Poverty has increased dramatically in Ethiopia, and many Catholics there are blaming climate change.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Bishop Rodrigo Meija of the Vicariate of Soddo-Hosanna, described how food shortages in his diocese caused by lack of rain are leading to poverty , and he added that people are attributing the weather changes to global warming.
The news follows Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the UN on September 24, in which the Pontiff underlined the urgency of addressing climate change.
Bishop Rodrigo Meija told ACN that a change in weather patterns was the biggest problem facing rural food growers in the Vicariate, and he revealed that farmers had noticed a change occurring in the seasons over a number of years. He said, “The rainy season is no longer regular – so people don’t know when to start planting.”
Traditionally Ethiopia enjoyed a regular rainy season from mid-June to mid-September but now rains are intermittent. Bishop Meija said: “At a popular level some people say it is due to global warming – this may be true – all the seasons are disturbed.
The bishop said the problems could be a side effect of global warming, but added he had not seen any scientific data on the subject. He added, “Poverty is certainly linked [to the lack of rainfall] as these people are still basically rural and live off their own produce which depends on rain.”
The bishop explained how, working in tandem with the government, Catholic relief services had responded quickly to the food shortage. The bishop added, “At the moment we are catering for the most urgent problems – so for the moment it is under control.”
Bishop Meija confided to ACN that he was uncertain what would occur over the months ahead. He said, “It is difficult to foresee [what will happen in the future], we don’t know if the effect of global warming will get worse – there is no scientific point of reference.”
With 75 million people in Ethiopia, it is the third most populated country in Africa after Nigeria and Egypt. As a result, the scale of the problem could be immense.
In his address to the UN, Pope Benedict XVI alluded to his recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which addressed environmental concerns. The Pontiff said, “Our use of [the environment] entails a personal responsibility towards humanity as a whole, particularly towards the poor and towards future generations.”
Pope Benedict continued, “The protection of the environment, and the safeguarding of resources and of the climate, oblige all leaders to act jointly, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the world.”
According to Bishop Meija, lack of education is another key factor leading to poverty.
The Church is renowned throughout Ethiopia for its education, which is open to all regardless of faith, ranging from play school to secondary schools – and recently the Church set up a Catholic university which is now in its first year.
Bishop Meija concluded by thanking ACN’s benefactors for their continuing generosity towards the Church in Ethiopia. ACN helped Ethiopia with more than $900,000 for pastoral projects in 2008, including formation for catechists, priests and seminarians and Church building.