Everyone seems obsessed by the freezing temperatures that have reached the UK recently. But I can’t help but thinking: well, it is winter after all, isn’t it normal to be cold?
Yet at Christmas the mild weather was at the centre of many family discussions, often leading to a joke about global warming and the fact that it wasn’t such a bad thing.
I was talking to a colleague this week about her recent trip to Southern Africa when I was struck by the words of Ricy, headman of a village in Zambia where CAFOD works: “Climate change is already affecting us. It’s not something we read about in the papers like you might do in England. It’s a problem that we are living and breathing every single day”.
Ricy’s village is a hot, dry and dusty place in Southern Zambia, with a few baobab trees around. Experts point out that many regions within sub-Saharan Africa are likely to become drier and hotter in the coming years, with unpredictable rains bringing more drought and devastating floods.
But Ricy doesn’t need experts to see that the climate is already changing in his village: the ground is dry and wilted crops cannot be harvested. Because the cows don’t have enough grass to eat, he fears they won’t be able to produce enough milk.
The weather changes would be less of an issue for Ricy if there was water in his village. But unbelievably there is only one tap in the whole of his community: one tap for 137 people! So Ricy finds himself relying on rainfall, and this makes him and his community vulnerable to any change in the climate.
The water is pumped from the Zambezi River to the tap but the system is not reliable: sometimes, no water is pumped for days and the families must go the river themselves. Often the water is pumped at night to save costs: it’s common to see long queues of women waiting for water in the middle of the night. If they wait until the morning to collect water, there is none left.
Ricy’s words stayed with me last night as I walked home facing the icy wind – “Agricultural officers say we should conserve water because we might run out, especially in the future. If it wasn’t such a terrifying thought, I would laugh”.
And for a moment, I don’t feel like joking about global warming.