there is a connection between the droughts and climate change: ” The recent incidents of drought in 2015, 2018 and in the month of December in the 2021/22 agricultural  season are attributable to climate variability and change. Local evidence and simulated projections all indicate that rainfall will be more variable, the production season will shift and drought incidents will be  more frequent. This is happening now and is expected to increase in frequency and intensity.”

I also contacted Veronica Mulenga, a climate activist in Zambia. She spelled out the climate justice perspective: “The climate crisis affects some parts of the planet more than others; there is an unequal impact. Those who are the least responsible for the crisis are already experiencing the worst consequences of the crisis.”

The unreporting of crises in Africa means that the effects of climate change aren’t recognised. The people most affected aren’t heard, and so the decisions made in places like COP26 are consistently inadequate.

“A lack of African voices undermines the fairness of international discussions,” says Mulenga. “As a continent we are one of the hardest hit by the impacts of climate change and we are left behind as the world progresses towards a low carbon economy… Centering African voices and our experiences in climate conversations, policies and solutions means honoring the insights and stories of those most impacted by climate change. This ensures we are a part of leading, identifying solutions and creating policy.”

“It’s time to center the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis.”

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