Tag Archives: United Nations

Paul Verryn: A Key South African Human Rights Leader

24 Aug

After speaking with our dear friend Anthea Hide in Port Elizabeth, South Africa last night, I was immediately taken back to my 2008 trip to SA & the day I had the honor of meeting Bishop Paul Verryn at the Hide’s Fifth Avenue Inn.

Here are the thoughts I had upon my return:

I have now been home from South Africa for a few days and think the extraordinary events of my time there are finally sinking in.  I am still in awe that my newest hero Bishop Paul Verryn invited me to visit him at the downtown Johannesburg Central Methodist Mission which is considered “home” to over 1,600 Zimbabwean refugees.  Bishop Verryn  has tirelessly given his love and compassion to find justice for the over 4,000 who have found refugee at one point or another at his Church.  Presently over 3 million Zimbabweans have come to South Africa to seek political asylum.  Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, former United States president Jimmy Carter, and Graca Machel, an advocate for the rights of women & children, and also wife of Nelson Mandela spent over an hour and a half with some of the Zimbabwean refugees & Bishop Paul.  I had the great honor of being present during their visit. 

To learn more about Bishop Verryn & his work please visit: http://www.methodist.org.za/ 

Bishop Paul Verryn & Zimbabwean refugees with former South Africa First Lady Graca Machel, President Jimmy Carter & former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

 

Djimon Hounsou on Climate Change

22 Sep

A Larry King exclusive by Djimon Hounsou, the only professional actor involved in the Summit on Climate Change.

djimon-hounsou-for-web1

I have always been vocal on poverty issues and have championed humanitarian causes, but I never really considered myself an environmentalist. Sure I try to consume less and recycle more, but it wasn’t until I began to witness the truly cataclysmic effects of climate change on the poorest amongst us that I felt obligated to speak up.

For years, I’ve been advocating for the struggling farmers in my home country of Benin and in Mali in West Africa, where agriculture is more than a job. It is a way of life. Their very survival depends upon what they can grow, and unlike the economic crisis that we’re facing now where many people live paycheck to paycheck, these struggling farmers fight and scrape by on a meager existence from season to season. All across Africa, southern Asia, and other third world countries, farming is the only means of employment and survival, which is greatly affected by the climate changes taking place — droughts, flooding, and erratic seasons. Through my work with the international humanitarian group Oxfam, I have learned that a changing climate has the potential to dramatically impact them.

In 2005, when I visited a remote village outside of Bamako in Mali, I saw how dependent people’s lives were on rainfall. If the rain had not come in time, a whole season of planting would be wasted. Luckily, some rain did fall but not enough for most farmers to even turn a profit.

Because climate change will make seasons much less predictable, storms more frequent and conditions more difficult to manage, the poorest farmers around the world, such as the cotton farmers in Benin, are likely to suffer the most, despite their lack of negative impact to the crisis.

Lacking the information or resources necessary to understand, prepare for, and respond to the dire affects of climate change, many of the world’s poorest communities will experience unprecedented stress.

Without adequate support to adapt to the changing climate, the effect is a downward spiral into deeper poverty and increased vulnerability.

This could mean that millions would go without food, pull their children out of school, sell off cattle to pay for mounting debt, or migrate to other regions. Such dramatic consequences are not just a terrible tragedy; they can also threaten to undermine global stability and security.

I know all of this first hand. Growing up in Benin in West Africa, and having worked and traveled to many parts of the world, I know how important farming is to the livelihood of so many people.

And it’s not just the people in West Africa who feel the impact of climate change; it’s happening all over the world. Cities and villages that line the coasts are under threat from ever intensifying hurricanes, floods, and storms. Here in the States we have witnessed our eastern seaboard and gulf coast ravaged by hurricanes, while my home state of California continues to fight wildfires that grow out of control. The large river basins of the Niger River, the Senegal River, and Lake Chad have experienced a total water decrease between 40 and 60 percent.

The number of people affected by climate change will only increase; Oxfam estimates that it will affect 275 million people by 2015. That’s more than the entire population of the United States.

With this type of projected impact, it is no surprise that this global crisis, and its drastic effects on poor people around the world, will at last take center stage and get the attention it deserves. Heads of state from around the world are planning to come together in Copenhagen in December to work towards an agreement to tackle climate change. If global leaders want these negotiations to be a success, the agreement has to allow for both reducing global warming pollution and for investing in the resiliency of defenseless communities around the world. This assistance can help them to prepare for and respond to the impact of climate change.

Helping vulnerable communities means providing funding for those who are living in the most extreme poverty to adapt to climate change and prepare for the future. This funding can support innovations such as drought-resistant seeds or provide essentials like assembling food banks for times of shortage. Even coastal tree barriers and raised homes for floods and hurricanes can help. The bottom line is that the world’s wealthiest nations can and should help the neediest to plan ahead for the future, to avoid the humanitarian disasters that we have seen ravage these communities.

As an African, I have a responsibility to share the impact of climate change on Africa with the global community; but as citizen of the world I have a responsibility to speak out and do my part for all of humanity. The clock is ticking – now. World leaders have the chance to stop the clock. Let’s hope that in New York and in Copenhagen they take the lead to lift millions of people out of poverty. We don’t have the luxury to debate the issues, or question ourselves. We must stop second-guessing our duties. It is unequivocally our inherent responsibility to one another as humans to assist and find solutions for the poorest in our communities and around the globe.

Filed under: Global Warming • LKL Web Exclusive • Larry King Live