Young Africans take active role in climate change awareness

,, Paris



Young people in Africa have in the past been taking a backseat in the climate change debate and awareness. Not anymore.

As the effects of climate change hit many African countries, exacerbating hunger and unemployment in the continent, many young people are now actively involved in climate change issues.

In Namibia, a country ravaged by recurrent droughts, a group of young people, the Young Achievers Empowerment Project, is among the youth groups taking the climate change debate to decision makers at the ongoing United Nations climate change conference, COP21 in France.

And their message is clear.

“Climate change is affecting everyone and as youths we are taking an active role in the awareness. In Namibia, we have serious water crisis as a result of droughts. And the question is ‘do we have the capacity to deal with these changes?’,” a Young Achievers member, Omagano Shooya, said in an interview.

Her question came amid reports that Namibia’s capital Windhoek would run out of drinking water by mid next year if the drought continues.

The water levels at the three main dams that supply the central areas are very low, and may run dry before the middle of 2016. By August this year, the three dams had a combined usable water supply of only 29.9 million cubic metres.

Windhoek draws its water from Omatako, Von Bach Dam, Swakoppoort dams.

And in rural areas in the country, rain-fed agriculture has also been affected.

“Many people depend on rain-fed agriculture but the droughts have affected people’s livelihoods. I am happy that I am here in Paris and be part of the decision making process,” Shooya said.

However, Shooya was quick to add: “I believe we need more engagement on climate change issues from the youth from both urban and rural.”

She said the current lack of interest in climate change by some youths in Africa has to do with lack of awareness and comprehending its effects.

“So we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world's population is young, with nearly 2.2 billion people under the age of 18, of which 85 percent are living in developing countries.

“Children and young people are concerned, thoughtful citizens, capable of participating in, and changing the society of which they are a part; and they have an important role to play in addressing and affecting the issues of our world,” FAO said.

In addition, children and young people have enthusiasm, imagination and abundant energy to undertake local actions, act as effective communicators in their communities and be involved in international arenas. FAO with a number of partners is therefore developing resources, activities and the mechanisms to enhance awareness, access to information and participation of children and young people in a range of environmental, social and sustainable development issues, including climate change.

She said throughout Namibia, the youth are challenged with high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, gender based violence, a lack of positive role models and constructive recreational activities.

“In response, Young Achievers encourages its members to articulate a positive vision and work collaboratively to gain the skills needed to reach one's vision,” she said.  

An official with the department of Environmental Affairs in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Namibia, Bryn Canniffe, said youths in his country were active in the fight against climate change.

“They (young people) are doing a great job in Namibia,” Canniffe said.

On how such programmes in Namibia can be replicated in other African countries, Canniffe said there was need to come up with programmes to kick-start the excitement of youths.

In a statement ahead of the COP21, Nnimmo Bassey, Global Greengrants Fund chair, said over the past 10 months, in partnership with the Oak Foundation and youth groups around the world, Global Greengrants had directed more than $400,000 to young climate leaders who are part of a youth movement that is gaining momentum every day.

Global Greengrants director of communications, Katy Neusteter, said her organisation works with community and grassroots groups in a number of countries in West, East and Southern Africa, with occasional grants made in Central and North Africa.

“Leading up to Paris (COP21), we provided two grants to Young Achievers, US$5,060 in June to support their programmatic work and US$4,110 in July to support travel for Omagano and her colleague to Paris,” Neusteter said.