India Climate Tribunal Gives Voice to People Affected by Climate Change, Demands Action from Governments

Prabhati Devi India climate change photo

Prabhati Devi gathers fodder for her buffalo in Rajasthan.
Image: Ami Vitale/Oxfam

Ask Ajantha about the effects of climate change on her village in southern India and she can give you numbers—estimates of how far the shoreline has moved inland and how many fish species are disappearing from local waters—but she can also tell you how her lifestyle and family life, and longstanding traditions throughout the region, are all changing.Ask Prabhati Devi the same question of life in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, and she'll talk about the steady increase in drought—how it used to come every four years and "you could prepare for it," but now, drought strikes more often and in more unpredictable patterns, leaving people who depend on agriculture particularly vulnerable.

Ajantha and Prabhati were two of at least nine witnesses who spoke at the recent National People's Tribunal on Climate Crisis, held in Delhi on November 16. It was the second in a series of three; one was held in Bangladesh the week before, and another will be in South Africa next year.

Ajantha lives in a region of Tamil Nadu that relies heavily on fishing. The day after the tribunal, Ajantha sat in a small room at the Oxfam India office and elaborated on her testimony at the tribunal, focusing on how life in her region is changing. Fishermen used to go out in small boats for a day, come back around five p.m., sell their catch and go home. Now, the fishing tends to be spread out over several days, and the selling process is becoming increasingly complicated.

Instead of going out in small boats just offshore, dwindling fish populations—the 100 varieties of fish that were found seven or eight years ago, Ajantha said, are down to maybe 20—have forced fishermen to rent larger boats in groups and head for deeper waters for up to a week. When they return, instead of selling their catch to a middleman who then sells to residents, fishermen sell to local women, who spend two or three days selling door-to-door. Women who used to be able to care for their children at home no longer can, and children are often either sent away for school or work, or put under the care of elderly relatives.

Because of an encroaching shoreline and increasing instability in ocean patterns, people are moving away from the water, some voluntarily and some forced by the government. Ajantha recalled how her father had intuitive judgement about the quality of fishing on a given day, but, she asks, "how can we have that if we're living far from the sea?"

Rajasthan climate change photo

Image: Ami Vitale/Oxfam

Meanwhile, in Rajasthan, surface water has disappeared and wells have been drying up. Agriculture suffers as fewer types of crops can be grown, and produce smaller yields, and women are forced to walk greater distances just for drinking water.

Prabhati said in her testimony, "If the situation here remains the same, then in 10 years there will be no crops here at all, no animal fodder at all. The children will have to go and work in the brickworks or the factories... there will be no education for them."

The climate tribunal has the dual objective of provoking national governments to take action against climate change, and exploring legal actions that affected countries can take to defend their environmental, social and economic futures. The event allows people to communicate the numerous and unforeseen ways in which a changing climate is changing lives on the ground. The debate over whether climate change is real or not, Oxfam Global Mobilisation Coordinator Conor Costello pointed out, distracts entirely from any discussion of solutions.

More on the effects of climate change worldwide
Climate Change Impact World Map Unveiled
Climate Change Means Hunger, Disaster, Disease Will Be the New Normal: Oxfam
Amazing Natural Disasters Caused by Climate Change
Global Warming Hits World's Women Hardest - Especially When They Don't Have Equal Rights

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