Monday, October 27, 2008

Responding to climate change in Africa (South Africa): One of Madeleen Helmer's biggest discoveries in her work as a humanitarian has been that it's ordinary people in Africa who rank among the best experts on climate change. Until recently, says Helmer, the head of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, climate change was viewed "very much as a scientific research issue".

"But there's another group of experts," says Helmer. "These are people who've been living in the same place for 20 or 30 years or longer. They observe what's going on with the weather. They don't know about greenhouse gases and might just call it funny weather but they see the rain patterns changing and it's worrying them.

"We found it was very difficult to make people aware of the risk of HIV and Aids in Africa. It was taboo and we lost a lot of time because of that. The good news with climate change is that people themselves are observing what's happening. This is fertile ground to build community readiness programmes."

Helmer was speaking at the 7th Red Cross Red Crescent Pan African Conference in Sandton this week, which thrashed out the pressure that accelerating climate change, HIV and Aids and other infectious diseases were placing on African communities as well as the urgent need for funds to tackle this.

….Her centre has invested heavily in "innovative" climactic early warning technology to better prepare for disasters. But it's also about helping the poorest to adapt to future weather changes. "Our main responsibility is to prepare people to be less vulnerable. We say there are a zillion options to adapt to climate change.

…Climate change, says Helmer, has robbed Africans of traditional knowledge systems to predict the weather. "That asset is no longer reliable and it's one of the few the poor have," she laments…..

Composite satellite image of South Africa in November 2002, NASA

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