Caritas in action
The Caritas confederation is becoming increasingly involved in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. Many Caritas members in high income countries have launched education and awareness campaigns that urge reduction of individual and household carbon footprints. Such campaigns are often also linked to advocacy initiatives aimed at pressuring governments to commit to a strong post-2012 agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that binds industrialised countries to strong emission reduction targets and to adaptation funding for developing countries, as well as finance and technology transfers for low-carbon economic development. As a confederation of humanitarian and development organisations, however, Caritas is particularly concerned with the impacts of climate change on the world’s poor and ensuring they have the resources to adapt to the changes that are already taking place.
The long experience of Caritas in grassroots development is particularly useful in designing and implementing programmes to help human and ecological systems to adapt to climate change. Climate change adaptation interventions should look beyond the current climatic variability and anticipate future changes. This often involves the input of technical knowledge that requires collaboration with other agencies that have specialist expertise. For example, Caritas Bangladesh works in collaboration with the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies to design and implement programmes in areas that are droughtprone and affected by high water salinity.
In the Philippines and Kenya, Catholic Relief Services (a Caritas member in the USA) works with theWorld Agroforestry Centre on land-care initiatives that include carbon sequestration and carbon credits. This latter project combines existing expertise in Disaster Risk Reduction and development methodologies and lays the groundwork for new livelihood initiatives in carbon credits and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Capacity building activities are also taking place throughout Central America, Mexico and Panama, where technical staff are being trained in best practices to deal with climate change issues with the support and active participation of Caritas members in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.
Disaster preparedness and risk reduction can dramatically reduce loss of life and infrastructure. In Bangladesh, Caritas has been involved in building cyclone shelters and training communities in disaster preparedness and risk reduction. As a result, more resilient communities have developed with better preparedness skills to cope with cyclones. In 1991, a cyclone with wind speeds of up to 240 km/h struck Bangladesh, causing more than 140,000 deaths. But in 2007, the death toll from Cyclone Sidr, with even stronger winds of up to 260 km/h, was reduced to 3,400, thanks to the work of the government and aid agencies like Caritas.”
Caritas also promotes traditional systems and practices that support the environment and converge modern science with traditional ecological knowledge. For instance, in Africa’s Sahel region, local farmers have developed intricate systems of gathering, prediction, interpretation and decision-making in relation to weather, which help them to manage their vulnerability to climate change.
Farmers are known to make decisions on cropping patterns based on local climate predictions, and decisions on planting dates based on complex cultural models of weather. Farmers in the Sahel also conserve water in soil through practices such as zero tillage, mulching and other soil management techniques. Communal forest reserves are often a very important resource in traditional societies, providing food, timber and other livelihood opportunities. Caritas Madre de Dios in Perú is working with communities and local government to control deforestation in Southern Amazonia.
In India’s Orissa state, Catholic Relief Services is building local capacities to respond to emergencies and mitigate the impacts of climate-related hazards by strengthening self-help groups and organising task forces to deliver first aid, plan evacuation routes and safe shelters, protect clean water sources, save grain and cash in preparation for the cyclone season, formulate sustainable crop and land use plans, and repair and construct water harvesting structures and embankments.
Caritas Malawi (CADECOM) encourages crop diversification to reduce reliance on a single rainy season, promotes use of livestock to vary the sources of food and income available to households and promotes simple irrigation techniques for improved agricultural input.
Caritas Kenya promotes resilience in drought-prone semi-arid areas by planting drought resistant seeds that can withstand weather variations. Projects in Homa Bay are designed to combine dairy farming with bio-gas production, the residue of which is used for organic farming.
Throughout the Caritas network, the sharing of best practices is being encouraged. Caritas Brazil, for example, sponsors workshops on approaches to sustainable agriculture processes and implements projects to improve food security among landless peasants. Caritas India works with Diocesan Social Service societies to better integrate climate change considerations into local programme planning.
Although Caritas and others in the humanitarian community demonstrate increased capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters, an exponential increase in climate-related disasters could undermine efforts to assist people to lift themselves out of poverty. Caritas agencies work to strengthen these coping mechanisms through interventions in natural resource management, sustainable agriculture, improved water and sanitation measures and community managed risk reduction programmes.
Caritas supports partners with the technical assistance required to conduct research, in collaboration with experts in the field and with local universities. These efforts are aimed at assisting the poor in dealing with the humanitarian consequences of climate change. The research provides people with facts and figures about the expected frequency, magnitude and timing of climate change impacts so that they can make informed decisions. Additional collaborative initiatives span a wide range of issues, including adaptation technology, renewable energy, food security and environmentally-induced conflicts.
In order to build an effective combined front at all levels, synergy has to be generated between civil society, government and the private sector, and across development sectors. Partnership and networking among like-minded agencies will provide room for sharing and create a greater impact in addressing climate change concerns.
RESOURCESAnnual reportHow Caritas works: Climate Change Guide on Environmental JusticeClimate change on Caritas BlogClimate justice newsletter vol. 6