Our planet is dying – just ask climate refugees

By Sirena Cordova
April 19, 2022

This blog was updated on 4/19/2022.

Year after year, climate-related disasters push more and more people to the breaking point. In areas already challenged by chronic poverty, food insecurity or conflict, natural disasters are making it impossible for families to survive where they are. While it’s difficult to collect data on climate refugees, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates an average of 21.5 million displacements each year over the past decade.

In honor of Earth Day, we have an opportunity to reflect on the work ahead of us, in both preventing further climate destruction and responding to girls’ unique needs — especially as more girls face the impacts directly.

Wildfires on the west coast of the US

At the end of 2020, more than 10 million acres burned on the west coast of the United States, with many  large fire complexes engulfing entire towns.  California’s wildfires  accounted for more than four million acres alone. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced out of their homes in the middle of a pandemic as the flames spread through their neighborhoods, and millions more breathed in polluted, smoke-filled air for weeks after.

But wildfires represent only a fraction of the climate crises that occur across the  world. The dry, arid climate that exacerbated the west coast wildfires intensified severe drought in other places like Africa and South America. The prolonged dry spells kill livestock and crops, leaving people hungry and thirsty with no means of relief.

[Read more: 5 things you need to know about the drought crisis]

Samira, a teenage girl in Zambia, knows firsthand how the effects of climate change intensify an already devastating situation. Southern Africa is in the grip of a hunger crisis, with more than 15 million people facing food shortages, after years of drought and flooding. Existing economic insecurity makes it even harder for those most in need to access what little food is available.

Samira, a teenage girl in Zambia, is one of 15 million people in southern Africa facing food shortages resulting from drought and flooding, signs of climate change

With three other siblings to look after, Samira struggles to stay in school and often must go to work instead of going to class, so that she has some money to pay for food for her family. And, when she does make it to school, it’s hard for her to concentrate because she hasn’t eaten much – if anything – that day or the one before it. But with dreams of becoming a nurse, she also knows completing her education is important.

“If I miss some lessons, it will be very hard for me when it comes to exams,” Samira says. “People end up saying, ‘she does not like going to school.’ But they don’t know what I am experiencing, how I am feeling.”

There’s no predicting if the rain patterns will return to what they once were in southern Africa, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made access to food even more difficult – especially for adolescent girls and young children.

Changes to our climate put people’s health, safety and security at risk. Weather crises, which are becoming more frequent and intense, only contribute to the likelihood that girls and families will seek refuge elsewhere. But this, too, puts their lives at risk — especially when they don’t have any supplies to stay safe and healthy.

With Plan, you can make a difference for girls in crisis. Your Livelihood Gifts of Hope will help families in Zimbabwe learn about managing the country’s drought, as well as the adaptation measures to take to protect their livestock businesses and stay financially stable. And by supporting their businesses, they’ll be able to pay for their daughters’ school fees. Girls and families can thrive in their home countries with your support.