Scientists have been warning for decades that the climate is changing due to human activity, and that this will lead to catastrophic disruptions to our agricultural systems, food security, livelihoods, health, wildlife, and ecosystems. However, we have not reacted quickly enough, and these climate changes have now turned into a full-blown climate crisis.
The impacts of this crisis are already being seen; the number of climate related disasters such as flooding, droughts, typhoons, landslides and wildfires, has doubled within twenty years. While we all know about the unprecedented events such as the wildfires in Australia last year, the sad truth is that many communities are being devastated by smaller scale, but recurring events that never even make the news here in the UK. What’s more, the economic disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic has left many people with reduced capacities to cope when these disasters strike, creating a perfect storm that threatens to undermine decades of poverty reduction.
Ultimately this means that for World Jewish Relief, there is urgent humanitarian need that we must respond to. Similarly, there is a clear Jewish imperative to do everything we can in order to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people from further suffering. Among those most affected are some of our existing programme participants, who have already begun to tell us how the changing climate is impacting their lives. In Eastern Europe, rising temperatures are leading to more intense and more frequent heatwaves, which pose a significant threat to the health of older people that we work with. Meanwhile severe droughts have threatened the incomes and food access of farmers that we support in Wajir, Northern Kenya. Finally, our humanitarian partners are facing more regular and more intense climate-related disasters.
Still, for us in the UK, the climate crisis can often seem like an issue that is happening elsewhere in the world. While we can all do our bit by reducing our own carbon footprint, we rarely have a chance to help the vulnerable people at the frontlines of the crisis. But at World Jewish Relief, we know that we must – and with the continued generosity of our supporters, we can – do more.
So far, we have begun by signing a Climate and Environment Charter for humanitarian organisations which commits us to several actions, and have begun coordinating with partners to identify opportunities to address specific climate-related issues.
This is all part of a newly developed climate strategy which includes three complementary strands of work:
1. We will measure and reduce our own carbon footprint, from our office, events, and programmes here in the UK and abroad.
2. Using our humanitarian programmes, we will build peoples’ capacity to cope with the changing climate. This means not only responding to more disasters with immediate relief and recovery, but also working with communities to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place, such as by strengthening infrastructure, investing in drought resistant crops, and ensuring people can access evacuation shelters.
3. We will mainstream ‘climate’ into our traditional programming areas. This means for example, our support for older people in eastern Europe may include activities to ensure that people are able to cope with worsening heatwaves.
All of this will only be possible with the continued support of the British Jewish community. If you would like to help or to learn more, you can sign up to receive regular updates at www.worldjewishrelief.org/climatecrisis.
World Jewish Relief’s work on the climate crisis is generously supported by the Pears Foundation.