(Above) In Malawi, the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program is integrated into many community development projects
It seemed climate change was on the minds of the whole world last year, with young people in many countries taking part in large-scale strikes and appealing for political action, and with the war on single-use plastics (plastic drinking straws in particular) gaining enough media attention for many businesses to reconsider their environmental footprint. And yet, with most of us confined to our homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting our contact with the outside world, it is hard to imagine how looming climate change could have any real impact on our everyday lives. Unfortunately, the luxury of ignorance does not exist for millions of people in our world.
The Salvation Army recognizes that environmental degradation is one of the most urgent challenges facing our world today. Like many other issues, its effects are felt disproportionately by the most vulnerable communities in our world, especially in terms of health, livelihood, shelter, food security and freedom of choice. The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to environmental risks, particularly unclean water and polluted air, will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. The majority of those deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries and areas with weak health infrastructure, with a disproportionate number affecting women, children and the most vulnerable.
Some of the effects of climate change and pollution include increased spread and vulnerability to illnesses and diseases, and higher risk and volatility of disasters. Land and air pollution result in unsafe working and living conditions. Environmental degradation negatively impacts soil and land arability needed for farming. As climate change continues to threaten, those that are the most vulnerable to these dramatic effects are the communities that are already experiencing extreme poverty. Taking appropriate steps to combat climate change is vital to eradicating extreme poverty in our world.
June 5 is set aside by the United Nations as World Environment Day, meant to bring people, communities, governments and organizations around the world together to take action on critical environmental challenges facing the planet. This year’s specific focus, headlining the online World Environment Day summit hosted by Colombia, is the importance of biodiversity. Maintaining biodiversity is essential to farming because it is responsible for conserving soil, water, biota and plants, and for the maintenance of soil fertility. This ensures that a plot of land used for farming can be used again year after year, preserving not only the planet, but also a farmer’s ability to produce and provide for their business and family for years to come.
Sustainability is a vital aspect of the international work of The Salvation Army. International projects supported by the Canada and Bermuda Territory work with environmental stewardship in mind. In rural Malawi, farmers are trained in sustainable farming techniques and conservation agriculture, which helps to maintain biodiversity, conserves land use and increases food security in the community. In South Africa, communities are supported to adapt and prepare for disasters to lessen the impact when disaster strikes. The WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program, integrated into many development projects, teaches communities about proper waste management and hygiene skills, which prevents the spread of diseases and promotes safe working environments. Through our Gifts of Hope program, environmentally friendly items that are accepted locally, such as solar power and eco-cookers, have been incorporated into projects where possible to minimize environmental footprint.
As Christians, we have been given the enormous responsibility to care for creation and we are encouraged to do all we can to minimize our environmental footprint. This includes being mindful of what we produce and consume. As Salvationists—officers, soldiers, employees and other stakeholders—we are encouraged to be good stewards of the earth, both as an organization and as a church, which means we need to be responsible about how we manage resources, and how we respond to the effects of climate change in the communities we serve worldwide. Through your generous support of world missions, we can help communities fight climate change and its impact in practical and holistic ways.
Robyn Goodyear is the international project support co-ordinator in the world missions department.