Tearfund - Tanzania farmer Jan 07

Tearfund’s Keith Ewing cannot shake from his mind a conversation with a poor farmer about failed rains.

Are we holding a gun to their heads of poor people?

It was the moment I realised that I am personally responsible for the suffering of people in the developing world.

Standing under the baking hot African sky, I was chatting to Joyce Mbwilo and her husband Dickson, a couple who survive on less than 60 pence a day in poverty-stricken rural Tanzania.

It was May 2005 and I was accompanying Songs of Praise presenter Sally Magnusson and her team to the village of Uhambingeto. Joyce and Dickson were due to feature in a programme about how Christians and churches in the UK were supporting and campaigning for more aid and fairer trade rules to benefit poor families like the Mbwilos.

And there was much success to report. Joyce and Dickson told Sally how families used to walk up to 10 hours in the middle of the night to fetch water, until Tearfund partners, the Diocese of Ruaha, installed a water pump just 10 minutes walk away. And the couple’s children were in school thanks to international debt relief for Tanzania which swept away primary school fees at a stroke.

Changes such as these were literally transforming their lives. It was a good news story of the kind we love to tell. Apart from one chronic problem.

During a break in the filming of their daily lives, Joyce and Dickson told me described how the rains were failing regularly. It looked like they would lose half their maize crop. Dickson explained that the rains began on time, but then stopped abruptly, as though a celestial tap had been turned off, causing the half-matured maize to whither where it stood.

Then came the statement by Dickson which cut right through me. He said he believed that climate change was the cause of the rain problem. Villagers had heard on the BBC World Service how rich country emissions had polluted the atmosphere to the point where poor countries no longer received adequate rain.

“When rich countries do this, it is like holding a gun to the head of farmers like me,” said the softly spoken Dickson.

In the past year since Dickson spoke those words to me, the world has become increasingly convinced by the sheer urgency of action on climate change. Tony Blair’s advisor, Sir David King, does not lightly describe climate change as a greater threat than terrorism. And few believe Sir Nicholas Stern, former World Bank Chief Economist, to be exaggerating when he predicts global economic and social breakdown without urgent action on climate change.

Unlike the global issues of international debt and trade rules, climate change is not tackled solely by governments. We can, I have discovered in the past year, make important lifestyle choices that will help to contribute to the problem, while still urging our own government and others to tackle the problem globally.

Even small acts at home can make a difference. Such as:
  • energy-saving light bulbs – they use 80 per cent less electricity and last 12 times longer than ordinary bulbs.
  • Turning off lights when leaving a room and turning off electrical appliances at the mains (standby can use between 30 and 70 per cent of the energy used when an appliance is on).
  • Turning down central heating thermostat – lowering the temperature by just one degree can cut 10 per cent off energy bills.
  • Buying energy-efficient models of electrical appliances.
  • Insulating wall cavities and fitting aluminium foil behind radiators.
  • Boiling only the water needed for that cup of tea. If everyone boiled just the water they needed, the energy saved could power more than 75% of the UK’s streetlights.
  • Recycle – landfills are the second largest source of methane emission in the UK.
  • Switch to a green energy provider (one that produces electricity from renewable energy sources). I switched to one that is 100% renewable in a bid to reduce my own contribution to global warming (to find out more about green energy suppliers in your area go to www.greenelectricity.org/domestic.html)
I have recently heard that Joyce and Dickson and their children are again relying on food aid from Tearfund’s Christian partners. The rains failed even more severely this past year.

Dickson is too nice a man to accuse me personally of holding a gun to his head. But I cannot shake the image from my mind.


 • For details on how to join Tearfund as we campaign for action on climate change, or for our free guide on how to reduce your personal contribution to climate change, For Tomorrow Too, go to www.tearfund.org/campaigning or call Tearfund’s supporter services team on 0845 355 8355.

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