From poverty to power

Two Malawian teenagers, whose lives have been devastated by the effects of climate change, are urging the United Kingdom (UK) Government to act against global warming and reduce CO2 emissions before it is too late.

Jessy Nkhoma, 18 and Isaac Mzembe, 17, who travelled to UK two weeks ago as part of an Oxfam initiative, delivered their message at round-table meetings with groups of members of Parliament (MPs) at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences.

Climate change has meant people in Malawi are dealing with more frequent flooding and droughts, which has led to famine and poverty. As many of its citizens are subsistence farmers, the extreme weather patterns have left them struggling to feed themselves and their families.

Jessy and Isaac are living on the front line of climate change in Malawi

‘Climate change is affecting us badly’

Jessy and Isaac’s parents depend on farming to survive but with their harvests destroyed, they are trying to find money to replace what they have lost. The youngsters said they hoped MPs would listen to their plight.

“I have come here to explain more about the effects of climate change in my country. During the drought, there is no water. Dried up pastures and crops lead to famine. In the floods, houses and infrastructures are washed away,” Isaac told i. He added that he had lost relatives in the severe flooding.

“I want to ask the UK Government if they can do something because climate change is affecting us badly. There is no time for waiting. They should do something now.”

Jessy echoed his message, saying that the situation would only get worse for people in Malawi.

“[British politicians] can advise Malawians on how we can reduce the impact of climate change, give us some knowledge about the causes of climate change and how to take action.

“Maybe you could reduce the emission of gases that are affecting the climate,” she added.

The students of Chilanga Community Day Secondary School in Kasungu, also took part in the climate change strike in London on September 20. Millions of young people across the world are set to ditch their classrooms to join a march.

Impact on education

Isaac said his education had also suffered because the drought and famine had left teachers spending their time searching for food.

“We don’t learn, we just spend a lot of time at school waiting for teachers. But they don’t come,” said Isaac.

The drought has also meant that the Kavunguti stream, near the students’ school, keeps drying up. The local community relies on the waterway for fishing and irrigation.

Jessy said some families used to sell the fish “to buy basic necessities to survive” but that was no longer the case.

Young campaigners

John Kentish, an Oxfam campaigner, said: “We’re delighted Jessy and Issac have come to the UK to describe how the climate emergency is already affecting their lives. Their stories prove that unless governments act now, climate change will result in more hunger and poverty around the world.”

The pair are part of a growing campaign for action led by young people. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who recently sailed across the Atlantic to speak at climate change meetings in the United States, is the most recognisable face of the school strike action.

Greta, 16, has inspired 14-year-old American Alexandria Villasenor to protest outside the United Nations headquarters in New York every week for the last nine months.

In the UK, 11-year-old Finlay Pringle and his 10-year-old sister Ella are among many young people sounding the alarm about the climate emergency.

This article was first published by on September 19 2019

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