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Combating climate change in Mali

2010 looks set to be one of the “hottest years” since temperatures were first logged in 1850. Even with a cool end to the last two months, 2010 is likely to come no lower than third in the rankings, after previous records were set in 1998 and 2005. Environmentalists hope this finding will put pressure on all those attending climate talks in Cancun next week.

Mali is one of the hottest countries on the planet and its population of 13 million people regularly has to deal with recurring drought. Here, pastoralists and rural communities are worried that rising temperatures and unstable weather patterns will soon force them to abandon their traditional ways of life. In an area close to the desert of northern Mali, Seidou Samba Guindo is the chief of the village of Anakila. His community is struggling to keep the sand dunes from encroaching into the fertile land around them. Seidou speaks of seeing “big changes” in the weather over the last 10 years. “There has been less rain, but when it comes it’s heavier,” and he fears the next generation of children will “never be able to grow a good harvest”. The charity Tearfund has been working with local partners to plant euphorbia hedges and trees for the soil to fix onto and help keep the sand at bay. But even with this work, Seido believes the Western World must do more to help Mali combat climate change.

Mali does operate an early warning system - Système d’Alerte Précoce (SAP) - where teams of officials meet to discuss rainfall levels, animal health and the general water situation. This system has been in place since 1986 and provides information to alert the government to any impending crisis. The SAP system notified officials about shortages of food in the north of Mali this year, but the government decided not to appeal for emergency aid, unlike neighbouring Niger. Aid agencies on the ground estimate that around 260,000 people in Mali were recently affected by food insecurity. At the height of the crisis, the World Food Programme assisted the Mali government in distributing cereals and animal feed to affected areas. Thankfully, after decent rains this year, the 2010 harvest is expected to be good.

But countries like Mali need long term help so that farmers, pastoralists and rural communities can adapt to the huge challenges posed by climate change. For example, more wells could be provided for livestock along grazing routes and money could be invested in animal feed stores to help farmers survive the lean season. In Mexico, political leaders are being asked to agree on a climate fund which offers 200 billion dollars of new money annually to help countries like Mali adapt to changes. With the sand dunes threatening his village, Seidou would deliver the message himself to Cancun if he could, that those attending “must find a solution”.

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