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Climate-change refugees reach Copenhagen

For more than a year, South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson have been travelling across the world, hearing from the front-line of climate change.

world Updated: Dec 16, 2009 00:07 IST
Samar Halarnkar

For more than a year, South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson have been travelling across the world, hearing from the front-line of climate change.

The duo’s efforts, on behalf of the charity Oxfam, ended here on Tuesday with three of the 1.5 million witnesses to climate change giving stark testimony in a packed conference hall of how their lives had been dismembered by extreme weather events.

The testimonies and the verdict:

The context
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu: It is the climax of a long journey that spanned the globe in 2009. The first hearing was in Bangladesh. Since then 1.5 million people have participated in similar events in 36 nations. I have a hotline as you know (gesturing upwards), and I’ve been told to convey approval from celestial quarters.

The voices
Kayetano Huanca, Peru: I am a farmer, and represent my indigenous brothers and sisters from South America. There are new seasons, the ones we had have changed completely. There is no rain, sometimes there is only rain; droughts and hailstorms have become stronger and stronger. Sometimes the water is freezing, sometimes it boils, our glaciers are melting. Our water sources are dying. We want industrialised nations to reduce emissions by 40 per cent.

Shorbanu Khatun, Bangladesh: I am a single mother of four. I come from a small island surrounded by rivers. My husband was a rice farmer. About 15 years ago, the waters started rising. We started losing crops and then my husband began going to the forest to collect honey. One day he went to the forest and never came back. A tiger ate him. My in-laws threw me out on the streets. I worked as a maid, went to the forest to get wood, to the river to get fish. Somehow I managed to feed my family. Six months ago, cyclone Aila came and took everything away. My village is under shoulder-deep water. I want my life back.

Constance Okollet: I am from a village on the border of Kenya and Uganda. In 2007, the floods came and covered our village. When we came back, there was nothing left. We had cholera and malaria. Droughts came, drying up all the food that was left. Children go to school hungry. We used to have two seasons, now we have none. We don’t know when to plant, we don’t know when to harvest. We want our generations back.

The verdict
Mary Robinson, former Irish Prime Minister: It is global injustice. Just 23 industrialised countries, home to just 14 per cent, have produced 80 per cent of the emissions since 1850. We say we must cut emissions at least 40 per cent by 2020 from 1990 levels. Industrialised countries have to put the money on the table. It must be to the scale of $200 billion annually by 2020; $100 billion for mitigation; $100 billion for adaptation.

For full text of testimonies, click here ...