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Front line study in The Gambia helps inform leaders in Doha about climate change

Ministers from over 100 countries have begun gathering in Doha, the capital of Qatar, for the latest round of United Nations climate talks.

High on the agenda for many of the expected 17,000 participants is the growing gap between wealthy and developing nations in coping with the effects of climate change. And there is a growing feeling among developing countries that richer nations are not striving hard enough to cut carbon emissions or giving enough assistance to poorer nations to help them adapt. It seems cruelly ironic that when developing nations are low emitters of carbon, they should often be the ones forecast to suffer most from the effects of climate change.

In order to highlight the growing problem, the ‘Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative’ was set up to give a voice to Least Developed Countries. The initiative has been gathering evidence from communities on the front lines of climate change. Its findings show that loss and damage in many countries is already significant. Even more worrying, it appears that many communities will be unable to adjust sufficiently to offset all the negative impacts of climate change.

Research was carried out by the UN University, Institute for Environment and Human Security in cooperation with local research institutions in Least Developed Countries. Case studies were conducted in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Micronesia, Kenya and The Gambia. In each country, researchers spoke with local communities to assess the kinds of real-life consequences brought by severe weather patterns and how well local communities coped.

In The Gambia for example, the North Bank region was chosen because it is especially vulnerable to climate change. Here, households rely on the production of millet, but droughts and changing rainfall patterns have caused frequent crop failures. The study covered over 370 households in more than 30 villages and investigated the effect of the 2011 drought. 98% of the respondents were affected, many losing their entire harvest. Though food aid was received, researchers found that two-thirds of families had to reduce their consumption, by eating smaller portions or taking only two meals a day instead of three. Many families also had to sell belongings (mostly livestock) to survive. A fifth of respondents spoke of moving or migrating to urban areas to see out the drought.

This picture of hardship shows that even with help, people barely manage to survive. The writers of the report hope that by illustrating the direct impact of climate change on vulnerable communities, leaders will wake up to the damage already being inflicted and understand that new commitments will be needed.

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