English translation provided by community member LightMyWay
1. What is climate change?
Climate change refers to increasingly irregular climate systems, rising sea levels and extreme weather events that can be linked to human activity and greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of global warming.
It’s often considered as a purely scientific and technical phenomenon. However, climate change is also a social, economic and political phenomenon, with considerable implications in terms of social justice and gender equality. This risks depriving some of the poorest people on the planet of their fundamental human rights.
Climate change is already threatening the world’s most vulnerable populations. While Africa contributes very little to climate change, given its low CO2 emission levels, it suffers terribly from the effects. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the largest forest in Africa (comprising 62% of the country’s area) and the second most biodiverse tropical rainforest in the world (Source: Etat des forêts du Congo 2006). But the long period of repeated armed conflicts spanning more than two decades has had heavy social repercussions like sexual violence and poverty, which have negative effects on climate change.
Effectively, in order to combat famine and malnutrition, part of the RDC’s forest reserve has been illegally deforested and occupied by small farmers searching for quick solutions.
The risk that the forests will disappear is immense, given the extensive use of boilerworks and the production of firewood and wood for construction. This increase in intensive production in the wood industry directly impacts desertification and drought.
The anarchical deforestation causes a drop in agricultural yields, leading to malnutrition, food shortages and difficulties in finding water, which are women’s responsibilities.
Furthermore, deforestation makes it more time-consuming and more dangerous for women to collect and transport water, sometimes giving rise to sexual violence against them as individuals or even in groups.
The DRC has the second largest tropical rainforest in the world, after the Amazon rainforest. This forest, the Congo Basin, faces a myriad of challenges, including deforestation, the illegal export of wood, the trafficking of wild animals and climate change. In DRC more than 85% of the population uses traditional biomass fuels (wood and wood for charcoal) to meet their cooking, lighting and heating needs. They still use traditional fireplaces and ovens, which are not sustainable because they contribute to the pollution of the atmosphere and environment and to the degradation of the quality of life for families and for the greater population.
2. The consequences of climate change in my community in South Kivu, DCR.
The Congolese community, in particular the farmers of South Kivu, have been affected by climate change through seasonal disturbances in the agricultural calendar. In the DRC, there are two seasons (the dry season in July and August, and the rainy season from September to June, about 10 months). But for at least 10 years now, climate change has been noticeable, especially in the dry season. This used to occur in July and August (2 months) but now it begins in May and lasts till November (6 months). The harvest of beans, corn, sorghum and amaranth used to occur from the beginning of September through December in the agricultural calendar. But in view of this climate change, the farmers no longer know what month to do their sowing in because the dry season is getting longer—even stretching into October, a month that used to be reserved for hoeing. The farmers don’t know anymore what measures to take to adapt to this climate change. Poverty has settled over the community. In addition, it is impossible to predict rainfall models, lower crop yields, rising food prices and decreasing natural resources; this has already led to intensified human migration, tensions and conflicts. In the city of Bukavu, many human lives have been lost in mud slides following heavy rains. In Kalehe, about 80 kilometers north of Bukavu, 5 villages have been destroyed by the rains and many people have gone missing, the waters having carried their bodies as far as Lake Kivu.
3. To combat climate change, my community is currently envisioning several solutions:
In collaboration with other organizations involved in the fight against deforestation and in favor of environmental management, our organization, “People Without A Voice,” is actively involved in environmentally educating the population through the campaign called “One Plot, One Tree.” This encourages the population to reinstate the green cover that has disappeared, especially in the RDC’s cities, due to the chaotic construction that causes erosion. A fruit tree planting campaign (avocado trees, mango trees) to provide farmers with a supplementary or replacement income stream and to contribute to the fight against poverty and climate change. Staving off poverty by improving the energy efficiency of cooking equipment can reduce the overuse of wood, which is the ultimate domestic cooking fuel. Raising household awareness of improved cook stoves called “Bembelezas” and ban three-stone cooking fires. Raising household awareness of the increasing greenhouse effect caused by using charcoal as fuel, given our significant decrease in dependency on fossil fuels such as coal, by adopting an energy revolution that would allow us to renounce a world fueled by nuclear energy and fossil fuels and inhabit instead a planet operating off of renewable energy Providing information to local populations to inform them of the advancement of national decisions being made with a goal of adapting to and attenuating climate change, but also informing national authorities about women-led actions against deforestation in Bukavu and other territories
These campaigns bear witness to the engagement of the “People Without A Voice” organization in integrating itself into a bilateral state, social and civil process of consultation, dialogue and transformation in this sector.
4. Female voices are critical in the decision-making process around climate change.
Women, as agents of finding firewood and managing the household, are the real experts in the fight against deforestation and therefore against climate change as well.
When a woman has control over or possession of a piece of land, she will never use it poorly. Women in rural areas are both agents of deforestation as well as key resisters against it. “Deforestation is completely irrational in its irreversible destruction of trees.”
Women have gained autonomy in the home and at committee-level in that they can now speak and be heard, but men’s attitudes towards women have also fundamentally changed.
The forest is a source of life. Its gradual disappearance is also contributing to the distress of generations both present and future. People of the world, let us act now to save our common property, which is the environment: Let us not sacrifice the future to the present. The environment is our shared property, but the biggest polluters of the atmosphere live in industrialized countries and the vulnerable populations pay the price.
1) To the political decision-makers:
Take into consideration the multiple dimensions of gender inequality and the experience of men and women on the ground in regards to climate change, and invest in this type of research. Fund social and civil institutions at the international, national and local levels in order to request accounts from policy-makers related to Climate Change, regarding their political engagement in gender equality The struggle to protect the environment is not just a question of technological innovation: it also concerns giving women and their communities the autonomy to hold their governments accountable for their actions. Construct levees to protect properties from rising sea levels, or plant agricultural crops and trees better suited to higher temperatures and dryer soil. All policies and interventions relating to climate change must actively promote women’s rights and gender equality in order to bring about effective change Allow women’s equal participation in processes related to climate change at the local, national and international levels.
2) To international organizations:
• Amp up our warning and rapid response systems in case of natural disasters;
• Pursue efforts to use renewable energy, especially solar and wind power;
• Encourage the efficient use of our forest, water and energy resources;
• Reinforce the adoption of good environmental practices by following up with awareness-raising activities and education programs at the community level, and by integrating into the academic curriculum education modules that promote the environment to help shape future eco-citizens.
3) To local organizations:
• Reforest an area of 5,000 hectares a year;
• Raise awareness among people about climate change and its possible consequences;
• Raise awareness among individuals and organizations about their responsibility to protect the environment;
• Promote environmental education that effects change, understanding, and the perception that people who have access to the forest must view it as an important resource;
• Taking care of the earth is the most important task a woman can fulfil on our planet. Effectively, if we do not become actively involved in taking care of seeds, water and soil, our communities will suffer and we will lose our autonomy as well as our ability to feed our own families.
Climate Change in South Congo in DRC: Understand and Act
Odette IRANGA, Coordinator, non-profit organisation “People Without A Voice,” South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo.