Churches working against climate change: four case studies

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Since its inception a decade ago, Mennonite Creation Care Network has called congregations in Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) and Mennonite Church Canada to respond to environmental crises with reflection, repentance and action. While the Network has not focused its efforts specifically on climate change, some of its congregations have embraced the issue. Over the past ten years, Mennonite congregations have installed solar panels, challenged their members to reduce personal carbon consumption, made local ecosystems more resilient and engaged in political action. This article investigates the factors that motivate some congregations to act while many in Canada and the U.S. still ignore the carbon counts that tick steadily upward. I interviewed representatives (including pastors, lay leaders and other congregational members) from four congregations actively responding to climate change to find out what common actions they undertook and what motivated and sustained those initiatives.

All of the churches in this study were majority white and college-educated, located in towns or cities with a university. Apart from those similarities, their contexts were quite different. Tucson’s Shalom Mennonite Fellowship bakes in the Sonoran Desert, while at First Mennonite Church in Edmonton, Alberta, people joke that global warming is a good thing. Huntington Mennonite Church is located in Newport News, Virginia—one of the communities in the U.S. most vulnerable to sea level rise. Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, nestles in the Shenandoah Valley and draws strength from ideas and activities at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).

The Park View and Huntington congregations have focused their environmental efforts specifically on climate change. Both churches aim to become completely independent of fossil fuels in the future and are approaching the issue systematically. At First Mennonite and Shalom, efforts have included climate change discussions, but have been focused more broadly. Most notable climate-related activities included an eco-footprint group at First Mennonite and water conservation measures at Shalom in response to increasing drought.

Each of the congregations interviewed share three characteristics that supported climate change action. First, each church has benefited from the leadership of a pastor with a long-term interest in creation care paired with one or more lay leaders with relevant professional expertise. At First Mennonite, the pairing involved a pastor with extensive experience in camp settings and an environmental sociologist. At Huntington, a NASA scientist whose job includes climate modeling teamed up with a pastor who “understood climate change from a theological perspective.” At Harrisonburg, a pastor who shared that “Creation care has been an interest of mine as long as I can remember” worked with a business professor who researches sustainability. Shalom’s pastor brought ten years of experience as the director of Christian Peacemaker Teams to her role. “It was work that CPT does in partnering with First Nations that made me understand how care of the earth and care of human rights are really the same thing,” she reported. Lay leaders at this church include a specialist in watershed management and several scientists who contributed to the congregation’s level of comfort with climate change science. While respondents were quick to state that their accomplishments were congregation-wide efforts, these teams were blessed with skilled pastoral and lay leadership.

Second, each of the congregations displayed an ability to integrate deeply held faith concepts with contemporary issues. A lay leader at First Mennonite told about the significance of God as Creator to his own conversion to Christianity and his ongoing work with climate change. A Shalom congregation member applied the language of stewardship to the congregation’s stormwater project, reflecting, “I believe God calls us to use science as a tool, to use religion as a tool and to put them together in some way that reflects reality, not what’s convenient for me.” Park View’s climate change reparations policy, meanwhile, reflects the congregation’s commitment to mirror God’s love and care for creation and God’s love and care for the vulnerable and poor of the world.” The Huntington survey respondent highlighted Jesus’ relationship with creation as a model for the church’s action today. Respondents expressed these convictions in a faith language accessible to other churches.

Third, respondents from each of the congregations recognized climate change as a threat to themselves or to people to whom they felt a connection. For Huntington residents living near the coast, rising sea levels are local issues. Shalom members described the drought they lived with and the ways climate change played into the plight of immigrants supported by the congregation. International students from EMU and the overseas experiences of Park View members connected the church to areas vulnerable to climate change. For First Mennonite, the issue was prominent in a different way. One respondent explained:

In Alberta, there’s lots of talk about the oil and gas basis for the economy. That raises the question of what we’re going to do about our carbon emissions. But people both inside and outside of our church rely on resource extraction. It frames the conversation and impacts how we look at things. We realize people’s livelihoods are part of this.

One way or another, climate change touched each of these congregations directly, propelling them towards climate action.

Findings from this study offer encouragement for people of faith hoping the church will put its moral weight behind climate change efforts. First, many people are ready to confront climate change. A survey created by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, a program recently launched at EMU in collaboration with MCC and Goshen College, gauged responses to climate change within the Mennonite community. Almost two-thirds of MC USA respondents said they were alarmed by or concerned about climate change. This finding suggests that the majority of MC USA members are ready to engage climate change issues if provided with good leadership.

Second, effective communication goes a long way in enhancing support for climate change action. None of the four congregations reported conflict related to their climate change initiatives, possibly because their leaders were good communicators. Leaders used a variety of ways to communicate about initiatives and keep them on the front burner. These included announcements, children’s time, sermons and projects requiring hands-on labor from many volunteers. Furthermore, despite advanced levels of education, leaders explained the theological rationales for their climate change work in accessible language.

Finally, the study underscores the importance of leadership development. Both future pastors and potential environmental professionals now have opportunities to learn in faith-based settings where creation care is a priority. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) expresses its desire to work at climate change through membership in the Seminary Stewardship Alliance, through curricular initiatives and by drawing energy from a large solar installation. Undergraduate opportunities abound, such as the three sustainability majors that Goshen College launched this year: these courses of study have the potential to develop more creation care leaders like the ones represented in this study.

For the Mennonite Creation Care Network, the most noteworthy finding from this congregational study is the conclusion that efforts to mobilize congregations to climate change action should focus more deliberately on pastors and their role as moral leaders and eco-theologians, as well as on environmental professionals within congregations. Secondly, the above research confirms the Network’s big-tent approach that encourages congregations to work at creation care in ways relevant to their own contexts. If people are motivated by threats they take personally, the most effective question for a congregation to ask may not be, “How can we fight climate change?” but rather, “What environmental concerns threaten us?” A zealous attack on air pollution will bring with it climate change benefits even if the motivator was childhood asthma, not a more abstract desire for carbon reduction. Healthy farms can sequester carbon no matter if the farmer fears climate change or soil erosion. By focusing on engaging pastors in creation care and encouraging congregations to find personal motivation for working on environmental issues, Mennonite Creation Care Network and other faith-based organizations can help to develop the characteristics within church congregations that lead to climate change action.

Jennifer Halteman Schrock is leader of Mennonite Creation Care Network and communications manager at Goshen College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center.

Learn more

Mennonite Creation Care Network. Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/

Park View Mennonite Church. “Creation Care Council.” Available at http://www.pvmchurch.org/about-the-creation-care-council.html.

Park View Mennonite Church. “Approach to Climate Emissions.” (September 2015). Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/15rfBnElI3u2WWIavHOo_V-sVN8QBR3adAAnvprnbVxs/edit.

Mennonite Creation Care Network. “Virginia Church Pays Climate Change Reparations” (April 2017). Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/virginia-church-pays-climate-change-reparations/.

Mennonite Creation Care Network. “Net Zero Energy Grants” (n.d.) Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/green-energy-grants/.

Stella, Rachel. “Virginians Put a Charge into Creation Care.” Mennonite World Review (August 2016). Available at http://mennoworld.org/2016/08/29/news/virginians-put-a-charge-into-creation-care/.

 Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. “Creation Care Efforts at AMBS.” Available at http://www.ambs.edu/about/creation-care.

Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions. Available at https://www.sustainableclimatesolutions.org/.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “Global Warming’s Six Americas.” (2008). Available at
http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/about/projects/global-warmings-six-americas/.

The Green Climate Fund

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The greatest suffering from climate change impacts is being felt by those who already feel the most need—and who are the least equipped to respond effectively. These vulnerable communities are also the least responsible for causing climate change. Wealthy nations, including the United States, bear the greatest responsibility for climate change and therefore have a moral obligation to repair the damage and help communities adapt to new realities. In recognition of this moral obligation, MCC and other faith-based organizations have advocated strongly for increased U.S. government funding for international programs to help low-income communities adapt to the impact of climate change.

Unfortunately, the current U.S. administration has not only promised to halt funding for international adaptation efforts, but recently announced it would pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, an international agreement on climate change mitigation and adaptation formulated within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and signed by all but two of the world’s countries.

Working with faith-based partners in Washington, D.C., MCC staff advocate directly to U.S. government officials and also work to educate constituents on the need for adaptation assistance, encouraging them to advocate to their members of Congress. In recent years, much of this advocacy has focused on the Green Climate Fund (GCF). In 2014, the U.S. pledged $3 billion to the GCF, but, in every year since, it has been an uphill struggle to secure congressional approval for these funds. Meanwhile, although the faith community has continued to support the GCF, a growing tension has emerged within faith-based climate change advocacy efforts between advocating for continued funding and at the same time criticizing the fund’s shortcomings.

The Green Climate Fund was created in 2010 by the UNFCCC. Currently one of several existing mechanisms for multilateral financing for climate-related projects, the GCF is expected to become the main mechanism for such financing in future years. The GCF is not an agency of the United Nations, but is a legally independent institution accountable to the UNFCCC. The fund is intended to be part of a paradigm-shifting, transformative response to climate change, implementing a country-driven, gender-sensitive approach to mitigation and adaptation.

The GCF board consists of 24 members with equal representation from “developed and developing countries.” Two civil society and two private sector representatives serve as non-voting observers to board meetings. The GCF funds projects for mitigation and adaptation efforts as well as for technology transfer and capacity building. Projects are funded through grants and concessional loans from the GCF, often in combination with local public or private sector funding. The World Bank is the interim trustee for the GCF until a permanent trustee is selected through an open, competitive process.

An initial fundraising campaign collected pledges for the GCF from 37 countries totaling $10.2 billion. Funds allocated for the GCF are intended to be new financing rather than the repurposing of funds from existing development assistance programs. By 2015, the GCF had received signed contributions for more than 50 percent of pledges, reaching a benchmark to enable the fund to begin approving projects.

GCF projects focus on a variety of mitigation and adaptation efforts, including efforts to develop renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, strengthen resilience to climate change impacts and protect sustainable livelihoods. All developing country members of the UNFCCC are eligible to receive GCF funds. Funding comes through accredited entities which can include national or regional development banks, government ministries, nongovernmental organizations and other national or regional organizations that meet accreditation standards.

At the end of 2015, the GCF approved its first eight projects totaling $169 million, including an energy efficiency green bond in Latin America and an early warning system for climate-linked disasters in Malawi. In 2016, the board approved an additional $1.3 billion worth of funding, including a $166 million food security and resilience project in India for solar micro-irrigation in the vulnerable tribal areas of Odisha and a $232 million hydropower project in the Solomon Islands.

In many ways, the stated goals of the GCF align well, at least in theory, with MCC goals in areas such as stakeholder engagement, gender sensitivity, local capacity building and reaching the most vulnerable. In reality, however, GCF board members and advocates have raised concerns about safeguards, consultation and transparency.

In 2015, the GCF came under intense pressure to start funding projects but, at the same time, the board was still in the process of developing policies and procedures. One board member commented: “We are building the plane as we fly the plane.” The continued rush to keep funds flowing means that even board members complain that they do not have adequate information to assess individual projects. Civil society representatives have raised objections about some accredited funding entities (most of which are multilateral and bilateral development agencies), noting links to the fossil fuel industry, financial mismanagement and human rights abuses.

The GCF is currently using the International Finance Corporation’s social and environmental safeguards until it develops its own. These standards incorporate some good elements, but lack a strong standard for local consultation and consent and contain insufficient protections for the rights of indigenous peoples as well as for national habitats and biodiversity. In 2015, a wetlands restoration project in Peru came under criticism due to concerns over whether indigenous communities had been properly consulted. Doubts persist about the adequacy of consultation with local communities and the transparency of the project approval process.

Other concerns have involved the need for more capacity building for local institutions, the process for considering high-risk projects, the benefits of large versus smaller-scale projects, the level and types of co-funding with the private sector, definitions of adaptation and mitigation and the use of grants versus loans.

The GCF continues to work to address concerns. Internal capacity issues plagued the fund early on, but it has since significantly increased staff capacity. This expanded staffing has allowed the fund to make initial improvements in communications and transparency. The GCF is currently developing its own environmental and social safeguards and has committed to the development of an indigenous peoples policy.

The board continues to discuss how to provide more funding for building capacity at the local level. Additionally, national development agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), have begun to reorient some funding to reinforce GCF capacity building efforts.

Going forward, U.S. government participation in funding and shaping the GCF is in doubt, particularly in light of the impending U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Total U.S. contributions to the fund thus far total $1 billion. The current administration, however, has stated it will not fulfill the remaining $2 billion of the U.S. pledge. Until now, advocates for U.S. funding of the GCF have maintained good dialogue with the U.S. representative on the GCF board, but it is unclear whether this access will continue. MCC and its partners will continue to push for positive changes using any avenues available, including dialogue with the non-voting civil society representatives to the board.

Though the GCF very much remains a work in progress, there is space for advocacy to call the Green Climate Fund into being what it was envisioned to be—a much-needed tool for helping vulnerable communities adapt to our changing climate.

Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate for domestic affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

Learn more

Amerasinghe, Niranjali, Joe Thwaites, Gaia Larsen, and Athena Ballesteros. The Future of the Funds: Exploring the Architecture of Multilateral Climate Finance. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2017. Available at http://www.wri.org//sites/default/files/The_Future_of_the_Funds_0.pdf.

GCF 101: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Access the Green Climate Fund. Available at greenclimate.fund/gcf101. Green Climate Fund: Projects. Available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/projects/browse-projects.

Green Climate Fund: Projects. Available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/projects/browse-projects.

Schalatek, L., Nakhooda, S. and Watson, C. Overseas Development Institute. The Green Climate Fund. In Climate Finance Fundamentals 11 (December 2015). Available at http://www.climatefundsupdate.org/listing/green-climate-fund.

Additional resources on U.S. environmental policy available at https://washingtonmemo.org/environment./

National Congress of American Indians on the impact of climate change on indigenous communities. Available at http://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/land-natural-resources/climate-change.

Building resilience in a drought-prone district of Ethiopia

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Boricha woreda (district) is located in the Sidama zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. One of the most drought-prone districts of Ethiopia, Boricha is almost completely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Boricha has been heavily affected by climate change, experiencing recurrent drought and rainfall variability. Land degradation has caused the formation of gullies that are invading farmlands and creating significant soil erosion, washing away seeds, fertilizer and seedlings from farmlands, reducing production capacity, damaging soil health and productivity and impacting household income. Climate change impacts and land degradation, along with high population growth, small land holdings and illiteracy, are the major causes of food insecurity in the area and have resulted in a low community capacity to adapt to climate change impacts. This article discusses the efforts of Meserete Kristos Church Relief and Development Association (MKC-RDA) to build climate change resilience in Boricha and analyzes key findings that indicate that MKC-RDA’s efforts in Boricha have contributed to soil and water conservation, improved livelihoods and increased food security, in turn reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

For over a decade up through 2014, MKC-RDA carried out a community- and environmentally-oriented disaster risk reduction and food security program in Boricha with the aims of addressing short- and long-term causes of food insecurity and of building resilience to climate change. The program adopted the strategy of “developmental relief,” in which relief and development interventions are implemented simultaneously to provide vulnerable communities with efficient safety nets during hunger periods together with strategies for long-term food security to help communities meet their food needs in the future and have the capacity to cope with hazards such as drought. This approach emphasized disaster preparedness and building community resilience to future disasters by reducing vulnerability, rather than focusing only on immediate support to disaster victims.

One component of the Boricha program was the provision of predictable food and cash transfers through food for work (FFW) and cash for work (CFW) initiatives designed to contribute to achieving the overall objective of climate change adaptation and resilience. This safety net programming provided cash payments or edible maize and food oil to vulnerable households, fulfilling their food needs during months when the majority of the population was food insecure. These FFW and CCW schemes also ensured that households possessed the means to successfully rebuild and sustain their livelihoods after chronic drought. Participants received food or cash for work that included the rehabilitation of roads and bridges to allow community members to transport their commodities to market and the implementation of soil and water conservation strategies, such as the construction of terraces and water harvesting ponds. Other initiatives included producing seedlings for agroforestry in nurseries and on communal and private land and constructing seed banks to ensure farmers’ easy access to crop varieties adapted to local conditions.

Another focus of the Boricha program was the implementation of climate-smart agriculture (CSA), including conservation agriculture technologies. CSA is defined as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) where possible” (FAO). Project activities under CSA included optimizing the use of land resources, the introduction of anti-erosion measures and water harvesting and saving technologies, the promotion of forage and agroforestry development and training in conservation agriculture techniques such as mulching, minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation and the adoption of appropriate cropping patterns such as intercropping. In addition, the Boricha project established and strengthened farmer’s groups, savings groups, self-help groups and other community organizations to support promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, increase capacity in soil and water conservation, support income generation initiatives and increase literacy.

An independent team evaluated the Boricha program two years after it ended to determine program impacts. The evaluation found that, given the environmental degradation in Boricha, sustainable management of natural resources was critical to the pursuit of food security and economic development within the community. Soil and water conservation activities resulted in the rehabilitation of land and natural resources: more than seven hundred hectares were protected, contributing to improved vegetative cover. Benefits included a greater availability of organic manure through foliage from reforested or maintained plants, improved availability of firewood, minimization of wind erosion and the availability of trees for traditional medicines. Project activities also assisted in soil restoration and prevention of salinization and the loss of arable land, including through the reforestation of previously unusable lands. Terraces, soil bunds, check dams and other flood and erosion control and water harvesting activities improved soil fertility and restored ground and surface water sources. Conservation agriculture techniques, including soil cover, mulch and the addition of compost, also contributed to reduced soil erosion, improved water holding capacity of farmlands and increased soil productivity. Even in years with delayed, sporadic or poor rainfall, farmers practicing conservation agriculture benefited from higher residual moisture levels, which enabled seeds to germinate and sustained crop maturity. As a result of project activities, communities have reduced risk of disaster from flooding, increased agricultural productivity and improved access to water for irrigation and household use, contributing to resilience to climate change impacts.

The Boricha project resulted in poverty reduction and improved food security for the majority of participating households, increasing their ability to cope with and manage the effects of hazards. Seventy-three percent of all participating households stated that they successfully transitioned out of extreme poverty during the program’s duration; only six percent of households participating in the project reported still being in extreme poverty. Reforestation of watershed land and the resulting bio-diversity contributed to the expansion of animal fattening, cattle rearing and beekeeping activities for income generation. Tree plantations, as well as vegetation which emerged because of soil and water conservation activities, created employment and improved incomes through forest harvesting and sales of by-products. Because of the supplementary income obtained through the sale of surplus produce from the project gardens, honey products and fruit harvested from agroforestry, women experienced improved livelihoods and incomes. These women reported greater self-esteem and increased financial independence. Additionally, the overall food security situation of the target community improved over the program period. For example, the frequency of daily food intake of three meals a day increased from 12.9 percent at the start of the project to 77 percent by the end, while those consuming two or fewer meals a day decreased from 87.1 percent to 21 percent. Overall, the evaluation found that the project provided households with opportunities for more successful and diverse livelihoods, contributing to increased incomes and food security. As a result of diverse income sources, increased ability to save money and improved food security, households in Boricha are more resilient, able to adapt to changing condition and to with cope with the effects of hazards.

Results from the MKC-RDA program in Boricha demonstrate that food and cash transfer programming to address seasonal food insecurity, climate-smart agriculture interventions and sustainable natural resource management all play important roles in protecting the assets and income of poor families, mitigating disaster risk and building resilience to climate change impacts in drought-affected communities.

Frew Beriso is conservation agriculture technical specialist with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in Ethiopia. He previously worked for MKC-RDA as the Boricha Program Manager.

Learn more

Pugeni, Vurayayi. “Sub-Dejel Watershed Rehabilitation Project, Ethiopia.” Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development. 2013. Available at http://c4d.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-CaseStudy-MCC-Ethiopia.pdf.

Nyasimi, M., Amwata, D., Hove, L., Kinyangi, J., and Wamukoya, G. “Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa.” 2014. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/evidence-impact-climate-smart-agriculture-africa-0#.WO_oNkdda72.

Empowering women for disaster risk reduction in Myanmar

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Rakhine, the second poorest state in Myanmar, is frequently exposed to natural hazards, including cyclones, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis and fires in forested and rural areas. Climate change models predict that Myanmar over the coming years and decades will experience increased temperatures, more frequent and intense drought periods, changing rainfall patterns and an increased risk of flooding, as well as more frequent and intense extreme weather events resulting in storm and flood surges and sea-level rise that will affect almost all communities across the country. Communities in Rakhine are already facing a variety of these impacts. Rakhine is also at risk of complex disasters exacerbated by natural hazards: a combination of food shortages, fragile or failing economic, political, and social institutions and internal conflict that leads to displacement of people. Rakhine suffers from a long-standing political and military conflict between the central government, the Myanmar Army and Buddhist nationalists, on the one hand, and the Arakan Army and the Rohingya Muslim community, on the other. Additionally, the Rakhine/Arakan Army has conflicts with other indigenous groups in Rakhine (the national government recognizes 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar): fighting has repeatedly displaced people from their homes and villages, thereby increasing their vulnerability. A lack of resources and education, coupled with these complex social relationships in a multi-layered, multi-religious and ethnic group state, add to the vulnerability of the people in Rakhine.

Women in Rakhine are disproportionately vulnerable to complex disasters, natural hazards and climate change impacts due to cultural beliefs, traditional practices and socio-economic conditions. Women are more likely than men to experience increased loss of livelihoods and gender-based violence. In some situations, they have experienced greater loss of life during and after a disaster. Women for the World (WFW), a Yangon-based Myanmar non-governmental organization (NGO), partners with the Indigenous Women’s Coalition for Peace (IWCP) in Rakhine to reduce risk and increase resilience. They believe that gender and indigenous identity are critical elements for addressing climate change impacts and disaster risk. The integration of Rakhine indigenous women’s local knowledge and their practices in disaster mitigation, preparation and response efforts are essential for reducing risk and increasing resilience.

WFW and IWCP work with diverse women’s savings groups to increase understanding of the impacts of climate change, assess their local knowledge and increase their capacity to prepare for and respond to disaster events. WFW’s primary belief is that while women are the most vulnerable members of the community, they are also the agents for change. In Rakhine, a lack of employment opportunities has resulted in the migration of men and young women to find work outside of their villages, leaving women, the elderly and children to deal with the aftermath of natural hazards. Women are the caregivers for children, the sick and the elderly; they are often the sole breadwinners, as men, older boys and girls leave to seek job opportunities in urban centers or across borders; they are responsible for securing food; they are informal healthcare providers; they are responsible for the safekeeping of livestock; and they are responsible for finding and maintaining fresh drinking water supplies. Women are more restricted in travel and are more likely to be restricted from owning land, from borrowing or investing money, and from diversifying livelihoods through starting a new business.

Conversely, women are also holders of essential cultural, historical and economic knowledge within their communities, making them vital participants in efforts to decrease disaster risk. Women manage environmental resources to sustain their households and act as informal healthcare providers. They have survival and coping skills to respond to disasters, have local community networks and possess local knowledge of the community, including the location and needs of the most vulnerable (the elderly, children, persons with disabilities) during a crisis, making them critical players in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

WFW and the IWCP gather women to build peace and resilience together through a women’s savings group model. In addition to training on group formation and savings management, group members also receive training about women’s rights, conflict transformation, domestic violence and DRR. They are taught to conduct village mapping to assess the vulnerabilities in their villages, from infrastructure mapping to household and community population mapping. Representatives from each group, representing different ethnicities, meet together to receive in-depth conflict transformation and disaster management trainings which they take back to their groups. Members of the IWCP continue working with the savings groups, supporting them as they learn and plan.

WFW operates from the assumption that women cannot begin adapting to climate change if they do not believe they can. To strengthen self-reliance, WFW employs a participatory learning process. WFW trainers first raise awareness among women’s groups in an atmosphere of openness to women’s stories and experiences in disasters as a method of learning and naming what the women already know. For example, women already know that shelter for women and children is vulnerable to natural hazards and that the safest cyclone resistant shelter does not provide privacy to women and children. They know that rains are increasing and temperatures are rising, leading to greater malaria incidences and the need for more mosquito nets. After WFW staff have introduced the process of village mapping, they step back (to their Yangon office) while the savings groups create village maps that identify geographic strengths and weaknesses, households (including the number of family members in each household) and the most vulnerable persons and where they live (the elderly, young children, persons with disabilities). The women also mark the location of their livestock, schools, fishing boats and other community and household assets.

In WFW trainings, group members learn skills for assessing risks and vulnerability and for identifying sustainable adaptation solutions for their communities. Savings group members report that the support they receive through the group makes them less vulnerable. Through the savings group, women can access loans to start small businesses, diversifying their bases of income. One group trained by WFW is building a safe and hygienic latrine to decrease the risk of disease. Other groups are advocating for improved early warning systems in indigenous languages, especially related to weather forecast news, and for more detailed information regarding the nature of hazards so communities can be better prepared to respond. WFW-trained groups have publicly identified cyclone resistant buildings in every village that can adequately serve as secure shelters. In the event of a natural hazard, the women are prepared to secure livestock in a safe place where they can be maintained until the risk has abated and to store food and water in a secure space. After flooding, women rebuild their homes to be more flood resistant, drawing upon loans through their savings group. Recognizing the need to improve rice growing practices to decrease vulnerability to climate change, groups have strengthened their relationships with the government’s agricultural department to secure technical assistance. One group has already seen increased yields after using a savings group loan to lease a training plot and accessing technical support from the government agricultural department. Empowered by the social and organizational support from savings groups, women have formed DRR management teams in their villages tasked with providing accessible information about potential risks and developing record-keeping practices to help assess potential disaster situations and track changes to facilitate ongoing adaptability.

The role of vulnerable people in risk reduction measures should not be underestimated. When women become involved in addressing their vulnerabilities, they are encouraged and empowered to continue making improvements in their communities. If women’s roles and local knowledge are not included in disaster planning and response, disaster risk reduction interventions will be ineffective in reducing risk. Women are vital and powerful agents of change: it is imperative that they are participants in disaster planning, preparation and response. When WFW, the IWCP and diverse women’s savings groups in Rakhine join together to assess local knowledge and integrate this knowledge into DRR planning and action, they reduce the risks posed by natural and complex disasters and empower women to create a more peaceful, resilient and adaptive society.

Sandra Reisinger is MCC representative for Myanmar, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Van Lizar is director of Women for the World (WFW), an MCC partner organization in Myanmar.

Learn more

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Myanmar Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (MCCSAP) 2016–2030. (July 2016). Available at http://myanmarccalliance.org/mcca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCCA-Strategy_ActionPlan_11July2016V1.pdf.

Enarson, E. Working with Women at Risk: Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk. (April 2002). Available at http://reliefweb.int/report/world/working-women-risk-practical-guidelines-assessing-local-disaster-risk.

Mitchel, T., Tanner, T., and Lussier, K. We Know What We Need: South Asian Women Speak Out on Climate Change Adaptation. Action Aid. (November 2007). Available at http://www.actionaid.org/publications/we-know-what-we-need-south-asian-women-speak-out-climate-change-adaptation.

UNISDR. Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations, 2009. Available at http://www.unisdr.org/files/9922_MakingDisasterRiskReductionGenderSe.pdf.

UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction: High Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogue. (March 2015). Available at http://www.wcdrr.org/uploads/Mobilizing-Women%E2%80%99s-Leadership-in-Disaster-Risk-Reduction.pdf.

Climate change and food security in Latin America and the Caribbean

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

MCC partners and their communities in Latin America and the Caribbean increasingly feel the effects of climate change on food security. In February 2017, MCC hosted partner representatives from eleven countries across Latin America and the Caribbean for an encounter to share experiences and knowledge around the themes of climate change and food security and to learn how MCC can best support them in climate change adaptation. While the challenges they face are many, MCC partners and their communities are responding by strengthening collective efforts for disaster mitigation and increased food security, including employing innovative agriculture and natural resource management practices and advocating to influence policies that affect their natural resources.

Although participants in this consultation represented organizations from a variety of contexts, common themes emerged in their conversations related to climate change and its effect on food security in their communities. Climate change impacts observed by partners included drought conditions, unpredictable rainfall patterns and elevated temperatures. Dates when rains have typically arrived, signaling the start of planting time, have become unreliable, while rains later in the season have become sporadic. Scientific research confirms the anecdotal evidence presented by these organizations that climate change is occurring. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports temperature increases in Central and South America, as well as decreased rainfall in Central America. Already vulnerable regions are expected to see continued changes in water availability due to decreased rainfall overall. In addition, unusual extreme weather events have severely affected the Latin America region, increasing the vulnerability of communities to disaster. While studies suggest that, thanks to climate change, it may in the future be possible to grow maize, cassava, rice and sorghum in areas where such cultivation is not currently possible, almost half of municipalities will lose some climatic suitability to sustain current crops, especially coffee, beans and plantains. Climate change has had a significant negative impact on food security in the region due to droughts, unpredictable seasonal patterns and new insect infestations affecting agricultural production. Increasing numbers of people, especially youth, are migrating to cities or other countries because they no longer view rural livelihoods as viable options.

Second, MCC’s partners and their communities struggle to know how to balance immediate hunger needs arising from crop losses with the implementation of strategies for long-term development and care for the environment. A number of organizations have provided short-term food assistance to help their communities bridge the gap in food needs during periods of hunger. This strategy, however, raises questions about long-term vision, with partners asking how long food assistance can or should be carried out and how seasonal food assistance might be better integrated into long-term food security efforts.

In response to these challenges, MCC’s partners deploy common strategies to protect and strengthen food security in the face of climate change. These organizations emphasize the importance of developing structures that link small-scale farmers and their communities with one another. By working together in an organized fashion, farmers can be more effective in adapting to climate change and improving food security by increasing small-scale farmer marketing opportunities as well as through collective efforts to seek support from local and national government. Partners also highlight agro-forestry as a strategy that, through the planting of fruit trees, provides food and income, while also mitigating the risk of landslides by reforesting degraded and landslide-prone areas. MCC partners seek increased training on crop diversification and improved agricultural techniques, the use of drought-resistant crops or seed varieties, improving value chains through the processing or transformation of agriculture products and strategies for water and soil conservation. Improved training and learning will allow farmers to strengthen their potential for food production and adapt to climate change impacts. Finally, these partners recognize the importance of advocating to different levels of government to influence policies and practices that will be key to the protection of local water and soil resources and thus to climate change adaptation.

One of MCC’s partners in Bolivia, OBADES (Baptist Organization of Social Development), is using some of these strategies to improve agriculture production in the highland region of Cocapata in order to increase income and food security for families impacted by drought. OBADES supports communities in constructing water infiltration ditches in order to collect water runoff from steep slopes. This water is in turn used to irrigate potato and other vegetable crops, as well as to feed aquifers in lower-lying areas. Staff provide trainings to farmers on organic crop production, natural resource management, soil conservation and the efficient use of water runoff. The project also promotes the production of maca (a root high in nutritional value) as a cash crop and strengthens community-producer associations to provide increased opportunities to process and sell maca products. These strategies provide additional income for farming families and help them cope with drought, thus reducing poverty, decreasing migration rates and improving food security in the community.

In Haiti, agro-forestry efforts have helped mitigate disaster. MCC currently works with 22 vulnerable communities in the Artibonite Valley to improve food security by working with local small-holder farmers and tree nursery committees to grow and distribute fruit and non-fruit tree seedlings, establish family agro-forestry gardens and reforest degraded mountainous areas. As part of its agro-forestry program, MCC has established kids’ clubs to provide experimental, hands-on gardens to get children involved in learning about food security, nutrition and environmental protection. Children in turn influence their parents, who make household choices around food. In addition, farmers improve their farmland by using intercropping methods and planting a diversity of crops to increase and diversify production. Agricultural production is supported through grain banks that enable farmers to store seeds for the upcoming season and that can serve as food storage in case of future droughts. The long-term reforestation work MCC has supported over the last 30 years in Haiti likely mitigated impacts of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Post-hurricane, MCC staff noted that communities with significant reforestation work had fewer destroyed gardens and houses, along with fewer landslides. The additional tree cover from reforestation efforts likely slowed down winds at ground level and secured the soil to prevent landslides. Lower-lying areas that had reforested land above them also experienced less flooding, likely resulting from the additional trees upslope helping water absorb into the ground more quickly, leading to less runoff rushing down to lower areas.

Partners call on MCC to come alongside them as they develop strategies to respond to climate change and support food security in their communities. During the Haiti encounter this past winter, partners emphasized the need for MCC to support collaboration and strengthen alliances, networks and connections among local partners, communities and countries to help encourage people in their work and promote sharing of knowledge. Partners asked MCC to focus more on disaster prevention and mitigation work and to produce educational materials related to the causes of climate change and key strategies for food security. They encouraged MCC to use its position as an international organization to support local, regional, national and international advocacy efforts with and on behalf of its partners. While climate change and its impact on food security present a myriad of challenges for partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, their daily efforts in climate-affected communities encourage and challenge MCC to support partners as they carry out this work.

Darrin Yoder is regional disaster coordinator for Central America and Haiti with MCC. He lives in Managua, Nicaragua.

Learn more

Carballo Escobar, C., Montiel Fernandez, W., and Ponce Lanza, R. Impactos y Alternativas de los Granos Básicos en Nicaragua ante el Cambio Climático. 2014. Available at http://www.humboldt.org.ni/node/1681.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2014. Available at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/.

Schmidt A., Eitzinger, A., Sonder, K., and Sain, G. Tortillas on the Roaster (ToR) Central American MaizeBean Systems and the Changing Climate: Full Technical Report. 2012. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276099395_Tortillas_on_the_roaster_ToR_Central_American_maize-bean_systems_and_the_changing_climate_full_technical_report.

World Bank; CIAT. Climate-Smart Agriculture in Nicaragua. CSA Country Profiles for Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean Series. Washington D.C.: The World Bank Group, 2015. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/climate-smart-agriculture-nicaragua#.WRMKKGnyuUk.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation: What is MCC’s role?

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Climate change has already wrought significant adverse impacts on people and the environment, including increasing the risk of climate-related disasters. Communities, governments and non-governmental organizations employ adaptation and mitigation strategies to respond to climate change risks, seeking to limit future negative impacts and to enable communities to cope with adverse effects. What is the responsibility of relief, development and peacebuilding agencies like MCC that work in climate change-affected communities to respond to climate change through adaptation and mitigation?

The intersecting concepts of disaster risk, hazards and vulnerability are key in understanding the broader approaches of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Hazards in this case refer to natural adverse events such as droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides or hurricanes. Vulnerability is a term used to describe the characteristics or circumstances of a community that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard, including exposure to the hazard and ability to cope or adapt to its effects. Vulnerability is influenced by a variety of factors, including gender, age, inequalities in the distribution of resources, access to technology and information, employment patterns and governance structures. Disaster risk is based on the occurrence of hazards and vulnerability to those hazards. Not only is climate change increasing the frequency and severity of many natural hazards, but climate change impacts are increasing vulnerability by diminishing the capacity of communities to cope with these adverse events because of greater unpredictability of climatic events, increased displacement, land degradation and other impacts.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are two complementary strategies to reduce and manage the risk associated with climate change. Mitigation involves reducing human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit future climate change. Mitigation strategies include switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, improving energy and transportation efficiency and increasing carbon “sinks” through reforestation. Adaptation is the process of adjusting to actual or expected climate change and its effects. Within communities, adaptation means avoiding or diminishing harm from climate impacts or exploiting beneficial opportunities associated with climate change. Adaptation includes a variety of activities to reduce vulnerability, including income and livelihood diversification, soil and water conservation, natural resource management and the provision of social safety nets. In addition, disaster risk reduction is a key strategy for reducing risk through efforts to analyze and manage the factors causing disaster situations, including reducing the exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property and improving preparedness for disaster events.

MCC is primarily involved in climate change adaptation activities by supporting communities currently affected by climate change. Adaptation activities aim to reduce disaster risk by addressing different aspects of vulnerability within communities and building resilience to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of climate-related hazards. MCC’s adaptation work includes training for farmers in conservation agriculture, construction of shelter resistant to hazards and providing improved access to safe water.

MCC is also involved in mitigation work, including advocating for government policies that address climate change, encouraging supporters to live simply, expanding efforts to implement sustainability initiatives within MCC operations in Canada and the U.S. and partnering with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College in the founding of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to advance thinking and action within faith communities on mitigation. Internationally, some of MCC’s programming includes mitigation efforts such as reforestation and education on climate change and environmental sustainability.

Climate change is undermining the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the development sector as they work towards poverty reduction, food security, improved access to clean water and other development goals. Development NGOs are recognizing the importance of adaptation strategies in programming as they experience the impact of climate change on vulnerability and disaster risk. While adaptation is key in reducing risk associated with climate change impacts, it does not address the root cause of climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation are essential to a comprehensive climate risk reduction strategy.

Considering the importance of limiting future climate change impacts to support sustainable development, what role should NGOs play in mitigation efforts? As a ministry of churches in Canada and the United States, MCC represents congregations in countries that contribute significantly to climate change and is itself a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. To what extent is MCC responsible for mitigation, both with regards to its internal operations and its constituents located in Canada and the U.S.?

While MCC’s responsibility for climate change adaptation is inherent within its priorities of disaster relief and sustainable community development, MCC continues to explore its role in mitigation and opportunities for greater engagement on climate change matters. Even as MCC undertakes a number of initiatives to green its operations, MCC must discern how to balance an emphasis on internal mitigation efforts with a desire to implement program effectively and allocate resources efficiently. MCC asks itself how it can best partner with other like-minded organizations to engage and mobilize congregations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As recent conversations convened by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions suggest, MCC has the opportunity to join other organizations to advocate on policies that address climate change, to mobilize its supporters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to use its international adaptation work as a platform to propel climate action by connecting North American supporters with climate change-affected communities.

MCC’s work is increasingly connected to the impact of climate change on hazards and vulnerability within communities around the world. To be faithful in its mission of relief, development and peacebuilding in the name of Christ, MCC must carefully consider how best to respond to climate change risks, while also assessing its role in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Amy Martens is research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department.

Learn more

Fay, Marianne, et al. Decarbonizing Development: Three Steps to a Zero-Carbon Future. Climate Change and Development Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2015. Available for download at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/21842.

Martens, Amy. MCC and Climate Change: Responding to Climate Change Risks. MCC, 2016. Available at https://mccintersections.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/mcc-and-climate-change-working-paper-june-20171.pdf.

Hallegatte, Stephane, et al. Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty. Climate Change and Development Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2016. Available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/22787/9781464806735.pdf.

Hallegatte, Stephane, et al. Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters. Climate Change and Development Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2017. Available for download at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25335.

Lavell, A., Oppenheimer, M., Diop, C., Hess, J., Lempert, R., Li, J., Muir-Wood, R., and Myeong, S. “Climate Change: New Dimensions in Disaster Risk, Exposure, Vulnerability and Resilience.” In Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2012. Available at http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/report/report-graphics/ch1-figures/.

UNISDR. Terminology. 2009. Available online at https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/terminology.

 

Responding to climate change (Summer 2017)

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[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Over the past three decades, scientists have observed unprecedented warming of the earth’s surface as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts of climate change, including changes in weather patterns, more frequent or severe natural hazards and altered water systems, are devastating vulnerable communities in which MCC works by exacerbating food insecurity and population displacement and increasing risk of disaster. Climate change is challenging MCC’s efforts to build healthy communities, respond to disasters, provide clean water, create sustainable livelihoods and promote peace.

The articles in this issue of Intersections span the globe, representing voices from Myanmar, Ethiopia, Latin America and North America. Contributors grapple with how to respond to climate change within their contexts while exploring innovative strategies that both benefit the environment and enable vulnerable communities to adapt. Sandra Reisinger and Van Lizar discuss how an MCC partner in Myanmar is addressing this challenge by empowering women to serve as disaster managers. Frew Beriso discusses how climate-smart agriculture practices improved food security and contributed to building resilience to drought in rural Ethiopia. Finally, Darrin Yoder examines how MCC partners in Latin America and the Caribbean are sharing their climate-change related challenges with one another while calling upon MCC to support their efforts not only in strengthening climate-resilient agricultural livelihoods, but also in using MCC’s voice and influence to advocate on policies that affect communities’ natural resources and ability to adapt to climate change.

What is the responsibility of relief, development and peacebuilding agencies in the global North like MCC to mobilize their supporters in responding to the threats posed by climate change through public policy advocacy and efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Public policy advocacy around climate change is rarely straightforward, as Tammy Alexander explains in her article about the complexities of advocacy related to the Green Climate Fund. Meanwhile, Jennifer Halteman Schrock argues that Christians in Canada and the United States can play a key role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. Schrock explores the common traits of congregations engaged in creation care and offers suggestions for what is needed to mobilize other churches. While diverse and varied, the voices in this issue emphasize that by caring for the environment, we are caring for people.

Meara Dietrick Kwee is MCC learning and evaluation coordinator. Amy Martens is research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department.

Learn more

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Parenti, Christian. Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. New York: Nation Books, 2012.

Agent Orange/Dioxin and the ongoing legacies of the Vietnam War

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) was established on January 10, 2004, uniting people living with the effects of Agent Orange (AO) exposure and those who have volunteered to support them. VAVA mobilizes domestic resources, as the government looks to VAVA for recommendations regarding policies in support of affected persons. With support from international partners, VAVA assists families affected by AO through agricultural and educational support, routine health checks and ongoing medical care and rehabilitation. VAVA also joins its international partners in advocacy for justice for people living with the effects of AO in Vietnam.

The Vietnam War ended long ago, but the war’s legacies continue to linger in Vietnam. During the conflict, the U.S. military sprayed more than 80 million liters of toxic chemicals—of which approximately 61 percent was Agent Orange, contaminated with an estimated 366 kilograms of the highly-toxic substance dioxin—over large portions of central and southern Vietnam. Intended as a chemical defoliant, AO has caused serious
environmental devastation. Meanwhile, more than 4.8 million people suffered exposure to AO and more than three million people in Vietnam have died or are suffering from serious diseases or disabilities caused by AO exposure. The children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of people directly exposed have suffered AO’s effects. Many families have three or more members who require assistance for daily living, exacerbating families’ already difficult economic situations.

During and following the war, international support from various organizations, individuals and governments have aided the Vietnamese people in physical and mental recovery from the consequences of war. The help of friends and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) is not only of material significance, but also a source of great encouragement for people affected by AO in Vietnam. Furthermore,
international partners have strengthened advocacy efforts to petition the U.S. government in cooperating with Vietnam to address the ongoing health and environmental devastation created by AO.

Through our partnership with MCC, VAVA provides medical care, physical rehabilitation and livelihoods training for people affected by AO, especially in Quang Ngai Province. We at VAVA have appreciated the dedication and professionalism of MCC’s experienced staff and its committed workers. Close friendships have been forged with MCC workers and VAVA staff through years of collaboration on projects to assist people affected by AO. Additionally, people in Quang Ngai have particularly appreciated the presence and contributions of MCC workers who have lived and worked alongside people living with the effects of AO in Duc Pho commune, accompanying them in overcoming some of their sufferings in life.

Since its inception, VAVA has grown into a nationwide organization with more than 360,000 members throughout almost every province of the country. It has mobilized more than 1.2 trillion Vietnamese dong (U.S.$60 million) to assist affected persons with housing, loans, healthcare, disaster recovery and scholarships. VAVA has also made significant strides in raising awareness in Vietnam and throughout the world about
the AO tragedy, garnering further support to aid affected people. VAVA also regularly sends delegations to meet with veterans’ peace groups in other nations as it mobilizes international support, and VAVA continues to press the U.S. government to assume responsibility for damages caused by AO.

VAVA’s accomplishments add to the collective efforts of the Vietnamese people to address this particular calamity of the war, together striving to gradually improve and stabilize the lives of people affected by AO. Coordination and cooperation with international NGOs have increased the capacity of VAVA, both in Vietnam and internationally, to respond to the ongoing needs of Vietnamese people living with the effects of AO. VAVA looks forward to continued partnership with the goal of easing the daily struggles of Vietnamese people living with the effects of AO.

Lieutenant General (retired) Nguyen Van Rinh is chairman of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA).

Learn more

VAVA website: vava.org.vn/?lang=en

The Aspen Institute: Agent Orange in Vietnam Program website: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/agent-orange-in-vietnamprogram/

Martini, Edwin A. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

Rekindling MCC work in post-war Vietnam

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

From 1976 (a year after the war concluded) until 1989, annual MCC shipments of aid and visits of MCC delegations to Vietnam continued despite the absence of expatriate MCC workers in the country. Beginning in the early 1980s, an MCC representative based in Bangkok worked through the Vietnamese organization Aidresep to make quarterly trips to Vietnam, providing assistance to select projects. In 1990, 15 years after the American War in Vietnam, MCC was one of the first North American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to receive permission to open an office in Hanoi, with oversight from Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Shortly after our arrival in Hanoi, I was shopping in the market when a vendor asked, “Are you Soviet or French?” I told her I was an American working for an aid organization. A friend called to her, wondering who
I was. “She’s repairing war damage,” was the answer. Then she said to me, “American bombs killed lots of people,” implying, with a smile, that it was appropriate that I should be helping to repair the damage. This conversation and others like it revealed to us the internal debate within Vietnam and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over how to handle foreigners and foreign NGOs. We quickly learned that for MCC, an NGO associated
with the country of the former enemy, working in a post-war era would necessitate redefining its role in the country and reconceptualizing how the organization would measure success.

In this context, MCC could not partner with local churches as it typically does. We were advised, for the security of the local church, to be very cautious in any contacts with the churches. At that time, there were no Vietnamese NGOs. All Vietnamese organizations received their mandate and support from the government, so “non-government” was a foreign concept. MCC continued to discuss with our Vietnamese government contacts our desire to partner with grassroots organizations. In the absence of that possibility, the government helped to broker relationships with several universities, local government offices, the Women’s Union, health departments and hospitals. Within these entities, we often found visionary leaders who were willing to take risks to bring about improvement in the lives of those they were serving. Some people within and outside of MCC were critical of our ties with the Vietnamese government, but this was the way we had to work if we wanted to be in Vietnam as a restorative presence in solidarity with our country’s former “enemy.”

MCC was seen as an “old friend” of Vietnam, who had not supported the American War. This often meant that we were seen as supportive of the North; it was difficult to communicate that we were pacifists, desiring to minister to human need on both sides of the conflict. MCC played three main roles during this period.

First, MCC provided financial assistance, which legitimized MCC’s presence in the eyes of the government. Beyond the tangible assistance, the money also symbolized solidarity with a suffering people and brought hope for the future. The amounts of money were relatively small, and our government contacts often pressed for more.

Second, MCC sought to strengthen human resources and provide professional opportunities. During the war years, professionals in Vietnam had been cut off from developments in their fields. We were able to link them with study tours, short courses and graduate study opportunities—particularly in Asia, but also in the West.

Third, MCC workers functioned as a bridge to North American communities, telling North Americans the stories of the Vietnamese people we had come to know and explaining to our Vietnamese partners that we represented North American Christians who wanted to help repair the harm done by the war. MCC was unique among the international NGOs operating in Vietnam at the time in having a strong constituency of people who felt ownership in the organization and supported it financially.

When we returned to Vietnam in 2012, we found a cohort of young Vietnamese who had studied development and were applying their knowledge to the situation in Vietnam. (In our early days there, such a group of people did not yet exist.) We also were able to meet with some of MCC’s early project partners who told us, “We will never forget that MCC
helped us when we were in extreme need after the war.” They referred to an old proverb: A grain of rice when you are hungry means more than a bowl of rice when you have enough.

Janet Reedy, together with her husband, Stan, served as MCC representative overseeing the (re)establishment of the Vietnam program in 1990. The Reedys continued to serve in Vietnam until 1992.

Learn more

Bush, Perry. “Vietnam and the Burden of Mennonite History.” Conrad Grebel Review 17/2 (Spring 1999): 5-27.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. London: Penguin Books, 1997.

Tensions in MCC Canada’s resettlement of Vietnamese refugees

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Late in 1978, Canadian Mennonites saw the crisis of the “boat people” unfold on their television screens. Images of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their country in overcrowded and decrepit boats, risking the dangers of the open seas and the threat of pirate raids, moved Mennonites to action. They began to phone MCC offices across the country, asking how to help. MCC Canada’s response to the Vietnam refugee crisis involved struggles that endure within MCC to this day—namely, a tension between compassionately resettling refugees and proactively addressing the realities that create refugees in the first place.

Following the end of the war in Vietnam, a new Canadian immigration law allowed approved groups of individuals to sponsor a refugee if the groups assumed full responsibility and financial liability for one year. In response to a directive from MCC Canada’s annual meeting in January 1979, staff began negotiations with the federal government, hoping to expedite the process of approval and settle the liability issue. These negotiations proceeded quickly and on March 9, 1979, MCC Canada signed a Master Agreement on Private Refugee Sponsorship with the government. This agreement allowed MCC to approve constituent sponsoring groups—mostly church congregations, but also groups of at least five individuals. Other national churches and church organizations subsequently signed similar agreements.

Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations responded enthusiastically to the invitation to privately sponsor Vietnamese refugees. Within the first two years, they had sponsored 3,769 refugees; by 1985, the number had risen to 4,651. More than half of MCC’s constituent congregations across the country became involved in refugee sponsorship; some congregations sponsored one family after another.

The reasons for their eager involvement in refugee sponsorship were many. Some Canadian Mennonites remembered their own refugee stories and could relate to the plight of the Vietnamese. (In the 1920s, 21,000 Mennonites had fled Russia for Canada, with the assistance of MCC; in the late 1940s and 50s, another 8,700 arrived via Europe or Latin America.) Some sponsors were especially eager to assist those fleeing a Communist
regime as they had. Others who had actively protested the Vietnam War saw refugee sponsorship as a peace response. Still others simply wished to extend welcome and compassion to suffering people.

MCC Canada’s refugee assistance program was not without controversy. One factor was MCC Canada’s role in the larger MCC international program. At that time, MCC Canada did not have direct supervision over international work, which was the responsibility of an entity informally known as “MCC Binational,” based in Akron, Pennsylvania. When a senior MCC Canada staff person inserted himself into the program work and pushed hard for refugee resettlement, he seriously offended MCC workers in Thailand (where MCC’s Vietnam-related work was based in the post-war years), as well as some MCC colleagues in Akron.

At a deeper level, the controversy reflected a debate over whether MCC should prioritize refugee resettlement in Canada or economic development in the post-war region. Should MCC invest significant time and financial resources in helping refugees find new homes in Canada? Or should it devote itself to supporting socio-economic development in Vietnam (and also press for the U.S. to lift its embargo on Vietnam), thereby preventing
people from experiencing a need to flee their homes in the first place?

MCC workers in Southeast Asia clearly favored the latter. They saw that many of the refugees fleeing Vietnam were among the people the country needed most—those with education and financial resources—and felt that refugee resettlement was a “brain drain.” They observed how massive refugee camps in Thailand caused resentment among the Thai people, and they wanted MCC to prioritize long-term justice and socioeconomic development work.

These tensions received a public airing in some Canadian Mennonite periodicals. The Mennonite Brethren Herald, for example, published several hard-hitting critiques by constituents regarding MCC administrators and MCC service workers in Thailand. Eventually three workers in Thailand resigned, hurt and frustrated by the lack of trust in them personally, the lack of understanding of the complexities of the context and what they perceived as the Canadian constituency’s eagerness for a “quick-fix” response rather than sustained attention to longer-term solutions. MCC sent a board member with pastoral gifts on a three-month assignment to try to re-build morale among the remaining team members.

MCC continues to face challenging decisions about how to respond to complex refugee situations. So, for example, in the face of mass displacement within and from Syria, Syrian church leaders call on MCC to support displaced Syrians in staying within the region. At the same time, however, Canadian Mennonites have eagerly mobilized to welcome Syrian refugees. To be sure, refugee resettlement should not be the only MCC
response to mass displacement. At the same time, however, Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program—birthed in the years after the Vietnam War, with significant MCC Canada involvement—remains an important way that MCC responds to refugee crises. The private refugee sponsorship program has proven to be a highly successful way of integrating newcomers into Canada, with Canadian Mennonites, supported by MCC, continuing to play a significant role in private sponsorship of refugees from around the
world.

Esther Epp-Tiessen is MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office Public Engagement Coordinator.

Learn more

MCC Canada Refugee Resettlement website: https://mcccanada.ca/stories/refugeeresettlement

Kumin, Judith. “Orderly Departure from Vietnam: Cold War Anomaly or Humanitarian Innovation?” Refugee Survey Quarterly 27/1 (2008): 104-117.

The Vietnam Mennonite Church: laying a foundation of peace in the shadow of war

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Shortly after the signing of the Geneva Accords in 1954 to end the French Indochina War and temporarily divide Vietnam into northern and southern zones, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) came to Vietnam to support charitable work for Vietnamese people regardless of their religious affiliation, ethnicity or political ideology. The organization
worked together with the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN) and The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), which had a presence in Vietnam as early as 1911. While North American Mennonites came to Vietnam to respond to basic human needs following the French Indochina War, their presence and commitment to peacemaking had a deep influence on those who would eventually form the Vietnam Mennonite Church (VMC).

MCC’s first activity in Vietnam was helping to distribute food, clothing and blankets for people migrating south, working closely with the ECVN relief team. MCC also provided medicine for C&MA leprosy camps among ethnic minorities in Buon Me Thuot City in the central highlands for many years. In 1960, MCC partnered with ECVN to build and operate a health clinic in Nha Trang City along the south-central coast. MCC maintained an office in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). When the American War spread in Vietnam, MCC partnered with two other organizations—Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief—to collectively operate as Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS) from 1966 to 1972. VMC activities supported displaced persons in areas of central Vietnam such as Quang Ngai, Tam Ky and Hue; supported highland farmers in Di Linh and Pleiku; and, together with ECVN, also built a health clinic in Pleiku. Many additional social work projects and other health care efforts took place in and around Saigon.

Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC—now Eastern Mennonite Missions, or EMM) first sent workers to Vietnam in 1957 to preach the gospel and to establish the church. After a period of learning Vietnamese, these new workers invited their neighbors and students to study the Bible, share their faith, organize English classes, distribute tracts and organize many other programs and social activities to help people. New believers and ECVN Christians worked together in both evangelical and social work.

Together with Vietnamese colleagues, EMBMC workers envisioned, established and operated a Mennonite center opposite a large public hospital in the center of Saigon. EMBMC purchased the 7,500 square-foot space in 1960 as a student center (sharing its location with the EMBMC office), and it hosted many activities: English classes for hundreds of students (sometimes using the story of Jesus in the curriculum), a library
and reading room for students and a fitness room. Many students signed up for Bible courses offered on weekends in addition to regular Sunday services. The first believers were baptized in 1961. A second Mennonite center opened in Gia Dinh (now Binh Thanh District), Ho Chi Minh City: this center served as a focal point for Mennonite efforts to assist economically marginalized families during the war. EMBMC also purchased a small, 120 square-meter facility in 1973 in Binh Hoa, a few blocks away from the main Gia Dinh office. Here, a childcare center helped poor families.

In 1970, Vietnam Mennonite Missions began ministry in Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta, about 170 kilometers south of Saigon. Among their activities were Bible classes, English lessons and tailoring courses for young women. ECVN university students acquired a 333 square-meter facility on Tu Duc street in February 1975 for use as a student dormitory with space for eating, studying, and worshiping God during the week

On April 30, 1975, as the war ended and Vietnam returned to a unified country, all EMBMC workers needed to leave Vietnam. Some Vietnamese Mennonites had to evacuate abroad or return to their hometowns throughout the country. Almost all church and Christian center activities were halted during the transition of government. Soon
after, the government issued an announcement requiring all churches’ and temples’ weekly activities and large-scale events to be registered with state authorities. Due to internationally dispersed leadership of the Mennonite churches, VMC could not complete all registration requirements. In June 1978 the government assumed control over Mennonite church properties.

In the ensuing years, at the direction of Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung, Mennonite church members worshiped with other, fully-registered congregations (e.g., ECVN and Grace Baptist Church), waiting for the day when they would be able to operate their own location again. Throughout this time, Pastor Trung visited and prayed with Mennonite families. Early in 1983, the executive board of the Vietnam Mennonite Church and
Pastor Trung agreed that the Lord was leading the congregation to begin worshipping together at the pastor’s home. Attendance continued to grow with faithful believers committed to following the Lord and with more than 70 people gathering for the Christmas celebrations.

VMC strives to operate in a constructive spirit of peace, always turning to peace as a guide for its activities. Specifically, during and following the war, the church called on believers to heal and build the country through peaceful methods, not with violence. In this spirit, the church established relief centers and health clinics to help people suffering in the midst of violence. Mennonite believers must assume responsibility for the people around them and unite in interacting with others in a peaceful way.

The VMC was formed amidst the tumult of war. Now, the church finds itself in a favorable position, attained in part through the support of American Mennonites. VMC will continue to build peace in Vietnam and also throughout the world. This message of peace is warmly embraced by the Christian community and is also the philosophy of life for interacting with our neighbors.

Huynh Minh Dang is General Secretary of the Vietnam Mennonite Church.

Learn more

Martin, Luke S., Nguyen Quang Trung, Nguyen Thanh Tam and Nguyen Thi Tam, “The Mennonite Church in Vietnam.” In Churches Engage Asian Traditions. Ed. C. Arnold Snyder and John A. Lapp, 315-336. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2011.

To love the “enemy”

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

For almost 500 years, Anabaptists have refused to participate in war. After World War I, diverse groups founded MCC as an inter-Anabaptist institution to assist victims of the Great War. Since then, MCC has continued to assist people globally, often in post-conflict situations. MCC initially worked only in areas controlled by the U.S. military and the Saigon government of South Vietnam. However, Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” called some within MCC to assist all Vietnamese people in need—including those in communities “on the other side.” In this article, drawing on my experiences working with MCC in Vietnam in the late 1960s, I examine the risks involved in acting on Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” in a conflict zone and the results that flowed from
answering that call.

In Tam Ky, Quang Nam Province, where I worked in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969, I built friendships and trust with many Vietnamese friends. Together, we developed a literacy program welcomed by parents and children on both sides of the conflict. The literacy program started in displaced person camps in Tam Ky, but soon spread to villages beyond the U.S./Saigon government perimeter. This expansion enabled me to work
and make friends with a broad spectrum of people in both Tam Ky and also communities deemed “unsafe” and “hostile” by the U.S. military. In a letter to my parents in 1968, I wrote: “Tonight Tam Ky is beautiful and peaceful. It is really kind of great to go out at night because at night I own the whole town. The GIs and CIA may use it during the day, but at night it is their enemy. But for me, it is my friend both day and night.” The same span of Vietnamese friendships that enabled me to live and work safely in both Tam Ky and with marginal communities proved threatening to the U.S. military. War is fueled by fear and hatred of the enemy, so for soldiers to see their fellow countrymen making friends and living peacefully with both sides in a combat zone is, as one U.S. official explained, “hard on the morale of the U.S. soldiers.”

The first reaction of American officials in Tam Ky was to ask the U.S. Embassy in Saigon to pressure Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS) leaders to have me transferred out of the war zone. [MCC was the lead organization of VNCS, which also included Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief.] That effort failed, after a chance meeting with a U.S. journalist led to an article in the New York Times pointing out that the U.S. government—which was destroying Vietnam—was attempting to kick out volunteers who were trying to help Vietnamese people. (A worker from International Voluntary Service was also on the list of people the U.S.military wanted removed.) The article further noted that, in a democracy, the government cannot tell non-governmental organizations (NGOs) how to deploy their staff, while the separation of church and state is supposed
to protect religious organizations from government interference.

Several months after the effort to remove me from Tam Ky backfired, a student who taught in our literacy program asked me to meet her father at her aunt’s house. Her father informed me that he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that he had been assigned to spread disinformation about me in the Tam Ky area. He explained that the CIA had informants from rural National Liberation Front (NLF) areas who would come monthly to Tam Ky and report to the CIA about local officials in their area, so that the military could attempt to kill them. The CIA plan was to tell the informants that I was a covert CIA agent. The assumption, he explained, was that when the rumor took hold, the NLF would “solve the Doug Hostetter problem” the next time they infiltrated Tam Ky. When I asked Vietnamese friends how I should respond to the warning, they advised me to pray and trust my friends. If I were to leave Tam Ky just as the rumor was spreading, they said, it would be believed, and MCC could never again send volunteers to Tam Ky. Several months later, my literacy teacher asked me to meet with her father again. He reported that the campaign had been a failure; the informants had spread the rumor, but the people did not believe it and now I was likely safe.

All of the Western NGOs in Vietnam claimed that they were there to love and assist the Vietnamese people. But most of them only assisted Vietnamese who lived in the areas controlled by the Saigon government, protected by U.S. troops. Some Mennonites and Quakers tried hard to expand our work to assist people on both sides of the conflict. In 1975, 130 international NGOs were operating in South Vietnam. When the U.S. troops withdrew, only MCC and the American Friends Service Committee remained as witnesses to a God who is bigger than the United States and who loves all Vietnamese people, regardless of where they live or whose military is in control.

Doug Hostetter is MCC’s United Nations Office director. He also served with MCC in Tam Ky, Vietnam from 1966 to 1969.

Learn more

Hostetter, Doug. The People Make the Peace. Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2015.

Martin, Earl. Reaching the Other Side. New York: Crown Publishers, 1978.

MCC and the anti-Vietnam War movement

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Many MCC constituents in the United States in the early 1960s were still quite distinct from society, thanks both to the theological principle of separation from the world and to a history of cultural isolation. If not for some of their sons and daughters living and working in Vietnam as MCC workers, and some of their sons resisting cooperation with military conscription, these factors may have prevented any significant engagement
with the anti-Vietnam War movement on the part of Anabaptists in the U.S. The work and witness of these young men and women committed to living out Christ’s way of peace, even in a world at war, pushed Anabaptist churches in the U.S. to greater engagement with public policy issues, including decisions of war and peace. This article will examine how during the Vietnam War MCC slowly learned to address public policy issues raised by the war.

As MCC workers in Vietnam gained a first-hand view of the war and the suffering it caused, their reports began to have a profound impact on the churches that had sent them. An MCC letter to the White House in November 1967 reflected the concerns that arose among MCC workers carrying out relief efforts in a context of war: “we cannot serve the victims of war in Vietnam without seriously questioning those activities of the United States which cause the suffering we seek to alleviate. Our consciences protest against providing clothing and food and medical care for refugees while remaining silent about a policy which generates new refugees each day.”

MCC staff sent numerous letters and delegations to the White House during the course of the war. MCC Executive Secretary William Snyder sent a letter to President Lyndon Johnson dated June 2, 1965, expressing “deep concern over the enlarging of the war in Vietnam with its consequent toll of human suffering.” MCC sent every member of congress special issues of The Mennonite and The Gospel Herald from January 1966 that presented the perspective of Mennonite workers in Vietnam. In 1972, MCC coordinated a delegation of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ leaders to the White House. The leaders’ prepared statement implored the U.S. government to cease all military aid to Vietnam and urged the government to “Repent! Turn about, make a fresh start!” MCC’s Washington Office coordinated this and other visits by MCC workers and denominational leaders to address public policy concerns arising from the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

This type of public policy advocacy was new territory for MCC’s engagement with government, as the focus began to shift from speaking on behalf of conscientious objectors from constituent churches to speaking on behalf of friends and partners halfway around the world who were suffering from our government’s policies. Some members of MCC’s supporting churches viewed this kind of advocacy as inappropriate for a church agency. MCC organized a major consultation with Anabaptist church leaders in December 1966 to discuss concerns about the church’s peace witness in the public arena and MCC’s role in that witness. In the aftermath of the consultation, MCC continued to engage in active resistance to the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War through public policy advocacy, even as many of its Mennonite and Brethren in Christ supporters continued to view such advocacy incompatible or at least in tension with traditional nonresistant commitments and practices.

Meanwhile, dozens of young men from Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the U.S. protested the war by resisting the draft. Society’s deep divisions about the war played out in a Mennonite landscape of theological concerns about allegiance, discipleship and civil disobedience. MCC Peace Section staff member Walton Hackman provided counseling and resources to many young draft resisters. The Mennonite Church
affirmed resistance to the draft as a valid application of its teaching about peace and nonresistance at its national convention in 1969.

MCC workers from Vietnam who returned to the U.S. were widely sought after for speaking engagements in churches, schools and civic organizations. Atlee Beechy estimates that he spoke to 150 different groups in his first year back from MCC service in Vietnam. As people with intimate knowledge about the war in Vietnam, former MCC workers participated in anti-war mobilizations back in the U.S. Following his MCC
Vietnam service, Doug Hostetter worked for the People’s Peace Treaty project and traveled to both South and North Vietnam with the U.S. National Student Association.

The Vietnam War awakened the conscience of many regarding the payment of taxes for war. Delton Franz, the MCC Washington Office’s first director, and his wife Marian joined others in promoting the nation’s first peace tax legislation, known as the World Peace Tax Fund, introduced by Ron Dellums in 1972. MCC created a Taxes for Peace Fund in 1972 in response to the desire of its Anabaptist supporters to send their withheld war tax dollars to support MCC’s peace work.

MCC workers in Vietnam also engaged in behind-the-scenes work that resulted in significant contributions to the anti-war effort in the U.S. In 1973, MCC worker Pat Hostetter Martin introduced a journalist to several persons, including a young Vietnamese woman handcuffed to her hospital bed. This woman, a political prisoner, had been beaten and sexually assaulted by South Vietnamese soldiers. These connections facilitated by Hostetter Martin resulted in a four-part series on political prisoners in the
New York Times highly critical of the war.

MCC did not, to be sure, fully engage with the leaders and tactics of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States. Yet, through support of conscientious objectors to the war, its growing advocacy work, its support for war tax resistance and its on-the-ground witness to the atrocities of the war, MCC developed its own parallel witness against the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a witness in keeping with its theological understandings, its relationships and work in Vietnam and a church support base still cautious about advocacy to government.

Titus Peachey worked with MCC for more than thirty years, most recently as peace education coordinator for MCC U.S. He currently serves on the board of Legacies of War, the leading U.S.-based educational and advocacy organization working to address the impact of conflict in Laos during the Vietnam War-era, including removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Learn More

Legacies of War website: legaciesofwar.org

Bush, Perry. “The Political Education of Vietnam Christian Service, 1954-1975.” Peace and Change. 27/2 (April 2002): 198-224.

King, Martin Luther. “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.” Sermon delivered at Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967. Available at http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/.

MCC opened its office in Washington, D.C. in 1968 to focus Anabaptist advocacy efforts about conscription and against the Vietnam War. Today, the MCC Washington Office calls on  the U.S. government to assume responsibility for the deadly legacies of Agent Orange/Dioxin. To learn more about the Washington Office’s work, visit washington.mcc.org.

Peace identity in war time

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Mennonite Central Committee began its ministries in revolutionary Vietnam in 1954, immediately following the signing of the Geneva Accords that ended the French Indochina War. Partnering with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN), MCC provided humanitarian assistance and medical services within the
context of Cold War realities. From the beginning, church and mission leaders, as well as top South Vietnam government officials, understood that Mennonites eschewed participation in military service. This article traces how, over the course of the next 20 years, MCC worked to maintain its identity as a peace organization in a country at war, weighing competing interests from North American leadership, North American constituency, other international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), United
States (U.S.) government agents and MCC personnel present in Vietnam.

Military engagement renewed in 1959 as the two major parties in Vietnam failed to pursue a political resolution. Paul Peachey, representing the MCC Peace Section, visited Vietnam in March 1960. By late 1961, Saigon President Ngo Dinh Diem was calling the conflict a “real war.” Early in 1962, the United States formed the Military Assistance-Command Vietnam and began directing military activity against the insurgency in South Vietnam. Unable to control the insurrection in the South, the U.S. prepared to launch bombing raids on North Vietnam. Its naval forces provoked the August 1964 incident in the Tonkin Gulf, which in turn provided the rationalization to begin the massive bombing raids that continued for several years.

Earlier that year, anticipating an expansion of social work ministries, MCC invited Paul Longacre to direct the Vietnam program. Typhoons and catastrophic floods in central Vietnam quickly engaged Longacre’s time. Cooperating with U.S. and Vietnamese government agencies, MCC workers soon realized that military strategy was determining who received relief assistance. Declaring that “MCC must speak out” against such policies, Longacre sent a letter to the deputy prime minister and shared his concerns with other INGOs working in Vietnam.

The first U.S. Marines came ashore in Vietnam in March 1965. As the number of combat troops steadily rose, the MCC Executive Committee asked Executive Secretary William Snyder to write to President Lyndon Johnson expressing “deep concern” about the burgeoning war bringing suffering to the Vietnamese people. Throughout the summer, major American Mennonite church bodies also protested the expanding war, while the missionaries working with Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (now Eastern Mennonite Missions) prepared a statement of concern.

The growing American military involvement stirred the American Protestant and Orthodox churches collaborating under the umbrella of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS) to respond to the needs of an increasing number of displaced persons, with the NCC proposing that MCC coordinate and lead a joint relief effort with CWS. In January 1966, MCC, CWS and Lutheran World Relief (LWR) signed an agreement to form Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS) “to serve refugees and other people in the emergency situation in Vietnam.” There was strong support for VNCS within MCC, but some supporters began expressing concerns about possible unintended consequences of the VNCS response. These dissenting voices noted that caring for those
displaced by the war seemed to facilitate America’s military escapade and wondered if MCC should even operate in Vietnam.

Atlee Beechy became the first VNCS executive director. Beechy told the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Vietnam that VNCS senses “a responsibility to work toward peace.” He wrote letters to U.S. congressional representatives and made a point to “preach peace” as he interacted with American officials. In July 1966, Snyder and C.N. Hostetter, Jr., the chair of MCC’s Executive Committee, wrote a letter to President Johnson and led an MCC delegation to the White House, expressing “our opposition to escalation of military efforts which increase the dimensions of human suffering,” and calling for “some bold initiative” to end the bloodshed.

Frank Epp, editor of the weekly Canadian Mennonite, visited Vietnam in March of 1966, bringing with him serious reservations about MCC’s presence, but returned home convinced that MCC belonged in Vietnam. Throughout the war, critics within MCC’s constituency frequently suggested that MCC was too closely associated with the United States’ Vietnam policy and should leave. Defenders of MCC’s Vietnam program countered that for MCC to leave would deprive MCC of a powerful base of legitimacy in speaking against U.S. policy.

VNCS provided food, medical and other assistance to displaced persons in central Vietnam. VNCS workers were committed to helping war victims, but many struggled with feeling like they had become cogs in the massive U.S. war machine. President Johnson’s decision in May 1967 to combine all U.S. agencies, including USAID, into one operational body—Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS)—under
General William Westmoreland’s military command exacerbated these reservations. CORDS viewed VNCS personnel as part of their pacification team.

Pleased with VNCS’s service to displaced persons in central Vietnam, USAID proposed contracting with VNCS to care for affected people in other areas. MCC’s Executive Committee initially gave authorization for the partnership, but before the planned signing in July 1967, MCC asked the VNCS director to desist, in order to “maintain a VNCS identity and integrity to the greatest degree possible in the face of stronger military control of South Vietnam by the United States forces.”

Questions arose within MCC and VNCS more broadly about whether VNCS should continue its already existing programs. There were two schools of thought. One group believed the war and/or the U.S. presence in Vietnam was wrong and immoral. They came to Vietnam believing that the independent, Christian, and church ownership of their agency would be emphasized. They refused to be “on the U.S. team,” did not want to be associated with U.S. efforts and believed it was their Christian duty to express the difference. Others, meanwhile, felt just as strongly that they were in Vietnam to serve the Vietnamese people in any way possible, regardless of the limitations. They wanted to serve the suffering and needy and did not want VNCS personnel engaging in secondary activities that would jeopardize the working relationship of VNCS with ruling authorities, including the U.S. military, in Vietnam. They did not care who received the credit for their help, including the American government.

Saigon-based VNCS administrators believed its personnel could oppose U.S. policies in Vietnam by writing and talking with U.S. citizens involved in policymaking. They asked: Would VNCS not contribute to alleviating suffering in Vietnam if it could influence the policy-makers to de-escalate or withdraw from the country? James MacCracken, the CWS executive director who respected MCC’s peace concerns, said VNCS staff should remain neutral, referencing that the CWS parent body, the National Council of Churches, spoke forthrightly against U.S. escalation and warfare: “It is not in line for Church World Service to become political and associate itself with either a hawk or a dove role. We are endeavoring to minister regardless of the accident of geography, race or religion to acute human need. It is this and this alone in the name and for the sake and for the love of Jesus Christ that we have turned to the Mennonite Central Committee and requested that a ministry of service be undertaken.”

In September 1967, VNCS leader Paul Leatherman and representatives of three other agencies critical of U.S. policy met with the American ambassador in Vietnam, who stated that voluntary agency personnel had no right to oppose U.S. or Vietnamese government policies. When key leaders of International Voluntary Service (including two Mennonites)
resigned a few days later in protest of U.S. policies, the head of CORDS Refugee Division stated that it was against U.S. policy to control the programs or statements of voluntary agencies. MCC Executive Secretary Snyder also pressed the matter in an October 6, 1967 memo to USAID officials in Washington, saying that CORDS put pressure on VNCS to relate its programs “to immediate military objectives.” This led to a USAID directive that CORDS personnel assist the Vietnamese government in coordinating participation in provincial relief programs “in such a way to preclude charges of interference in and control of Volag [voluntary agency] activities.”

The coordinated attacks on Tet in 1968 proved to be a game-changer, precipitating a change of U.S. military commanders and President Johnson’s readiness to pursue “peace through negotiations.” Shortly before the Tet military offensive, Mennonite missionaries in Vietnam had released their “Letter to American Christians” calling for an end to U.S. military activity in Vietnam. That summer, Beechy contacted the diplomatic missions of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, commonly referred to as North Vietnam) and the National Liberation Front (NLF, or the Viet Cong, a political organization and army operating in South Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War), introducing Mennonites and their concerns for peace and proposing possible relief programs. Following Richard Nixon’s inauguration as president in January 1969, the war continued with the Saigon government’s military forces expanding as U.S. troops withdrew. MCC personnel in Vietnam signed statements calling on the U.S. to withdraw its military forces.

In January 1970, MCC transferred VNCS administration to CWS. That summer, Beechy began a nine-month-long peacebuilding role on behalf of MCC to DRV and Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) emissaries in Europe and Asia. [The PRG was an underground government established in 1969 in opposition to the South Vietnamese regime.] Beechy’s final report in 1971 to MCC emphasized the urgency of ending the fighting in the “deeply fragmented, fearful, and hostile” climate of South Vietnam. “All MCC personnel should be reconcilers,” Beechy urged. “We must remain in the midst of the suffering and division as long as we can work effectively and with a sense of integrity. A second imperative is that we do everything possible to stop U.S. military participation in this manmade hell.”

MCC separated from VNCS in January 1973 and returned to its pre-1966 status of administering its own programs. On January 27, the U.S. and the DRV signed the Paris Accords, an Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace to Vietnam. While this enabled the U.S to withdraw its military forces, the war continued at a lower intensity.

Leaders of the ECVN claimed an apolitical stance, though most identified with the policies of the Saigon government. MCC personnel working with the church’s medical programs chafed at the ECVN’s position. The ongoing MCC Vietnam program placed more emphasis on ability to communicate with and engage Vietnamese people than on the development of specific programs, encouraging MCC workers to “find ways to express Christian love and concern to help bring about real reconciliation and peace.” In the spring of 1974, MCC Vietnam defined “peace and reconciliation” as its main objective in Vietnam. While continuing to support ECVN medical programs, MCC personnel also assisted released political prisoners, prepared written materials for North American churches and directed attention to the problem of unexploded ordnance. In May of the same year, 16 MCC personnel and several Mennonite missionaries signed a letter to U.S. Congressional leaders urging a reduction of U.S. armaments to Vietnam and a political resolution to the conflict.

The war ended in April 1975. Four MCC men stayed for a time. An MCC delegation visiting Vietnam in November of that year negotiated for an ongoing MCC program with the Vietnamese people. MCC’s strong commitment to peace and reconciliation throughout the war has enabled MCC to continue working in Vietnam with the blessing of the Vietnamese
government.

Luke Martin worked in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 with Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (now Eastern Mennonite Missions). He works as an author, pastor and Vietnamese interpreter.

Learn More

Martin, Luke. A Vietnam Presence: Mennonites in Vietnam During the American
War. Morgantown, PA: Masthof Press, 2016.

Ediger, Max. A Vietnamese Pilgrimage. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1978.

MCC, Vietnam and Legacies of War (Spring 2017)

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[Individual articles from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

On November 1, 1955, the American War in Vietnam began. On April 30, 1975, the last of the U.S. troops evacuated the country. Evidence of the war is everywhere in today’s Vietnam. Museums and memorials marking the war are scattered across the country. Both former soldiers and civilians, along with their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, continue to be affected by a chemical defoliant sprayed during the war. The environment may never recover fully.

The governments of the United States and Vietnam have begun to hold 40-, 50-, and 60-year memorials of various events related to the war. Such commemorations of the war naturally attempt to grapple with atrocities endured, seek to honor notable acts of bravery and strive to draw conclusions about lessons learned. Most of these commemorations (American and Vietnamese) will focus on the impact of the war in terms that evoke an emotional response of nationalistic support of one side, while vilifying or ignoring the other. The Vietnamese will celebrate the heroic triumph of an outnumbered and ill-equipped military over the American imperialist invaders. The Americans will honor the service and sacrifice of the American veterans who fought in the war.

The stories that the Vietnamese and U.S. governments will tell are not the only stories. Soldiers were not the only people affected. In 1954, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) sent personnel to support suffering Vietnamese people following the French Indochina War. MCC maintained a presence in Vietnam until 1976, when the government of newly reunited Vietnam required that all non-Vietnamese citizens leave the country. At that time, MCC continued to coordinate humanitarian assistance to Vietnam from Thailand. In 1990, when Vietnam reopened its doors, MCC was among the first international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) to establish an office in Hanoi.

Over the decades, MCC workers in Vietnam have sought to engage Vietnamese neighbors, colleagues, and partners on a personal and human level. This engagement has yielded important stories to remember and share. This issue of Intersections shows how the commitment to continue seeing people’s humanity can affect not only relationships in the present, but also lay groundwork for how partnerships develop into the future.

When people are reduced to being seen only as “the enemy,” their humanity is stripped; in a heated conflict, almost anything can seem excusable in trying to overcome this “other.” Reducing people to enemy status provided justification for the U.S. military to pummel the Vietnamese landscape with bombs and spray dioxin-contaminated Agent
Orange that withered foliage, crippled livestock and sickened both soldiers and civilians who breathed its stifling fog. More than one million people died in the course of the American war in Vietnam (some estimates are as high as 3.6 million); millions more have suffered the ongoing impact of Agent Orange. Even today, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who lived through the war are born with severe disabilities and
other health problems due to dioxin exposure from Agent Orange. Another legacy of the war simultaneously developed amid the atrocities. This legacy maintained a determination to see humans as human—as fellow image-bearers of the great Creator, equally deserving of life and love, even amid conflict. Those who remained faithful to peaceful conflict resolution and to the principle of providing assistance to anyone in need not only helped to preserve life at the time, but also began to defoliate the cover of protection that exists when labeling someone as “enemy.”

Before the war began, throughout the conflict, in its aftermath and continuing today, MCC has sought to come to the aid of people affected by the American War in Vietnam. Sixty years from the onset of the war and forty years from its conclusion, this issue of Intersections offers the opportunity to reflect on the importance of direct engagement with the Vietnamese people. There are important stories to remember and to tell. While there is intrinsic value in the practice of remembering and storytelling, we hope that the reflections in this issue can be relevant to MCC and other humanitarian organizations operating in pre-conflict, active conflict and post-conflict settings.

Karen and Major Treadway are MCC representatives in Vietnam.

Learn More

Vietnam Full Disclosure: http://vietnamfulldisclosure.org/. Website with a wide range
of advocacy and educational resources related to the Vietnam War and its legacies.

The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration website: http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/. Official website connected to U.S. commemorations of the Vietnam War.

Spanish-language issues of Intersections

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Spanish-language issues of Intersections, beginning with summer 2016, are now available on the MCC U.S. website here.

PDF copies of the Spanish-language translations of past Intersections issues are available below. Please note that these are not complete translations of the English-language Intersections issues in their entirety.

Vol. 5, No. 1 – Invierno 2017 – Nutrición: más que sólo comida

Vol. 4, No. 4 – Otoño 2016 – La diferencia que hace la fe

Vol. 4, No. 3 – Verano 2016 – Protección de la niñez

Vol. 4, No. 2 – Primavera 2016 – Manejo de los recursos naturales basado en la comunidad

Vol. 4, No. 1 – Invierno 2016 – Asistencia alimentaria

Vol. 3, No. 4 – Otoño 2015 – Trauma y resiliencia

Vol. 3, No. 2 – Primavera 2015 – Participación

Vol. 2, No. 2 – Primavera 2014 – Incidencia desde la Base

Vol. 2, No. 1 – Invierno 2014 – Los Legados del Colonialismo

Vol. 1, No. 4 – Otoño 2013 – Justicia Restaurativa

Vol. 1, No. 3 – Verano 2013 – Violencia de Género

Vol. 1, No. 2 – Primavera 2013 – Gente en Movimiento

Vol. 1, No.1 – Invierno 2013 – ¿Donde está La Paz?

Iglesias trabajando contra el cambio climático: Cuatro estudios de caso

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Verano de 2017 se publicaran en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

Desde su fundación, hace una década, la Red Menonita de Cuidado de la Creación [Mennonite Creation Care Network] ha llamado a congregaciones de la Iglesia Menonita de Estados Unidos (MC USA.) y de la Iglesia Menonita de Canadá a responder a las crisis ambientales con reflexión, arrepentimiento y acción. Aunque la Red no ha centrado sus esfuerzos específicamente en el cambio climático, algunas de sus congregaciones han adoptado el tema. En los últimos diez años, las congregaciones menonitas han instalado paneles solares, han motivado a sus miembros a reducir el consumo personal de carbono, han hecho que los ecosistemas locales sean más resistentes y han participado en la acción política. Este artículo investiga los factores que motivan a algunas congregaciones a actuar, mientras que muchos en Canadá y Estados Unidos todavía ignoran las tasas de carbono que aumentan sin medida. Entrevisté a representantes (incluyendo pastores, líderes laicos y otros miembros de la congregación) de cuatro congregaciones que respondieron activamente al cambio climático para averiguar qué acciones comunes emprendieron y qué motivó y sostuvo esas iniciativas.

Todas las iglesias en este estudio son mayoritariamente blancas y universitarias, ubicadas en pueblos o ciudades con una universidad. Aparte de esas similitudes, sus contextos son muy diferentes. La Iglesia Menonita Shalom de Tucson se cocina en el Desierto Sonorense, mientras que, en la Primera Iglesia Menonita en Edmonton, Alberta, la gente bromea de que el calentamiento global es una buena cosa. La Iglesia Menonita en Huntington está ubicada en Newport News, Virginia, una de las comunidades de los Estados Unidos más vulnerables al aumento del nivel del mar. La Iglesia Menonita de Park View en Harrisonburg, Virginia, se encuentra en el Valle de Shenandoah y se nutre de las ideas y actividades de la Universidad Menonita del Este (EMU por sus siglas en inglés).

Las congregaciones de Park View y Huntington han enfocado sus esfuerzos ambientales específicamente en el cambio climático. Ambas iglesias tienen como objetivo ser completamente independientes de los combustibles fósiles en el futuro y están abordando el tema sistemáticamente. En la Primera Iglesia Menonita y en Shalom, los esfuerzos han incluido debates sobre el cambio climático, pero se han centrado más ampliamente. Entre las actividades climáticas más notables están un grupo de huella ecológica en la Primera Iglesia Menonita y medidas de conservación de agua en Shalom como respuesta al aumento de la sequía.

Cada una de las congregaciones entrevistadas comparte tres características que apoyaron la acción del cambio climático para el futuro. Primero, cada iglesia se ha beneficiado del liderazgo de pastores con un interés a largo plazo en el cuidado de la creación en asociación con uno o más líderes laicos con experiencia profesional relevante. En la primera Iglesia Menonita, el asocio implicó a un pastor con experiencia extensa en campamentos y a un sociólogo ambiental. En Huntington un científico de la NASA cuyo trabajo incluye el modelado del clima se asoció con un pastor que “entendía el cambio climático desde una perspectiva teológica”. En Harrisonburg, el pastor que compartió “El cuidado de la creación ha sido un interés mío desde que recuerdo” trabajó con un profesor de negocios que investiga la sostenibilidad. La pastora de Shalom trajo diez años de experiencia como directora de Equipos Cristianos de Acción por la Paz a su rol como pastora. “Fue un trabajo que el ECAP hizo al asociarse con las Primeras Naciones que me hizo entender cómo el cuidado de la tierra y el cuidado de los derechos humanos son realmente la misma cosa”, comentó. Los líderes laicos de esta iglesia incluyen un especialista en manejo de cuencas y varios científicos que contribuyeron al nivel de comodidad de la congregación con la ciencia del cambio climático. Mientras que las personas encuestadas se apresuraron a afirmar que sus logros eran esfuerzos de toda la congregación, estos equipos fueron bendecidos con un liderazgo pastoral y laico competente.

Segundo, cada una de las congregaciones mostró habilidad para integrar conceptos de fe profundamente arraigados con temas contemporáneos. Un líder laico de la Primera Iglesia Menonita comentó sobre la importancia de Dios como Creador para su propia conversión al cristianismo y su trabajo continuo con el cambio climático. Un miembro de la congregación de Shalom aplicó el lenguaje de mayordomía al proyecto de aguas pluviales de la congregación, y reflexionando dijo: “Creo que Dios nos llama a usar la ciencia como una herramienta, a usar la religión como una herramienta y juntarlas de alguna manera para que reflejen la realidad, no lo que es conveniente para mí”. La política de reparaciones de cambio climático de Park View, por su parte, muestra el “compromiso de la congregación de reflejar el amor y cuidado de Dios por la creación y el amor y cuidado de Dios por las personas vulnerables y pobres del mundo”. En Huntington se destacó la relación de Jesús con la creación como modelo para la acción de la iglesia hoy. Las personas encuestadas expresaron estas convicciones en un lenguaje de fe accesible a otras iglesias.

En tercer lugar, las personas encuestadas de cada congregación reconocieron el cambio climático como una amenaza para ellas mismas o para la gente con quienes sentían una conexión. Para los residentes de Huntington que viven cerca de la costa, el aumento del nivel del mar es una preocupación local. Los miembros de Shalom describieron la sequía que experimentaron, y las formas en que el cambio climático contribuyó a la difícil situación de los inmigrantes apoyados por la congregación. Estudiantes internacionales de la Universidad Menonita del Este y las experiencias en el extranjero de los miembros de Park View conectaron la iglesia con zonas vulnerables al cambio climático. Para la Primera Iglesia Menonita, el tema se hizo prominente de una manera diferente. Uno de los encuestados explicó:

En Alberta, se habla mucho del petróleo y gas como la base de la economía. Eso plantea la cuestión de lo que vamos a hacer con nuestras emisiones de carbono. Pero las personas dentro y fuera de nuestra iglesia dependen de la extracción de recursos. Eso enmarca la conversación e impacta cómo miramos las cosas. Sabemos que los medios de vida de las personas son parte de esto.

De una forma u otra, el cambio climático tocó directamente a cada una de estas
congregaciones, propulsándolas hacia la acción climática.

Los hallazgos de este estudio ofrecen estímulo para las personas de fe que esperan que la iglesia ponga su peso moral detrás de los esfuerzos del cambio climático. Primero, mucha gente está lista para enfrentar el cambio climático. Una encuesta creada por el Centro de Soluciones Climáticas Sostenibles, un programa recientemente lanzado en la Universidad Menonita del Este en colaboración con el CCM y Goshen College, analizó las respuestas al cambio climático en la comunidad menonita. Casi dos tercios de las personas encuestadas de la MC USA dijeron que estaban alarmadas o preocupadas por el cambio climático. Este hallazgo sugiere que la mayoría de los miembros de la MC USA está lista para enfrentar los problemas del cambio climático si se le proporciona un buen liderazgo.

En segundo lugar, la comunicación eficaz contribuye en gran medida a mejorar el apoyo a la acción contra el cambio climático. Ninguna de las cuatro congregaciones informó de conflictos relacionados con sus iniciativas de cambio climático, posiblemente porque sus líderes son buenos comunicadores. Los líderes usaron una variedad de maneras de comunicarse con la congregación acerca de las iniciativas para mantenerlas en primer plano. Estas incluyen anuncios, tiempo de la niñez, sermones y proyectos que requieren mano de obra de muchas personas voluntarias. Además, a pesar de los niveles avanzados de educación, los líderes explicaron las razones teológicas para su trabajo en el cambio climático en un lenguaje accesible.

Finalmente, este estudio subraya la importancia del desarrollo del liderazgo. Tanto las futuras personas dedicadas al pastorado como los potenciales profesionales del medio ambiente ahora tienen la oportunidad de aprender en entornos basados en la fe donde el cuidado de la creación es una prioridad. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS por sus siglas en inglés) expresa su deseo de trabajar en el cambio climático a través de su membresía en la Seminary Stewardship Alliance, a través de iniciativas curriculares y de la extracción de energía de una gran instalación solar. Abundan las oportunidades de pregrado, como las tres carreras sobre sostenibilidad que Goshen College lanzó este año: estos estudios tienen el potencial de desarrollar más líderes para el cuidado de la creación como los representados en este estudio.

Para la Red Menonita de Cuidado de la Creación, el hallazgo más destacable de este estudio congregacional es la conclusión de que los esfuerzos para movilizar a las congregaciones a la acción del cambio climático deberían enfocarse más deliberadamente en las personas que ejercen la pastoral y su rol como lideresas y líderes morales y eco-teólogas/os dentro de las congregaciones. En segundo lugar, la investigación anterior afirma el enfoque de base amplia de la Red que anima a las
congregaciones a trabajar en el cuidado de la creación en formas relevantes para sus propios contextos. Si la gente está motivada por las amenazas que les involucran personalmente, la pregunta más eficaz para una congregación preguntarse no
es “¿cómo podemos combatir el cambio climático?”, sino más bien, “¿cuáles preocupaciones ambientales nos amenazan?”. Una acción extrema contra la contaminación del aire traerá consigo beneficios al cambio climático, incluso si la motivación es asma en la infancia y no un deseo más abstracto de reducir el carbono. Las fincas saludables pueden reducir el carbono sin importar si la persona agricultora teme el cambio climático o la erosión del suelo. Al enfocarse en involucrar a las
pastoras y pastores en el cuidado de la creación y alentar a las congregaciones a encontrar motivación personal para trabajar en asuntos ambientales, la Red Menonita de Cuidado de la Creación y otras organizaciones basadas en la fe pueden ayudar a
desarrollar las características dentro de las congregaciones que conducen al cambio climático.

Jennifer Halteman Schrock es líder de la Red Menonita de Cuidado de la Creación y gerente de comunicaciones en el Centro de Aprendizaje Ambiental Merry Lea del Goshen College.

Aprende más

Mennonite Creation Care Network. Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/

Park View Mennonite Church. “Creation Care Council.” Available at http://www.pvmchurch.org/about-the-creation-care-council.html.

Park View Mennonite Church. “Approach to Climate Emissions.” (September 2015). Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/15rfBnElI3u2WWIavHOo_V-sVN8QBR3adAAnvprnbVxs/edit.

Mennonite Creation Care Network. “Virginia Church Pays Climate Change Reparations” (April 2017). Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/virginia-church-pays-climate-change-reparations/.

Mennonite Creation Care Network. “Net Zero Energy Grants” (n.d.) Available at http://www.mennocreationcare.org/green-energy-grants/.

Stella, Rachel. “Virginians Put a Charge into Creation Care.” Mennonite World Review (August 2016). Available at http://mennoworld.org/2016/08/29/news/virginians-put-a-charge-into-creation-care/.

 Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. “Creation Care Efforts at AMBS.” Available at http://www.ambs.edu/about/creation-care.

Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions. Available at https://www.sustainableclimatesolutions.org/.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “Global Warming’s Six Americas.” (2008). Available at
http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/about/projects/global-warmings-six-americas/.

El fondo verde para el clima

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Verano de 2017 se publicaran en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

El mayor sufrimiento por los impactos del cambio climático está siendo sentido por aquellas comunidades que ya tienen mayor necesidad—y que son las menos equipadas para responder eficazmente. Estas comunidades vulnerables son también las menos responsables de causar el cambio climático. Las naciones ricas, incluyendo a los Estados Unidos, son las principales responsables del cambio climático y, por lo tanto, tienen la obligación moral de reparar los daños y ayudar a las comunidades a adaptarse a las nuevas realidades. En reconocimiento de esta obligación moral, el CCM y otras organizaciones basadas en la fe han abogado firmemente por el aumento de la financiación del gobierno de los Estados Unidos para programas internacionales para ayudar a las comunidades de bajos ingresos a adaptarse al impacto del cambio climático.

Lamentablemente, la actual administración estadounidense no sólo ha prometido detener la financiación para los esfuerzos internacionales de adaptación, sino que recientemente anunció que retiraría a los Estados Unidos del acuerdo de París, un acuerdo internacional sobre mitigación y adaptación al cambio climático formulado en la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático y firmado por todos menos dos de los países del mundo.

Trabajando con asociados en la fe en Washington, D.C., el personal del CCM aboga directamente con funcionarios del gobierno de Estados Unidos y también trabaja para educar a los constituyentes sobre la necesidad de apoyo para la adaptación climática, animándolos a abogar a sus miembros del Congreso. En los últimos años, gran parte de esta incidencia se ha centrado en el Fondo Verde para el Clima (FVC). En 2014, Estados Unidos prometió $3 mil millones al FVC, pero, cada año desde entonces, ha sido una difícil lucha conseguir la aprobación por parte del Congreso de estos fondos. Mientras tanto, aunque la comunidad de fe ha continuado apoyando al FVC, una creciente tensión ha surgido dentro de los esfuerzos de incidencia del cambio climático basados en la fe entre abogar por una financiación continua y, al mismo tiempo, criticar las deficiencias del fondo.

El Fondo Verde para el Clima fue creado en 2010 por la CMNUCC [Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas para el Cambio Climático]. En la actualidad, el FVC es uno de los varios mecanismos existentes para la financiación multilateral de proyectos climáticos, pero se espera que el FVC se convierta en el principal mecanismo para dicha financiación en los próximos años. El FVC no es una agencia de las Naciones Unidas, pero es una institución legalmente independiente responsable ante la CMNUCC. El fondo está destinado a ser parte de una respuesta transformadora de cambio de paradigma al cambio climático, implementando un enfoque sensible al género e impulsado por cada país para la mitigación y la adaptación.

La Junta del FVC consta de 24 miembros con igual representación de “países desarrollados y en desarrollo”. Dos representantes de la sociedad civil y dos del sector privado actúan como observadores sin derecho a voto a las reuniones de la Junta. El FVC financia proyectos de mitigación y adaptación, así como de transferencia de tecnología y construcción de capacidades. Los proyectos se financian mediante donaciones y préstamos en condiciones favorables del FVC, a menudo en combinación con fondos públicos locales o privados. El Banco Mundial es el fideicomisario interino del FVC hasta que se elija un administrador fiduciario permanente a través de un proceso abierto y competitivo.

Una campaña inicial de recaudación de fondos obtuvo promesas para el FVC de 37 países por un total de $10.2 mil millones. Los fondos asignados al FVC se destinan a ser una nueva financiación en lugar de ser una reasignación de fondos de los programas de asistencia al desarrollo existentes. Para 2015, el FVC había recibido contribuciones firmadas por más del 50% de las promesas, alcanzando un punto de referencia para permitir que el fondo comenzara a aprobar proyectos.

Los proyectos del FVC se centran en una variedad de esfuerzos de mitigación y adaptación, incluyendo esfuerzos para desarrollar energía renovable, mejorar la eficiencia energética, fortalecer la resiliencia a los impactos del cambio climático y proteger los medios de vida sostenibles. Todos los países en desarrollo miembros de la CMNUCC son elegibles para recibir fondos del FVC. El financiamiento proviene de entidades acreditadas que pueden incluir bancos de desarrollo nacionales o regionales, ministerios gubernamentales, organizaciones no gubernamentales y otras organizaciones nacionales o regionales que cumplen con las normas de acreditación.

A finales de 2015, el FVC aprobó sus primero ocho proyectos por un total de $169 millones, incluyendo un bono ecológico de eficiencia energética en América Latina y un sistema de alerta temprana para los desastres relacionados con el clima en Malawi. En 2016, la Junta aprobó un financiamiento adicional de $1.300 millones, incluyendo un proyecto de seguridad alimentaria y resiliencia de $166 millones en India para micro-irrigación solar en las zonas tribales vulnerables de Odisha y un proyecto hidroeléctrico de $232 millones en las Islas Salomón.

En muchos sentidos, los objetivos declarados del FVC se alinean bien, al menos en teoría, con los objetivos del CCM en áreas tales como participación de las partes interesadas, sensibilidad de género, construcción de capacidad local y llegar a las personas más vulnerables. En realidad, sin embargo, los miembros de la Junta y las personas defensoras del FVC han planteado preocupaciones sobre las garantías, consulta y transparencia.

En 2015, el FVC recibió una intensa presión para comenzar a financiar proyectos, pero al mismo tiempo, la Junta aún estaba en el proceso de desarrollar políticas y procedimientos. Un miembro de la junta comentó: “Estamos construyendo el avión mientras lo volamos”. La constante prisa por mantener los fondos fluyendo significa que incluso los miembros de la Junta se quejan de que no tienen la información adecuada para evaluar proyectos individuales. Los representantes de la sociedad civil han planteado objeciones sobre algunas entidades de financiación acreditadas (la mayoría de las cuales son multilaterales y bilaterales de desarrollo), señalando vínculos con la industria de combustibles fósiles, mala administración financiera y violaciones de los derechos humanos.

El FVC está utilizando las salvaguardias sociales y ambientales de la Corporación Financiera Internacional hasta que desarrolle sus propias. Estas normas incorporan algunos elementos buenos, pero carecen de un criterio sólido para la consulta y consentimiento a nivel local y contienen protecciones insuficientes para los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, así como para los hábitats nacionales y biodiversidad. En 2015, un proyecto de restauración de humedales en Perú fue objeto de críticas debido a la preocupación de si las comunidades indígenas habían sido debidamente consultadas. Persisten las dudas sobre la adecuación de la consulta con las comunidades locales y transparencia del proceso de aprobación del proyecto.

Otras preocupaciones han sido: la necesidad de aumentar la capacidad de las instituciones locales, el proceso de considerar los proyectos de alto riesgo, los beneficios de los proyectos grandes y los de menor escala, el nivel y tipos de cofinanciación con el sector privado, las definiciones de adaptación y mitigación y el uso de subvenciones versus préstamos.

El FVC sigue trabajando para abordar las preocupaciones. Problemas internos de capacidad plagaron el fondo al principio, pero desde entonces ha aumentado significativamente la cantidad de personal. Esta ampliación de personal ha permitido al fondo realizar mejoras iniciales en las comunicaciones y transparencia. El FVC está desarrollando sus propias salvaguardias ambientales y sociales y se ha comprometido a desarrollar una política de los pueblos indígenas.

La junta continúa debatiendo cómo proveer más fondos para desarrollar la capacidad a nivel local. Además, las agencias nacionales de desarrollo, como la Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional (USAID por sus siglas en inglés), han comenzado a reorientar algunos fondos para reforzar los esfuerzos de fortalecimiento de capacidades del FVC.

En el futuro, la participación del gobierno de Estados Unidos en la financiación y configuración del FVC está en duda, especialmente a la luz de la inminente retirada de Estados Unidos del Acuerdo de París. Las contribuciones totales de Estados Unidos al fondo hasta ahora totalizan $1 billón. La administración actual, sin embargo, ha declarado que no cumplirá con los $2 billones restantes de la promesa de EE.UU. Hasta ahora, las personas que abogan por la financiación estadounidense del FVC han mantenido un buen diálogo con el representante estadounidense en la Junta del FVC, pero no está claro si este acceso continuará. El CCM y sus asociados continuarán impulsando cambios positivos usando cualquier vía disponible, incluyendo el diálogo con los representantes de la sociedad civil sin derecho a voto en la Junta. A pesar de que el FVC sigue siendo un trabajo en progreso, hay espacio para la incidencia en los derechos humanos para llamar al Fondo Verde para el Clima a ser lo que se pensó que fuera, una herramienta muy necesaria para ayudar a las comunidades vulnerables a adaptarse al clima cambiante.

Tammy Alexander es asociada legislativa sénior para asuntos domésticos en la Oficina del CCM EE.UU. en Washington.

Aprende más

Amerasinghe, Niranjali, Joe Thwaites, Gaia Larsen, and Athena Ballesteros. The Future of the Funds: Exploring the Architecture of Multilateral Climate Finance. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2017. Available at http://www.wri.org//sites/default/files/The_Future_of_the_Funds_0.pdf.

GCF 101: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Access the Green Climate Fund. Available at greenclimate.fund/gcf101. Green Climate Fund: Projects. Available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/projects/browse-projects.

Green Climate Fund: Projects. Available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/projects/browse-projects.

Schalatek, L., Nakhooda, S. and Watson, C. Overseas Development Institute. The Green Climate Fund. In Climate Finance Fundamentals 11 (December 2015). Available at http://www.climatefundsupdate.org/listing/green-climate-fund.

Additional resources on U.S. environmental policy available at https://washingtonmemo.org/environment./

National Congress of American Indians on the impact of climate change on indigenous communities. Available at http://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/land-natural-resources/climate-change.

Construyendo la resiliencia en un distrito propenso a la sequía en Etiopía

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Verano de 2017 se publicaran en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

Boricha woreda (distrito) se encuentra en la zona de Sidama de la Región de las Naciones, Nacionalidades y Pueblos Sureños de Etiopía. Uno de los distritos más propensos a la sequía en Etiopía, Boricha es casi completamente dependiente de la agricultura alimentada por la lluvia. Boricha ha sido fuertemente afectada por el cambio climático, experimentando sequías recurrentes y variabilidad de las precipitaciones. La degradación de la tierra ha causado la formación de zanjas que están invadiendo tierras agrícolas y creando erosión significativa del suelo, lavando semillas, fertilizantes y plántulas de las tierras agrícolas, reduciendo la capacidad de producción, dañando la salud y productividad del suelo y afectando los ingresos de los hogares. Los impactos del cambio climático y la degradación de la tierra, junto con el alto crecimiento demográfico, pequeñas propiedades agrícolas y analfabetismo, son las principales causas de inseguridad alimentaria en la zona y han dado como resultado una baja capacidad de adaptación de la comunidad a los impactos del cambio climático. Este artículo comparte los esfuerzos de la Asociación de Alivio y Desarrollo de la Iglesia Meserete Kristos (MKC-RDA por sus siglas en inglés) para construir resistencia al cambio climático en Boricha y analiza hallazgos claves que indican que los esfuerzos del MKC-RDA en Boricha han contribuido a la conservación de suelos y agua, lo que a su vez reduce la vulnerabilidad a los impactos del cambio climático.

Durante más de una década hasta 2014, la MKC-RDA llevó a cabo un programa de reducción de riesgos de desastre y seguridad alimentaria orientado a la comunidad y medio ambiente en Boricha con el objetivo de abordar las causas a corto y largo plazo de la inseguridad alimentaria y de resiliencia al cambio climático. El programa adoptó la estrategia de “ayuda y desarrollo”, en la que se implementan intervenciones de alivio y desarrollo simultáneamente para proporcionar a las comunidades vulnerables redes de seguridad eficientes durante los períodos de hambre, junto con estrategias de seguridad alimentaria a largo plazo para ayudar a las comunidades a satisfacer sus necesidades alimentarias en el futuro y para que tengan la capacidad de hacerle frente a peligros tales como la sequía. Este enfoque enfatizó la preparación para desastres y construcción de la resiliencia de la comunidad a los desastres futuros al reducir la vulnerabilidad, en lugar de centrarse únicamente en el apoyo inmediato a las víctimas de desastres.

Uno de los componentes del programa Boricha fue la provisión de alimentos y transferencias de efectivo previsibles a través de iniciativas de alimentos por trabajo (APT) y efectivo por trabajo (EPT) diseñadas para contribuir al logro del objetivo general de adaptación y resiliencia al cambio climático. Este programa de la red de seguridad proporcionó pagos en efectivo o maíz y aceite comestibles a los hogares vulnerables, satisfaciendo sus necesidades alimentarias durante meses cuando la mayoría de la población experimentaba la inseguridad alimentaria. Estas estrategias de APT y EPT también aseguraron que los hogares tuvieran los medios para reconstruir y mantener sus medios de subsistencia con éxito después de la sequía crónica. Las personas participantes recibieron alimentos o efectivo por trabajo que ayudó a la rehabilitación de caminos y puentes para permitir a los miembros de la comunidad transportar sus productos al mercado e implementación de estrategias de conservación de suelos y agua, como la construcción de terrazas y estanques de recolección de agua. Otras iniciativas incluyeron la producción de plántulas para la agrosilvicultura en viveros y en tierras comunales y privadas, y construcción de bancos de semillas para asegurar el fácil acceso de las personas agricultoras a las variedades de cultivos adaptados a las condiciones locales.

Otro enfoque del programa Boricha fue la implementación de la agricultura climáticamente inteligente (CSA por sus siglas en inglés para Climate Smart Agriculture), incluyendo tecnologías de agricultura conservacionista. CSA se define como “la agricultura que aumenta de forma sostenible la productividad, resiliencia (adaptación) y reduce/elimina los gases de efecto invernadero (mitigación) donde es posible” (FAO). Las actividades del proyecto en el marco de la CSA incluyeron la optimización del uso de los recursos de la tierra, introducción de medidas anti-erosivas y tecnologías de recolección y ahorro de agua, promoción del forraje y desarrollo agroforestal y capacitación en técnicas de agricultura conservacionista como la cobertura, alteración mínima del suelo, rotación de cultivos y adopción de patrones de cultivo apropiados, como el cultivo intercalado. Además, el proyecto Boricha estableció y fortaleció grupos de personas agricultoras, grupos de ahorro, grupos de autoayuda y otras organizaciones comunitarias para apoyar la promoción de prácticas agrícolas sostenibles, aumentar la capacidad de conservación de suelos y agua, apoyar iniciativas de generación de ingresos e incrementar la alfabetización.

Un equipo independiente evaluó el programa de Boricha dos años después de que finalizó para determinar los impactos del programa. La evaluación encontró que, dada la degradación ambiental en Boricha, el manejo sostenible de los recursos naturales era fundamental para la búsqueda de la seguridad alimentaria y desarrollo económico dentro de la comunidad. Las actividades de conservación del suelo y del agua han permitido la rehabilitación de la tierra y de los recursos naturales: se han protegido más de setecientas hectáreas, lo que contribuye a mejorar la cobertura vegetal. Los beneficios incluyen una mayor disponibilidad de abono orgánico a través de follaje de plantas reforestadas o mantenidas, mejor disponibilidad de leña, minimización de la erosión eólica y disponibilidad de árboles para los medicamentos tradicionales. Las actividades del proyecto también contribuyeron a la restauración de los suelos y prevención de la salinización y pérdida de tierras de cultivo, incluso mediante la reforestación de tierras inutilizables. Las terrazas, montículos de tierra, represas de control de la escorrentía y otras actividades de control de inundaciones, erosión y de aprovechamiento del agua mejoraron la fertilidad del suelo y restauraron las fuentes de agua subterráneas y superficiales. Las técnicas de agricultura conservacionista, incluyendo la cobertura del suelo y adición de compostaje, también contribuyeron a reducir la erosión del suelo, mejorar la capacidad de retención de agua de las tierras de cultivo y aumentar la productividad del suelo. Incluso en años con lluvias tardías, esporádicas o escasas, las personas agricultoras que practicaban la agricultura conservacionista se beneficiaron de mayores niveles de humedad residual, lo que permitió germinar las semillas y mantener la madurez del cultivo. Como resultado de las actividades del proyecto, las comunidades han reducido el riesgo de desastres debido a las inundaciones, aumentaron la productividad agrícola y mejoraron el acceso al agua para el riego y uso doméstico, contribuyendo a la resiliencia a los impactos del cambio climático.

El proyecto Boricha resultó en la reducción de la pobreza y mejora de la seguridad alimentaria para la mayoría de los hogares participantes, aumentando su capacidad para enfrentar y manejar los efectos de los peligros. El setenta y tres por ciento de todos los hogares participantes declararon que lograron salir exitosamente de la pobreza extrema durante el término del programa; sólo el seis por ciento de los hogares que participaron en el proyecto informaron que siguen estando en situación de extrema pobreza. La reforestación de las cuencas hidrográficas y biodiversidad resultante contribuyeron a la expansión de las actividades de engorde, ganadería y apicultura para la generación de ingresos. Las plantaciones de árboles, así como la vegetación que surgió por las actividades de conservación de suelos y agua, crearon empleo y mejoraron los ingresos a través de la recolección forestal y venta de subproductos. Debido a los ingresos suplementarios obtenidos a través de la venta de productos sobrantes de los huertos del proyecto, miel y frutos cosechados de la agrosilvicultura, las mujeres experimentaron mejores medios de vida e ingresos. Estas mujeres reportaron mayor autoestima y mayor independencia financiera. Además, la situación general de seguridad alimentaria de la comunidad beneficiaria mejoró durante el período del programa. Por ejemplo, la frecuencia de la ingesta diaria de alimentos de tres comidas al día aumentó de 12,9 por ciento al inicio del proyecto a 77 por ciento al final, mientras que aquellas personas que consumían dos o menos comidas al día disminuyeron del 87,1 por ciento a 21 por ciento. En general, la evaluación encontró que el proyecto proporcionaba a los hogares oportunidades de medios de vida más exitosos y diversos, contribuyendo al aumento de los ingresos y seguridad alimentaria. Como resultado de diversas fuentes de ingresos, mayor capacidad para ahorrar dinero y mejorar la seguridad alimentaria, los hogares en Boricha son más resilientes, capaces de adaptarse a las condiciones cambiantes y hacerle frente a los efectos de los peligros.

Los resultados del programa MKC-RDA en Boricha demuestran que, la programación de alimentos y transferencia de efectivo para abordar la inseguridad alimentaria estacional, las intervenciones agrícolas climáticamente inteligentes y el manejo sostenible de los recursos naturales, desempeñan un papel importante en la protección de los bienes e ingresos de las familias pobres mitigando el riesgo de desastre y construyendo resiliencia a los impactos del cambio climático en las comunidades afectadas por la sequía.

Frew Beriso es especialista en agricultura conservacionista con el Banco de Granos Canadiense en Etiopía. Anteriormente trabajó para MKC-RDA como Gerente del Programa Boricha.

Aprende más

Pugeni, Vurayayi. “Sub-Dejel Watershed Rehabilitation Project, Ethiopia.” Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development. 2013. Available at http://c4d.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-CaseStudy-MCC-Ethiopia.pdf.

Nyasimi, M., Amwata, D., Hove, L., Kinyangi, J., and Wamukoya, G. “Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa.” 2014. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/evidence-impact-climate-smart-agriculture-africa-0#.WO_oNkdda72.

Empoderando a las mujeres para la reducción del riesgo de desastres en Myanmar

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Verano de 2017 se publicaran en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

Rakhine, el segundo estado más pobre de Myanmar, está frecuentemente expuesto a peligros naturales, incluyendo ciclones, inundaciones, deslizamientos de tierra, terremotos, sequías, tsunamis e incendios en zonas boscosas y rurales. Los modelos de cambio climático predicen que Myanmar experimentará durante los próximos años y décadas un aumento de las temperaturas, periodos de sequía más frecuentes e intensos, cambios en los patrones de lluvias y un mayor riesgo de inundaciones, así como fenómenos meteorológicos extremos más intensos y frecuentes que generan tormentas e inundaciones y el aumento en el nivel del mar que afectará a casi todas las comunidades del país. Las comunidades en Rakhine ya están enfrentando una variedad de estos impactos. Rakhine también corre el riesgo de sufrir desastres complejos exacerbados por los peligros naturales: una combinación de escasez de alimentos, instituciones económicas, políticas y sociales frágiles o en crisis y conflictos internos que llevan al desplazamiento de personas. Rakhine sufre un conflicto político y militar desde hace muchos años entre el gobierno central, el Ejército de Myanmar y los nacionalistas budistas, por un lado, y el Ejército de Arakan y la comunidad musulmana Rohingya, por otro. Además, el Ejército Rakhine/Arakan tiene conflictos con otros grupos indígenas en Rakhine (el gobierno nacional reconoce 135 grupos étnicos en Myanmar): los combates han desplazado repetidamente a la gente de sus hogares y aldeas, aumentando así su vulnerabilidad. La falta de recursos y educación, junto con estas complejas relaciones sociales en un estado multi-religioso y multi-étnico, añaden a la vulnerabilidad de la gente en Rakhine.

Las mujeres de Rakhine son desproporcionadamente vulnerables a los desastres complejos, peligros naturales y efectos del cambio climático debido a las creencias culturales, prácticas tradicionales y condiciones socioeconómicas. Las mujeres son más propensas que los hombres a experimentar una mayor pérdida de medios de subsistencia y violencia de género. En algunas situaciones, han experimentado una mayor pérdida de vidas durante y después de un desastre. Mujeres para el Mundo (WFW por sus siglas en inglés), una organización no gubernamental de Myanmar con base en Yangon, se asocia con la Coalición de Mujeres Indígenas para la Paz (IWCP por su siglas en inglés) en Rakhine para reducir el riesgo y aumentar la resiliencia. Ellas creen que el género e identidad indígena son elementos críticos para abordar los impactos del cambio climático y riesgo de desastres. La integración de los conocimientos locales de las mujeres indígenas de Rakhine y sus prácticas en la mitigación de los desastres, preparación y esfuerzos de respuesta son esenciales para reducir el riesgo y aumentar la resiliencia.

WFW e IWCP trabajan con diversos grupos de ahorro de mujeres para aumentar la comprensión de los impactos del cambio climático, evaluar sus conocimientos locales y aumentar su capacidad para prepararse y responder a los eventos de desastre. La creencia principal de WFW es que, aunque las mujeres son los miembros más vulnerables de la comunidad, son también las agentes para el cambio. En Rakhine, la falta de oportunidades de empleo ha dado lugar a la migración de hombres y mujeres jóvenes para encontrar trabajo fuera de sus aldeas, dejando a las mujeres, personas ancianas, niñas y niños para lidiar con las secuelas de los peligros naturales. Las mujeres son las cuidadoras de la niñez y de las personas enfermas y ancianas; suelen ser las únicas sostenedoras de la familia, ya que los hombres, niñas y niños mayores salen a buscar oportunidades de trabajo en los centros urbanos o más allá de las fronteras; ellas son responsables de conseguir los alimentos; son proveedoras informales de atención médica; son responsables del cuido del ganado; y son responsables de encontrar y mantener el suministro de agua potable. Las mujeres son más restringidas para realizar viajes y tienen más probabilidades de ser restringidas de poseer tierras, de endeudarse o de invertir dinero, y de diversificar los medios de subsistencia a través del inicio de un nuevo negocio.

Por el contrario, las mujeres son también poseedoras de conocimientos culturales, históricos y económicos esenciales dentro de sus comunidades, lo que las convierte en participantes vitales en los esfuerzos para reducir el riesgo de desastres. Las mujeres administran los recursos ambientales para sostener a sus hogares y actúan como proveedores de salud informales. Tienen habilidades de supervivencia y de responder a desastres, tienen redes comunitarias locales y poseen conocimiento local de la comunidad, incluyendo la ubicación y necesidades de las personas más vulnerables (niñez, ancianas, con discapacidad) durante una crisis, convirtiéndolas en actores críticos en la reducción del riesgo de desastres (RRD).

WFW y IWCP reúnen a mujeres para construir juntas la paz y resiliencia a través de un modelo de grupo de ahorro para mujeres. Además de la capacitación en formación de grupos y gestión de ahorros, los miembros del grupo también reciben capacitación sobre los derechos de las mujeres, transformación de conflictos, violencia doméstica y la RRD. Se les enseña a realizar mapeos para evaluar las vulnerabilidades en sus aldeas, desde el mapeo de la infraestructura hasta la cartografía de la población de las familias y hogares. Representantes de cada grupo, que representan diferentes grupos étnicos, se reúnen para recibir capacitación intensiva sobre transformación de conflictos y manejo de desastres que, luego, reproducen en sus grupos. Los miembros de la IWCP continúan trabajando con los grupos de ahorro, apoyándolos mientras aprenden y planifican.

WFW opera desde el supuesto de que las mujeres no pueden comenzar a adaptarse al cambio climático si no creen que pueden. Para fortalecer la autonomía, WFW emplea un proceso de aprendizaje participativo. Las personas capacitadoras de WFW, primero conciencian a los grupos de mujeres en un ambiente de apertura a las historias y experiencias de las mujeres en desastres como un método de aprender y nombrar lo que las mujeres ya saben. Por ejemplo, las mujeres ya saben que el refugio para mujeres, niñas y niños es vulnerable a los peligros naturales y que el refugio resistente al ciclón más seguro no proporciona privacidad a las mujeres ni a la niñez. Saben que las lluvias están aumentando y las temperaturas también lo están, lo que lleva a una mayor incidencia de la malaria y la necesidad de más mosquiteros. Después de que el personal de WFW ha introducido el proceso de mapeo de aldea, se retiran (a su oficina en Yangon) mientras que los grupos de ahorro siguen creando mapas de aldea que, identifican las fortalezas y debilidades geográficas, los hogares (incluyendo el número de miembros de la familia en cada hogar) y las personas más vulnerables y sus lugares de residencia (ancianas, ancianos, niñas y niños pequeños, personas con discapacidad). Las mujeres también señalan la ubicación de su ganado, escuelas, barcos de pesca y otros activos de la comunidad y del hogar.

En las capacitaciones de WFW, los miembros del grupo aprenden habilidades para evaluar los riesgos y vulnerabilidad y para identificar soluciones de adaptación sostenibles para sus comunidades. Las personas miembros del grupo de ahorros informan que el apoyo que reciben a través del grupo las hace menos vulnerables. A través del grupo de ahorro, las mujeres pueden acceder a préstamos para iniciar pequeños negocios, diversificando sus bases de ingresos. Un grupo formado por WFW está construyendo una letrina segura e higiénica para disminuir el riesgo de enfermedad. Otros grupos están abogando por mejorar los sistemas de alerta temprana en las lenguas indígenas, especialmente en relación con las noticias sobre pronósticos meteorológicos, y para obtener información más detallada sobre la naturaleza de los peligros para que las comunidades estén mejor preparadas para responder. Los grupos capacitados por WFW han identificado públicamente edificios resistentes a los ciclones en todas las aldeas que pueden servir adecuadamente como refugios seguros. En el caso de un peligro natural, las mujeres están preparadas para reunir el ganado en un lugar seguro donde puedan mantenerse hasta que el riesgo haya disminuido, y para almacenar alimentos y agua en un espacio seguro. Después de las inundaciones, las mujeres reconstruyen sus casas para ser más resistentes a las inundaciones, aprovechando los préstamos a través de su grupo de ahorros. Reconociendo la necesidad de mejorar las prácticas de cultivo del arroz para disminuir la vulnerabilidad al cambio climático, los grupos han fortalecido sus relaciones con el departamento agrícola del gobierno para asegurar la asistencia técnica. Un grupo ya ha visto un aumento de los rendimientos después de usar un préstamo del grupo de ahorro para arrendar una parcela de capacitación y acceder al apoyo técnico del departamento agrícola del gobierno. Empoderadas por el apoyo social y organizativo de los grupos de ahorro, las mujeres han formado equipos de RRD en sus aldeas encargados de proporcionar información accesible sobre los riesgos potenciales y desarrollar prácticas de registro para ayudar a evaluar posibles desastres y rastrear los cambios para facilitar la adaptabilidad continuta.

El papel de las personas vulnerables en las medidas de reducción del riesgo no debe subestimarse. Cuando las mujeres se involucran en abordar sus vulnerabilidades, se anima y empoderan para seguir haciendo mejoras en sus comunidades. Si las funciones y conocimiento local de las mujeres no están incluidos en la planificación y respuesta a desastres, las intervenciones de reducción del riesgo de desastres serán ineficaces para reducir el riesgo. Las mujeres son agentes vitales y poderosos del cambio: es imprescindible que participen en la planificación, preparación y respuesta ante desastres. Cuando WFW, IWCP y diversos grupos de ahorro de mujeres en Rakhine se unen para evaluar el conocimiento local e integrar este conocimiento en la planificación y acción de la RRD, reducen los riesgos que plantean los desastres naturales y complejos, y empoderan a las mujeres para crear una sociedad más pacífica, resiliente y adaptable.

Sandra Reisinger es representante del CCM para Myanmar, con sede en Phnom Penh, Camboya. Van Lizar es directora de Women for the World (WFW), un grupo asociado del CCM en Myanmar.

Aprende más

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Myanmar Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (MCCSAP) 2016–2030. (July 2016). Available at http://myanmarccalliance.org/mcca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCCA-Strategy_ActionPlan_11July2016V1.pdf.

Enarson, E. Working with Women at Risk: Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk. (April 2002). Available at http://reliefweb.int/report/world/working-women-risk-practical-guidelines-assessing-local-disaster-risk.

Mitchel, T., Tanner, T., and Lussier, K. We Know What We Need: South Asian Women Speak Out on Climate Change Adaptation. Action Aid. (November 2007). Available at http://www.actionaid.org/publications/we-know-what-we-need-south-asian-women-speak-out-climate-change-adaptation.

UNISDR. Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations, 2009. Available at http://www.unisdr.org/files/9922_MakingDisasterRiskReductionGenderSe.pdf.

UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction: High Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogue. (March 2015). Available at http://www.wcdrr.org/uploads/Mobilizing-Women%E2%80%99s-Leadership-in-Disaster-Risk-Reduction.pdf.