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Planting the seeds of hope.
Faced with the dual challenges of climate change and poverty, women in Tajikistan are coming together to create new market gardens and sewing businesses, thanks to funding from Christian Aid. Like communities across Tajikistan, people in Dekhanabad, a village outside the capital Dushanbe, used to rely on their Soviet-built irrigation systems to supply them with enough water to grow their crops.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the money to maintain the irrigation systems was withdrawn and they began to fall into disrepair. Worse still, climate change has been rapidly melting away the mountain glaciers, taking away much of the water for irrigation and leaving the villagers vulnerable to the extremes of droughts and floods. As farming became more difficult, few families had enough food to last them throughout the year. Funding bears fruit Now, with training and finance from Christian Aid partner the Youth Eco Centre (YEC), a women’s group in Dekhanabad has set up a new market-garden cooperative. They have learnt how to conserve water more effectively and grow produce that is better suited to the changing climate, as well as extending the growing season through use of greenhouses and new farming techniques.
Mavluda Akhmedova was one of the first members of the cooperative and encouraged other women to join. ‘We need to adapt because we do not know what will happen in the future,’ she said. The cooperative is doing so well that not only can the members grow enough fruit and vegetables for themselves, but they also sell some at market to help support other families in the village. The cooperative has also set up sewing workshops for younger women so they can learn new skills and have an alternative way of earning an income.
The fruits of ingenuity
Christian Aid partners in Tajikistan are developing ingenious solutions to help poor communities cope with the impact of climate change and the breakdown in the country’s infrastructure and basic services. Tajikistan is a little-known and little-visited country, where the standard of living has fallen dramatically over the past 20 years. In the Soviet era, mountain waters were harnessed to supply communities with water and generate much of the country’s electricity (hydropower). Now, glacial melt and changing weather patterns are threatening the availability of this water and increasing the risk of floods and droughts. According to the World Bank, Tajikistan is one of the most vulnerablecountries to climate change. Irrigation and electricity supplies have been further diminished by two decades of neglect and the damage caused during the civil war of the 1990s, which have left the country’s infrastructure in a dilapidated state.
Previously, we saw how new techniques that have been developed to cope with climate change are helping a women’s cooperative in Dekhanabad to grow all kinds of fruit and vegetables – in greenhouses, in pots, in allotment beds, on roofs and verandas. The women are earning so much from selling their surplus produce that they’ve been able to buy books and computers to boost their children’s education and have set up a sewing project to give young women a chance to earn a living from home.
As supplies of electricity in rural areas break down, Christian Aid partner ASDP Nau is helping local communities to develop sustainable sources of power. One of the most ingenious devices is the solar stove. Made out of a plastic foil-covered satellite dish with a saucepan stand welded onto it, it reflects the sun’s rays onto the base of a saucepan or kettle and can boil water in a large kettle or cook rice in a saucepan in around 15 minutes. Tajikistan has an abundance of sunshine, so solar power is an ideal sustainable energy resource. In another scheme, apricot farmers have been able to boost their income by using a solar-powered drier to improve the quality of their dried apricots. In hospitals, ASDP Nau has brought hot water back into maternity wards and medical centres for the first time in more than a decade, thanks to solar-powered water-heating systems. Such innovations are going to be crucial in sustaining services and livelihoods as food production and infrastructure come under increasing strain.
As the current food crisis deepens, Christian Aid partners are helping communities in Burkina Faso to find ways to provide food for their families and supporting them in withstanding future emergencies. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Forty per cent of children in rural areas are chronically malnourished. Now the country is experiencing long-term temperature rises and repeated food shortages. Alizeta Sawadogo lives with her children and grandchildren in Masboré village in the north of the country. During the food crisis in 2010, people simply did not have enough to eat. Now the same thing is happening again, but this time the people of Masboré village have a plan in place to help them cope.
Another person to benefit from Christian Aid’s support is Madiaga Lemani, who has three daughters and two sons. Madiaga is working with families in her community to set up a new market gardening cooperative. With support from Christian Aid partner ATAD, members will help each other to grow vegetables. They will also be able to invest any profits back into their cooperative and community, helping more families. For now, many of these families are receiving direct food assistance. This will meet their immediate needs while they get the market garden up and running, but the possibility of forming a cooperative and being self-sufficient offers hope for the future. And it’s hope for a better life for their children that inspires so many. Alizeta said: ‘The most important benefit is the education of my children. It’s very important to me. So I hope that this breeding activity will help me with this.’
West Africa food crisis
‘You feel a fear, a terrifying fear’
Ana Maria Ayala was one of thousands of people in El Salvador caught up in the storm known as Tropical Depression E12. The storm caused untold damage, but thanks to projects to help communities prepare for disasters, many lives were saved. In October 2011, the small country of El Salvador suffered the devastation of Tropical Depression E12, the impact of which was even more severe than Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998. Rivers that previously had never flooded burst their banks. Families that had never had to evacuate before were forced to flee their homes. ‘We heard a noise like the crash of an earthquake. You feel a fear, a terrifying fear. The children are crying, and you think you will die or drown,’ said Ana. ‘Even now, when some of the children see black rain clouds they begin to cry, as they think it will flood again.’
Projects like these proved their worth during Tropical Depression 12E. The communities that our partners had been working with were clearly organised, capable and suffered far fewer deaths than other communities. Indeed, no one in Ana Maria’s community died during the floods. The work of our partners in El Salvador is not about hand-outs, but helps poor people to harness the skills, tools and organisation needed to protect their families and build thriving, resilient communities.
This is the good news story. But disasters are becoming more frequent and intense in countries like El Salvador. It is important that charities like Christian Aid and their supporters continue to lobby governments about the impact of climatic instability and extreme poverty as we look at how to build sustainable solutions for the future. Please visit christianaid.org.uk/actnow to add your voice to our call for climate justice.