Malawi church leaders call for govt support in climate change fight

Malawi’s church leaders say government must recognize and support their efforts in climate change fight and climate justice campaign.

Malawi is one of the hardest hit countries in southern Africa, challenging its agricultural based economy, where effects of the recent 50% devaluation have added the pinch to poor Malawians’ lives.

His Lordship Bishop Thomas Msusa, vice chairperson of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), said Malawi’s weather and climate patterns have greatly changed.

Rev. Bossman Chitheka talking to journalists

“Rainfall pattern has changed. We also are experiencing the cold season in months when we do not least expect it. The poor people are suffering and we are here to pick from where we left in June 2011 in Mangochi so as to renew our commitment to climate change effects stewardship. As church leaders we should take part and use the pulpit in our various churches.

“We should tell people why this change and what we can do. God created all and it was good and gave human beings the role to take care of his creation, but we are destroying the earth instead,” he said.

He also bemoaned deliberate wildfires, wanton cutting down of trees for charcoal and firewood without replacing the trees.

“Many of us concentrate only on uplifting peoples spiritual well-being and ignore climate change issues which is very vital for us,” he added.

Regional Vice Chairperson (South) for the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Reverend Hauya, said Neno district is one of Malawi’s hotspots.

“I come from there and call the district the ‘haven of charcoal’. This is very bad as all the trees that Neno was known for have been cut down. We need to find other adaptation and mitigation means to ensure that people find alternatives to charcoal business. Otherwise we are destroying our vegetation and therefore ourselves,” he said.

An Oxfam report of 2009 states that based on the United Nation’s Human Development 2007/8 report, Malawi is responsible for 0.0 per cent of global emissions. Rich countries are responsible for three quarters. It also says 29 per cent of people in Malawi live in extreme poverty.

“More than 90 per cent of the population of Malawi is engaged in subsistence-level rain-fed agriculture, and 60 per cent of these are food insecure on a year round basis,” says the report.

Such figures have raised the churches’ concerns, and the meeting agreed that to effectively engage itself, there is need for the creation of a specific body born out of Malawi’s three Christian mother bodies, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), Malawi Council of Churches (MCC), and EAM with a view of coordinating activities around climate change and climate justice on their behalf.

“We move that the body born out of this meeting should work closely with climate desks in the three mother bodies’ secretariats, and engage government and other stakeholders from time to time to make our resolve meaningful,” explained Rev. Dr. Osborne Joda-Mbewe, General Secretary of the MCC.

He also challenged that the church should consider starting to look at local fund-raising strategies within their own structures and always use attainable, cheap and readily available means to addressing climate issues.

“The lessons we learnt from our participation in Durban during the COP17 should be put into practice. It has been a year since we last signed out our communique on climate change and climate justice, and am here to ask all of us to take advantage of our church structures to send the necessary information and carry out intervention measures for the benefit of our people and generations to come,” he said.

Evans Njewa from the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) also reminded the church leaders to start now in preparing for COP18 in Qatar, in August this year.

“As government we understand that the church is an important partner and will do anything to support your climate change and justice programmes. Since there are a few of us attending the COPs where many meetings take place at almost the same time, we will appreciate your involvement so that we have as many Malawians holding dialogue and attending meetings to argue our country position better.

“With this, it will be prudent that the church starts to make the necessary steps in attending COP18 as the Qatar meeting has a number of requirements that should be dealt with in advance, including visa and accreditation issues,” he schooled.

Organised by the MCC, the workshop also attracted the academia and civil society organizations who delivered papers.

The churches will also meet in the central and northern regions and have agreed to create a theology of climate change, push for policies to cover climate change at all levels, input climate change in the school syllabus and also engage parliamentarians so that they discuss more towards environmental ‘treatment’.

“As a church we are over 80% of the population and in one Sunday we can address the whole nation, including in the most rural corners, on the evils of climate change and the need for climate justice. Politicians, academia and all other groups of people all belong to our churches and that makes us an important voice in this area,” said Bishop Brighton Malasa of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Upper Shire.

Officially closing the workshop, vice chairperson of the MCC, Rev. Bossman Suzumile-Chitheka called on all church leaders across the country to ensure that women and youths particularly at the grassroots were empowered financially and material wise to better their understanding of good practices in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“These groups are more vulnerable and yet so important to the whole exercise. There are a lot of women and youth groups and leaders in our various churches. This is the time to use them and make them more active in the climate change issues campaign. The position of the church now is to engage 100% of its sermons in discussing and imparting the theology of climate change,” he advised.

The meeting also agreed that they will identify hotspots within their congregation areas and suggest local strategies to encourage people to care of God’s creation. They resolved as a way forward to engage more women and youth in Conference of Parties (COPs) as they are mainly affected by climate change effects.

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