In Malawi, dust hangs low over the towns, mingled with smoke from cooking fires. Above the dry earth, brilliant orange mangoes hang from the trees. In the very early morning, groups of women can be seen carrying buckets and jerry cans as they scour the commercial capital, Blantyre, for water. It lies at an altitude of over 3,000 feet, and in periods of water shortage, some districts can go without water for days.
These “bucket brigades” can start as early as 2 a.m., knocking on the doors of wealthier homes and asking to fill their buckets. Then, they walk for hours carrying the water back home. “I’ve seen people go without food, and that is very difficult,” said Jasmine Leitao, who worked in the humanitarian sector in Malawi for 15 years. “But water just seems like a fundamental human right, and it’s such an extreme form of suffering to have to walk so far to find it. It’s the poorest who are hardest hit.”
Water scarcity is just one of a slew of problems caused by climate change, which is already impacting many of the world’s poorest people. Scientists on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) estimate that $2.4 trillion of annual global investment in renewable energies is needed every year until 2035 to even begin slowing or reversing catastrophic climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement managed to secure an annual pledge of $100 billion for its Green Climate Fund (GCF) to be distributed to poorer countries to help them adapt to climate change. Yet, in reality, the fund has only received a little over $10 billion to date.
The Green Climate Fund has been beset by difficulties, including failing to secure new funding or agreeing on major policies. Distributing funding has become embroiled in complex and opaque bureaucracy. Developing countries rely on intermediaries like U.N. agencies or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to design project proposals for them. Profit-driven multinational banks also help manage the fund, dishing out a combination of grants and development loans, leading to a bias towards income-generating projects over those with the greatest environmental impact.
Harsen Nyambe, head of environment at the African Union Commission, said that when it comes to assessing projects, “they should not only look at the bankability of the project, they should also consider the social and economic benefits which sometimes are very difficult to measure.”
Meanwhile, the transition to a low-carbon economy has been outpaced by the accelerating rate of climate change. In Malawi, most people rely on farming, hoeing fields into furrows in the hottest months in anticipation of the first rains. But climate change is already causing crops to fail, and subsistence farmers are being admitted to hospital with starvation.