16 Apr 2015

The reality of climate change in peoples' lives

Poor land-use practices make a landscape more vulnerable to climate change impacts (Photo: Albert Schenk)
By Obaka Torto

Climate change is no longer a vague, abstract ‘concept’. It is fast becoming a harsh reality in the daily lives of people, especially in poorer environments.

What has happened in villages in South Kivu - Democratic Republic of Congo, is forcing people to realise that major changes are happening right now; affecting their immediate physical environment and even the social structure of their communities.

It was not long ago that people realised that the agricultural calendar was changing. Agricultural lands were traditionally cultivated three times a year, in January, April and September, but nowadays crops are produced only twice a year, and even then, often with difficulty. Crops are being affected by frequent longer periods of drought while being scorched by the hot sun, while during other periods of the year the plants are damaged or destroyed by torrential rains and hail. Crops are being attacked by various diseases such as mosaic virus which affects cassava and banana plants, while soil is washed away and gradually becomes unproductive. Periods of famine have become a reality, resulting in increased cases of crop theft which leads to social conflicts in families, villages, and in the chiefdoms.

Landslide in Nyambasha - Kalehe Territory, South Kivu Province (Photo: Horizon Nature)

The area has had its share of (natural) disasters over the years but in October 2014 overnight torrential rain resulted inimmeasurable damage to communities in Kalehe Territory in the South Kivu Province. Massive landslides destroyed and damaged houses, public infrastructure (such as hydroelectric power stations, churches, schools) and crops. Even worse, many people and domestic animals were reported to have been killed. In the aftermath, many villages do not have access to clean drinking water because the facilities were damaged.

Ravaged fields and houses (Photo: Horizon Nature)

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Climate change is affecting people. Local organisations are trying to support local communities to adapt to and to help find sustainable strategies to cope with the effects of climate change. Horizon Nature is an NGO working in South Kivu and is partnering with BirdLife International and other partners in the region to enhancing climate change resilience in the Lake Kivu Basin through applying the CRAG approach.  The acronym CRAGs stands for Climate Resilient Altitudinal Gradients which are landscape units that are characterised by climate resilient biodiversity and ecosystem service values. The CRAG approach brings together a variety of conservation approaches and activities, such as integrated water management; ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change; soil and forest management; and community livelihoods, which all have impact across the landscape in ways that directly benefit human wellbeing and biodiversity values. Kalehe has been identified as one the priority areas where Horizon Nature will start working with the local communities to enhance climate change resilience, with the aim of reducing the chance of the October 2014 disaster happening again.

The “Enhancing Climate Change Resilience in Great Lakes Region Watersheds: the Lake Kivu Catchment and Rusizi River CRAG”project is funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

For more news about CRAGs, please visit our CRAG news page here.

By: Chantal Shalukoma and Balezi Zihalirwa (Horizon Nature), and Albert Schenk (BirdLife)