“The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.”
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because I have been anointed to give good news to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken heart; to preach freedom to the captives, and bring sight to the blind; to release the oppressed.”
Already feeling the effects
Today, the consequences of our changing climate have sadly been borne by those least equipped to endure them. Between 1990 and 1998, poor countries accounted for 94 percent of the world’s 568 major natural disasters and 97 percent of disaster-related deaths. Floods, droughts, rising sea levels, hurricanes and other climate related events are devastating developing economies, while those of developed countries—the producers of the bulk of carbon emissions—remain largely untouched. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors. How can we really respond to the call to love our neighbors as ourselves while we continue to allow our irresponsible actions to endanger their lives?
The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission has recognized the reality of severe climate disturbances, especially in the countries where the Salvation Army is presently at work. Indeed, this crisis emerged from an unjust and unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels, and continues to breed further social injustice in the form of serious threats to vital biodiversity, and some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The following regional highlights represent only a taste of what some around the globe are experiencing.
Regional highlight: South America West Territory
The Salvation Army in South America has emerged as a leading advocate for climate change awareness and response. Officers and soldiers in this region of the world simply cannot ignore the reality of climate change as it continues to threaten their communities and livelihoods on many fronts. Disappearing snow caps, extended droughts, food and water shortages—all of these circumstances have been visited upon the region, specifically the nation of Bolivia in recent years, placing increased stress on farming communities, indigenous peoples, and unfortunately the most economically depressed members of the population.
Take, for example, a report from Salvation Army health workers in Bolivia who have watched the economy of an entire mountain community as it is turned upside down by the impact of rising temperatures. The Andes mountain region is the focal point of an ongoing story of glacial melt. The Chacaltaya glacier, once world renowned as the site of the world’s highest ski run, today has all but completely vanished from the mountainside on which it once sat. That which only 20 years ago was a major tourist attraction and treasured water source, today simply no longer exists. The rapid departure of the Chacaltaya has left a gaping hole not only in the mountainside, but in the local economy as well—causing violent clashes between farmers and community members as they are driven to compete for scarce water and food resources.
Potable water in many rural parts of Bolivia has grown increasingly scarce for reasons beyond retreating glaciers. Regional climates are unmistakably changing in South America, scrambling seasonal weather patterns in their wayward courses. Community health workers for the Salvation Army have reported new prolonged periods of drought, which have placed great strain upon agricultural and pastoral communities. Rivers and reservoirs are drying up, and crops are wilting, livestock are going without pasture and even drinking water, and families are forced to fight for the right to the basic resources that they desperately need. In 2000, the infamous “water wars” erupted in major Bolivian cities and threw the country into a state of emergency when water scarcity issues initiated a government attempt to privatize water services, leaving many without access.
The Salvation Army in the South America West territory knows that it is impossible to truly address health related problems in their local communities without first addressing the ecological causes. They know that climate change is a very real health threat that they cannot afford to ignore. It has already hurt the livelihood of their people in unforeseen ways, and holds great potential to undermine or even undue their development progress in the region. South America West has given up on passive speculation—they have identified the problem, rolled up their sleeves, and set to work in local communities. Affirming the UN’s millennium development goals and food security initiatives, the Salvation Army is active among those who are in greatest need; “We have begun new activities in health care and disease prevention. With the passage of time and through careful interactions, we have come to know the desires, aspirations and needs of community members, which enabled us to enlarge the impact of our program.” For the Salvation Army in this region, to work on climate change is to work on issues of health and development.
Some of the chief climate-related health concerns lie in the areas of child malnutrition, maternal health, and food provision. In places like the rural town of Tiquirani, Bolivia, the lack of nutrient rich food results in children with anemia, poor physical development, poor school performance, and a high maternal mortality rate. Resource limitations have not been an impediment to leaders in places like Tiquirani, where proper education and training is viewed as a key solution. One health worker affirmed this; “It was determined that it was imperative to talk about issues of nutrition, food security and consumption of safe water.” With help from a local university, Salvation Army health workers are now teaching adaptive techniques, from the organization of community gardens, to the use of solar tents. The literal fruits of their labors are already being seen, since the first harvest in 2010. The result was promising; “Some for the first time after leaving their home communities now have in their hands the product of hope from the gardens.”
The territory has also begun collaboration with an alternative energy company to bring renewable solar powered kitchen appliances to those, especially in rural areas, who don’t have stable access to electricity. The Salvation Army hopes to utilize these appliances to illustrate the many opportunities that can be found in a switch to renewable energy sources. They are working today to make these resources affordable and available for rural families. This work is still premature and limited. It represents a reaction to the symptoms of climate change—not a decision to end the causes. The fact remains that worldwide perpetuation of climate change, especially by developed countries, has only continued to grow—making it even more difficult for adaptation efforts, like those of South America West , to truly realize their potential.