Focus on rural realities – A climate change appeal from Ambon to Egypt
An op-ed by Engel Laisina, Mitra Muda UNICEF Indonesia
Ambon, 17 November 2022 - The timing could not have been better, as governments and stakeholders are now gathering in Egypt for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). I want to send my message across the oceans to those making big promises at the annual event. I only want my thoughts and concerns about Ambon, the small island I grew up on, to be heard.
Most people in the far-flung Maluku islands in the eastern part of Indonesia depend on agriculture and fisheries for their livelihood. Our lives rely on nature. For us, environmental threats are not distant realities – they are an ever-present and massive danger.
We are struggling with rising sea levels, extreme weather, poor waste management and coastal area destruction. Families feel unsafe in homes that offer little protection from disasters. We are sweltering under the effect of hotter temperatures.
Indonesia is among the top 50 countries in the world where children are most at risk from the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, such as floods and droughts, rising sea levels, shifts in rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures. Around 51 million households live in disaster-prone areas that leave them highly vulnerable. Air pollution is one of the top 10 risk factors for death of children under five years of age.
From rural areas like mine to urban centers across Indonesia, the climate crisis is rapidly intensifying. If current trends continue, rising sea levels will contribute to coastal erosion and floods, exposing coastal populations like mine to grave risks such as permanent inundation of settlements and salinization.
The more I begin to grasp what this means for the lives and future of my community – and for all Indonesians – the more scared I become. And so I decided to convert my fear into action. I decided to do whatever I could within my power to prevent any further damage in Maluku.
Last year, I started the #TarusJagaRumah campaign as a way for the Moluccan youth to collaborate on climate action. Since then, we have taken concrete actions such as planting trees and mangroves, organizing beach clean-ups, sharing saplings with the local people, campaigning, educating the public and much more.
We believe that simple actions matter and that one person can influence others to become climate activists – starting within their own community.
As young people, we are worried about a crisis that we did not create but one that we have to live with. We are deeply concerned about the future sustainability of this planet and whether it will be livable for the next generation.
Because of what I am witnessing in the community where I have grown up, the fate of rural communities as we tackle the climate crisis is very close to my heart. I am concerned that climate activists and decision makers are too narrowly focused on mitigation measures for urban areas because this is where the most extensive damage happens.
My urgent reminder to those in power is that the climate crisis is bearing down on rural areas with devastating consequences. This past year, farmers in Central Maluku have faced intense rainfall and reduced sunlight, leading to a decrease in the number and quality of crops, such as cassava and sweet potatoes, that they were able to harvest.
Many families I spoke with reported a decline in fish catch, which they attributed to extreme weather. By targeting urban areas and overlooking the rural ones, we are indirectly worsening the effects of climate change for the most vulnerable groups.
I believe strongly that local organizations should be fully supported in terms of providing grants and building capacity to help them support climate action in more remote areas in an archipelagic country like Indonesia.
Regulations on climate action and financing also need to be strengthened and enforced all across Indonesia, including rural areas. The development and enforcement of these regulations should be a transparent process that involves children and young people, along with climate activists, local organizations and other stakeholders.
Leaders who speak at international conferences like the one currently unfolding at COP27 in Egypt must ensure that rural realities are taken into greater consideration in climate action and financing and that rural communities are active participants. If they are serious about preventing further climate crises, especially in communities like mine, they need to urgently act now.
The writer is a member of Mitra Muda, a network of adolescents who advocate for positive change in their communities across Indonesia. The network is supported by UNICEF.
This article has been published on The Jakarta Post.