‘Are we starting to destroy ourselves?’

Heat waves in Pakistan, toxic floods in Vietnam, crippling haze in Malaysia and torrential rain in Myanmar.

Aug 26, 2015

BANGKOK: Heat waves in Pakistan, toxic floods in Vietnam, crippling haze in Malaysia and torrential rain in Myanmar.

In just the past few weeks alone, South and Southeast Asia have been wracked with extreme weather events — part of a pattern, regional Catholic leaders and scientists said this week, that shows little sign of abating.

“Helping victims is not enough. We have to prevent climate change,” said Father Allwyn D'Silva, secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference's climate change desk, which organized a two-day regional workshop in Bangkok to discuss the impact of climate change and share ideas for addressing it.

While each nation struggles with its own unique environmental issues, their experiences combined paint a stark picture of a worsening situation across the region.

Representatives from eight countries — Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — shared moving stories on the impact of climate change in their homes.

“I don’t have much to say, I’d just like to play a small song,” said Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, before launching a slide show of images from the devastating monsoon floods wreaking havoc over parts of the country.

“The main cause is brought by ourselves, deforestation and dams ... and poor people, especially, suffer the consequences.”

More than 1.1 million people have been affected by the flooding, which has caused at least 103 deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands of families across the country. While monsoon rains come every year to Myanmar, it has not witnessed such severe flooding in decades.

Such disaster, however, is hardly confined to Myanmar alone.

Nguyen Thi Van Ha, a professor at the Ho Chi Minh City University for Natural Resources and Environment, noted that in 2015 alone, the country has struggled with severe drought in one area, severe flooding in another, and surging levels of salinity in freshwater. In parts of the country, fresh drinking water has become scarce, while the cornerstone of the nation’s economy — rice — is becoming harder and harder to grow.

“It appears the situation in Vietnam is more serious than in the past,” she said.

In Cambodia and Laos, rapid deforestation by well-connected companies has pushed villagers from their land and created a spiral of social problems, priests explained. Damming in both countries has threatened ecosystems while rampant corruption is speeding the degradation.

“Now we are starting to destroy ourselves,” said Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun of Pakse in Laos. “It's not from climate change itself but [it is] coming from human beings and humans doing something very wrong to destroy the earth.”

But while the picture is stark, the Church has been taking a proactive stance.

“Many are taking it very seriously,” Father D'Silva told ucanews.com.

Reverend Father Dionysius Mathews of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur said the Malaysian Church had taken pains to work with local communities on education and conservation.

When a forest fire broke out in a Acacia tree plantation near Kuala Lumpur, razing what was once a forest preserve to the ground, the Church launched a program to educate the area’s youth on the necessity of plant life.

“Children are being taught to respect nature,” said Father Mathews. “Even though it may look very bleak, the Church has been invested in many areas of educating the natives and trying to save whatever is left.”

His colleague, Sheila Anne, chairwoman of the Regional Justice and Peace Commission, told ucanews.com how her parish had worked with local women to introduce simple, homemade cleaning detergents to fight the effects of toxic pollution.

Church leaders pointed to the pope’s unprecedented Laudato si' as a charge driving them forward in the fight against climate change.

“Suddenly we have the pope’s encyclical and things completely changed,” said Father D’Silva.

Empowered to take a leading role in fighting climate change, Church leaders said they were trying more and more to work with governments and pressure them to make lasting changes.

“In the past, there was insufficient action and we lacked awareness of [the problems facing] civilians. There was no cooperation between the Church and local authorities on climate change and the Church paid less attention to climate change. But now, from last year ... the Bishop’s Councils want to focus on this,” said Father Vincent Vu Ngoc Dong, director of Caritas Vietnam.

The timing of such efforts is crucial.

Father Pedro Walpole, director of research at the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change in the Philippines, said last week that Asia must be preemptive in addressing impending natural disaster.

“There are shifts in the climate and increasing pressure coming from the human population,” he said.

The Jesuit environmentalist said the region has improved its responses to flooding during a decade of severe rains, but now should start looking at droughts — which will begin to hit the region badly in coming years.

“We tend to look at it as exceptional rather than average. Today, we're trying to look at drought as it’s going to continue to happen and we need to have a more advanced reaction, not just a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

“The climate change theme could not be more timely or relevant,” echoed Bishop Philip Banchong Chaiyara of Ubon Ratchathani, president of Caritas Thailand.

“We can show people what good intentions can accomplish.”--ucanews

Total Comments:0