Mexico City — An ecumenical coalition of religious representatives and laypeople has condemned the murder of an Indigenous leader in Honduras and called for a thorough investigation of the death.
The Churches and Mining Network said in a statement that Pablo Isabel Hernández, a leader of the indigenous Lenca people in western Honduras, was shot “in the back while he was on his way to church, where he as an active pastoral agent.”
Hernández was ambushed Jan. 9 as he traveled to a local church with family members in the municipality of San Marcos de Caiquín, a police spokesman told the Associated Press.
The Jan. 10 statement from the network, which focuses on the effect of mining on local communities and the environment, comes at a time when attacks on environmental and Indigenous leaders in Honduras often go unpunished.
Hernández worked as director of Terán Community Radio and in various environmental, education and human rights initiatives, according to the network. He also was a pastoral worker in his parish.
“We join our voices to the national and international people and institutions that condemn this murder because silencing the voices of those who defend human rights, the rights of Mother Nature, and those who inform society is an attack against democracy and the rights of communities,” the network’s statement, issued in English and Spanish, continued.
Hernández had spoken out against municipal officials and had received threats, which he made public. His radio station’s electrical equipment was sabotaged in February 2021.
Hernández had spoken out against municipal officials and had received threats, which he made public. His radio station’s electrical equipment was sabotaged in February 2021.
Hernández was the second Lenca leader killed in less than a year. And in 2016, Berta Cáceres, perhaps the highest profile indigenous Lenca leader and environmental defender, was murdered in her home in western Honduras for organizing opposition against a hydroelectric project, provoking an international outcry. Eight individuals, including a former army intelligence officer, were convicted in the killing of Cáceres.
“In 2021, violent incidents against some 208 human rights defenders and 93 journalists were recorded (in Honduras) of which 10 were murders of human rights defenders,” the network said.
In November, Honduras overwhelmingly voted for Xiomara Castro in the presidential election in an expression of fatigue and frustration with outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose eight years in office were marked by impunity, corruption and accusations of close ties with narcotics traffickers.
“The Honduran population is fed up with the way the country has been governed, with the abuses of power and private interests, and because the country’s major issues have not been treated responsibly, such as in the case with the pandemic,” Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno Cota told Catholic News Service on the eve of the elections.
He described people wanting to “punish those who have governed the country in recent years,” rather than supporting a specific candidate.
BAN PHO, Thailand, – U bon Chansoi has lived in a modest wooden home in rural Thailand for about 60 years, farming and rearing fish for a living that is now threatened by an ambitious plan to turn agricultural land in her village in Chachoengsao province into an industrial zone.
Chachoengsao is one of three provinces covered by the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project that includes several industries, a high-speed railway line, an airport and upgrades to two deep-sea ports in an area of about 1.3 million hectares.
The $45 billion EEC project is a centrepiece of the Thai government’s efforts to boost economic growth and encourage investment with speedier approvals, tax breaks and special visas for investors, as well as land leases for up to 99 years.
But for tens of thousands of villagers who have lived in the three EEC provinces of Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong for generations, there are few benefits, and many will lose their land and homes, activists warn.
“The government only cares about business – it is giving away our land to big companies,” said Ubon, 73, gesturing to the trees and the ponds teeming with tilapia and catfish.
“For us, this is our life and our livelihood, and it will be very difficult to adjust to a new place and a new life if we have to leave,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy, Southeast Asia’s second largest, suffered its deepest slump in over two decades last year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and authorities are keen to lure back local and foreign investors.
But residents say authorities did not consult with them on the plans, and that the project will damage the environment and livelihoods that rely largely on farming and fishing.
“There were some public hearings, but many were held far away, or were online, or we were not informed. Some had a lot of police, making it difficult for us to voice our concerns,” said Sarayut Sonraksa, 40, a farmer in Ban Pho village in Chachoengsao.
“We are already seeing more flooding, more coastal erosion, and waste being dumped, and we are worried it will get worse and affect the land and water even more,” said Sarayut, who has taken the lead in campaigning against the EEC in his village.
More than 40 public hearings were held to seek residents’ opinions, said Tasanee Kiatpatraporn, a deputy secretary general in the Eastern Economic Corridor Policy Committee (EECPC), a state agency.
Further, forested areas and “good agricultural land” are being maintained, and the EEC promotes industries engaged in “activities which employ advanced and modern technologies, innovations, and are environmentally friendly,” she added.
Across Asia, governments have embraced so-called special economic zones (SEZs) to spur growth and generate jobs. These are generally governed by special laws related to land use and environmental clearances, and offer tax incentives.
Many SEZs have, however, fallen short of targets on investment, revenue and jobs, and have instead caused mass displacements, as well as social and environmental impacts, according to researchers.
Thai SEZs date back to the 1970s, and the country has more than 50 large industrial estates, with a majority located in the eastern region, including local and foreign auto manufacturers, petrochemical and electronic companies.
The military-led government that took charge after a coup in 2014 has made SEZs key to its economic policy, even as protests over evictions from farms and forests have risen.
The Eastern Economic Corridor bill was passed in 2018, with provisions to allow industrial development on agricultural land, and with less rigorous environmental-impact assessments and waste management rules, according to activists.
“The project has a top-down approach that minimised public participation and engagement of local people, who do not get any benefits from the project,” said Somnuck Jongmeewasin, research director at EEC Watch, an advocacy group.
“EEC projects are being developed without respect for community rights and are leaving local communities, especially poor people, behind,” he said, adding that people who live in the EEC zone are “downgraded to being second-class citizens, alienated in their own homeland.”
An administrative court last year ordered officials to follow local town planning and zoning regulations.
But authorities have continued to ignore public participation requirements in meetings on town planning and re-zoning, Somnuck said.
In the three provinces of the EEC, land prices have surged as agricultural land is designated for industry, and the project is promoted as a key part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s massive global infrastructure push.
Some residents have sold their land and moved away as it becomes harder to farm and rear fish. Villagers on leased land risk becoming landless and being left without any compensation.
Ubon, who has leased her land for several decades, says her landlord is supportive of her, but she cannot be sure for how long. Her daughter has set up a small business making traditional Thai sweets as a backup plan.
“I’m already old; I won’t live very long. But what about the younger generation – where will they go if we lose our land?” said Ubon.
Ubon and others are encouraged by a victory earlier this month for campaigners against an industrial zone in Thailand’s southern province of Songkhla.
Authorities agreed to put the project on hold to do a strategic environmental assessment, and set up a new panel to look into concerns after protests.
“What they have achieved is remarkable – the entire community came together, and never gave up. We have a lot to learn from them,” said Sarayut.
Sarayut has received death threats for his opposition, and a village headman was killed some years ago. A lawsuit against the EEC is being heard in court.
“It is our last option,” said Sarayut.
“It’s not that we don’t want development, but we want it to be done in a way that does not hurt us or the environment.”
Kandy, Sri Lanka — Kapila Suranga never imagined that his request for a roofing sheet he saw lying discarded in a convent garden would make his dreams come true.
The Hindu daily wager in Kandy, Sri Lanka, noticed the sheet as he was cutting grass in the garden of the Salvatorian convent in Kandy. He told Sr. Dulcie Peiris, the convent superior, that the sheet would help repair his house’s leaking roof.
The nun responded that they did not want to give him a damaged sheet; instead, she would visit his house.
“What we saw there was very touching. There was no house at all, and what they had were a few iron sheets and abandoned billboards molded in like a hut, where his wife and two small daughters lived,” Peiris told Global Sisters Report. She pooled some resources to build a home for the Suranga family.
They were among more than 200 families from different religious backgrounds who have benefited from the housing project of the Salvatorian nuns in Sri Lanka. The nuns built the houses in various parts of the island nation mainly for single parents, widows and war victims. Some who were in need, like Suranga, also benefited.
Sri Lanka’s 1983-2009 civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic communities claimed up to 100,000 lives, mainly Tamils seeking a separate state, according to U.N. estimates. The official registry of the Sri Lankan government, however, puts the toll at 40,000. Both sides in the 26-year conflict are under U.N. scrutiny for war crimes.
Peiris accompanied GSR to Suranga’s new house, where his wife, Dilrukshi Fernando, a Catholic, waited for them at the main road with her 2-year-old daughter, Bhagya (which means “lucky”). She then took the team to their dream house of two small rooms, a kitchen and living room.
The house was not plastered or painted, but Fernando and her two daughters — Bhagya and 6-year-old Amali — looked happy. Suranga had gone to his work as a grass cutter.
“We had always dreamt of having a house, but never thought it would come true so soon,” said Dilrukshi Fernando, as Bhagya held her tightly and Amali stood at her side.
(Fernando is a common surname among Sinhala Catholics in Sri Lanka. The three women in this story with that last name are unrelated.)
The housing project was initiated by Sr. Dulcie Fernando, who was the congregation’s Sri Lankan provincial for three terms, with a donation from an unidentified person in Europe. He donated $3,000 for each shelterless family through Share Global, an international Salvatorian Sisters solidarity office.
The solidarity office helps sisters and laypeople initiate, coordinate and manage projects in various developing countries. They promote an equitable and sustainable society through education, health care, pastoral work and community capacity building, Fernando told GSR.
Another beneficiary is Mary Margaret, a war widow with a mentally challenged son and two daughters, in Kurunegala, about 25 miles northwest of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. The eldest daughter, whose husband recently died from a heart attack, has moved back to her mother’s house.
The houses have basic structures without plaster, painting or electrical connections.
Sr. Fernando, who has initiated several community building projects in Sri Lanka, explains, “We had a limited fund for each house. We also believed in letting the family complete the construction so that they would feel it was their own.”
However, many such as Mary Margaret could not complete the work because of dire poverty, Sr, Fernando added.
Sr. Shiroma Kurumbalapitiya, the present provincial who joined the home visits, said, “They are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic. How can they complete the homes?”
Margaret told GSR that they are happy with what they have.
“We are grateful to the sisters for providing this home and visiting us from time to time,” said Margaret, who lives by selling lottery tickets. “But no one tries their luck during this pandemic.”
Neighbors help her family with food and other items. She goes to the town of Kurunegala to sell lottery tickets at the bus stops and other public places. Lottery is quite popular in Sri Lanka, especially among those without resources, she said.
Kurumbalapitiya said they are trying to get some funds to complete the houses and build toilets for those unable to do so.
The provincial said neighbors and local parishes cooperated in building the houses and continue supporting the families.
“So, this is not just a Salvatorian program, but a community building project where several stakeholders are involved,” said Kurumbalapitiya, who added they receive funds from benefactors through Global Share. The house is built as a “collaborative project between beneficiary families and their community,” she said.
The provincial says a condition for getting a house is that the family should have land with proper records. In some cases, local people have donated land to a family.
Hasitha Silva, a parish council member of the St. Anne’s Cathedral, Kurunegala, took the team to a house in Yaggapitiya, an interior village about 20 miles from Margaret’s house. It is accessible only by a rough terrain vehicle.
Soma Fernando, a widow, owns the house, among the first 20 built in 2015 under Sr. Fernando’s supervision. The house was larger compared to others since the parishioners helped pool local resources. The local unit of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also assisted, with some members volunteering free labor.
At the same time, there are houses that still are not completed even after six years.
“We have to understand that people were not able to plaster or furnish their homes due to poverty,” said Sr. Fernando, adding that further funding is essential.
Their funds come from benefactors through their key Global Share promoters — Ursula Schulten in Germany and Yvonne Schmelzer in Italy.
“Recently, we have requested additional funds to support selected beneficiaries, but the pandemic situation has crippled everyone,” Sr. Fernando said.
Some houses have extended their space, affixed tiles and plastered the walls.
Sr. Fernando took GSR to a home near Kandy. This house was improved substantially as its owner now works as a gardener in Saudi Arabia.
Their only son, 22-year-old Darshan Vinith Thangavelu, who completed the work, said, “We were very poor and my father did not have a job when the sisters came forward to help us.”
Thangavelu, a former student of Fernando’s who now works on a college administrative staff, told GSR, “My next dream is to become a teacher and, when I earn money, I want to help other homeless people.”
Fernando said she had worked among women and children with a nongovernmental organization in Kandy before initiating the housing project with Share Global. The hill stations in and around Kandy were always prone to landslides and in one such incident several farmers had lost their houses, she recalled.
“But they never got a house from the government and this prompted me to initiate the housing programs,” the sister said.
The project was initially implemented in the southern part of Sri Lanka. “Now we concentrate on the Tamil population in northern provinces like Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya who have lost everything due to 30 years of civil war,” Fernando explained.
In Puttalam district, 80 miles northwest of Kandy, the nuns built many houses with local participation. “The beneficiaries were selected based on their eligibility and not according to their religion, caste or creed,” Fernando said.
In many cases, local community leaders and parish priests also help in selecting the beneficiary families.
Kurumbalapitiya says a house is a basic need for people because “a roof over their head means total empowerment of the family.”
The Salvatorians want to ensure those who live in the houses are empowered to lead a dignified life. “If they are sick, we reach out to them with nursing care. If their children are weak in studies, we give them tuition,” she added.
Mary Margaret, a lay Salvatorian (not the woman of the same name who moved her family into a home built by the sisters), supplies building materials for the nuns in Puttalam and has built two houses for homeless families on her own.
Fernando said the laywoman helped keep their building initiatives alive “when we were really worried about the continuation of the project during the pandemic.”
The businesswoman said she was inspired by the Salvatorians and would continue the mission “as much as I can.” Her son is a Salvatorian priest.
Salvatorian Sisters, also known as Sisters of the Divine Savior, are spread over 45 countries and six continents. Salvatorians have priests, brothers and lay collaborators, besides the nuns.
The Salvatorian nuns are located in only one province in Sri Lanka with 73 members living in 15 convents. They hail from Sinhala and Tamil ethnic communities and are engaged mainly in social apostolates, such as peace building, non-formal education, empowering women and eradicating poverty.
From filters to bags to balls, the number of products aimed at stopping the torrent of microplastic fibres being flushed out of washing machines and into rivers and oceans is increasing rapidly.
Grundig recently became the first appliance manufacturer to integrate a microfibre filter into a washing machine, while a British company has developed a system that does away with disposable fibre-trapping filters.
Entrepreneurs are also tackling the problem at source, by developing biodegradable fabrics from kelp and orange peel, and tweaking a self-healing protein originally discovered in squid tentacles.
Fibres from synthetic fabrics, such as acrylic and polyester, are shed in huge numbers during washing, about 700,000 per wash cycle, with the “delicates” wash cycle actually being worse than standard cycles. An estimated 68m loads of washing are done every week in the UK.
New data from 36 sites collected during The Ocean Race Europe found that 86% of the microplastics in the seawater samples were fibres. “Our data clearly show that microplastics are pervasive in the ocean and that, surprisingly, the major component is microfibres,” said Aaron Beck, at the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.
Grundig, which launched its fibre-catching washing machine in November, said the system caught up to 90% of synthetic fibres released during wash cycles. The filter cartridges are made from recycled plastic and last for up to six months, after which they can be returned free of charge.
A system that can be retrofitted to existing washing machines and does not need replacement cartridges has been created by the British company Matter, and was recently awarded £150,000 from the British Design Fund. The device, called Gulp, is connected between the outflow pipe and the drain and traps the fibres in a container that is emptied every 20 washes.
The company’s founder, Adam Root, a former Dyson engineer and keen scuba diver, said the idea had started with a £250 grant from the Prince’s Trust. “I used it to take apart a washing machine and that’s when I had my ‘eureka’ moment.”
There are already a range of microfibre-catching devices on the market, but they have produced a mixed performance in independent testing. Research from the University of Plymouth in the UK examined six different products.
One stood out, Xfiltra, which prevented 78% of microfibres from going down the drain. The company is focused on providing the technology to manufacturers to integrate into washing machines. The scientists tested two other devices that can be retrofitted to machines – the Lint LUV-R and Planet Care filter systems – but these trapped only 25% and 29% of fibres respectively.
The three other products tested were used in the washing machine drum. The Guppyfriend washing bag, into which clothes are placed, collected 54% of microfibres, while a prototype washing bag from Fourth Element trapped only 21% of fibres. The last product tested was a single Cora ball, the stalks of which ensnared 31% of the fibres, though more than one ball could be used.
Prof Richard Thompson, who works at the University of Plymouth and was part of the testing team, cautioned that filters would not solve the problem of plastic microfibres alone. “We have also shown that around 50% of all fibre emission occurs while people are wearing the clothing,” he told the Guardian. “Also, most of the human population don’t have a washing machine.
“As with nearly all the current problems associated with plastic [pollution], the problem is best fixed by more comprehensive consideration at the design stage,” he said. “We need to design these in order to minimise the rate of emission, which should also make the clothing last longer and hence be more sustainable.”
A dozen groups working on better fabrics were recently shortlisted as finalists in a $650,000 (£482,000) microfibre innovation challenge being run by Conservation X Labs. AlgiKnit is creating biodegradable yarns from kelp, a type of seaweed, while Orange Fiber in southern Italy is making fabrics from the byproducts of citrus juice production.
Another finalist, Squitex, has developed a protein originally found in the tentacles of squid. The company says it is the world’s fastest self-healing material and can be made into fibres for textiles and coatings that reduce microfibre shedding.
Cotton, as a natural material, is biodegradable, but its production often involves the overuse of water and pesticides. The Better Cotton Initiative, which covers more than 20% of global cotton production, recently announced a target of cutting carbon emissions per tonne of cotton by 50% by 2030, compared with 2017. Further additional targets covering pesticide use, soil health, smallholder livelihoods and women’s empowerment are expected by the end of 2022.
Christians in India were the targets of 305 violent incidents in the past nine months, according to a new report.
The report, produced by three civil rights groups, concluded that Christians faced persecution in 21 of the country’s 28 states, said the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
The fact-finding report was published by United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and the United Christian Forum on Oct. 21.
A.C. Michael, national coordinator of the United Christian Forum, said: “This indicates that organized violence against Christians is spreading across the country.”
The report found that the violence peaked in September when there were 69 violent incidents, compared to 50, the next highest figure, in August.
India, the world’s second-most populous country after China, is ranked 10th on the World Watch List for the persecution of Christians compiled by the advocacy group Open Doors.
According to a 2011 census, 79.8% of India’s 1.38 billion population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, and 2.3% Christian.
India has the second-largest Catholic population in Asia after the Philippines. There are around 20 million Catholics in the country, comprising Latin Rite Catholics as well as members of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) listed India as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade.
“The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” the commission’s 2021 report said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Pope Francis to visit India during a meeting at the Vatican in October.
He was the first Indian prime minister to visit the pope at the Vatican since June 2000, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee met with John Paul II during an official visit to Italy.
India and the Holy See established diplomatic relations shortly after India gained independence from Britain in 1948.
Paul VI became the first pope to visit India in 1964, when he attended the International Eucharistic Congress in Mumbai (known then as Bombay).
The last pope to travel to India was John Paul II, who made a trip to New Delhi in 1999.
MUMBAI,- Students in Maharashtra will start learning about worsening droughts, floods and storms on a hotter planet, and find out how to map and reduce their carbon footprint under the first climate-change school curriculum introduced by an Indian state.
The lessons in English and Marathi for grade 1 to 8 pupils seek to spark conversations in homes on extreme weather and rising seas, said officials, as efforts ramp up globally to raise awareness that climate change is not a far-off threat.
Better climate education is a key concern for young people, with representatives of the growing youth movement taking centre-stage at the COP26 U.N. climate talks last month to present their demands for a greener, fairer world.
Maharashtra officials said the western Indian state was experiencing extreme rainfall, recurring droughts and cyclones.
About 14 million students in more than 100,000 schools will learn what is fuelling these and other climate shifts, in classes likely to be introduced during the next academic year that starts in June.
“The current curriculum doesn’t cover all this. We want students to understand how climate change is impacting us,” said Sudhakar Bobade, head of Majhi Vasundhara, a state initiative to create awareness on climate change.
“Our aim is to make them understand what they can do to mitigate the impact and create awareness among parents through them,” he said.
The new curriculum will also cover fuels consumed by planes, trains, buses and cars – and help students understand why public transport is the most climate-friendly option, officials said.
The new curriculum of more than 100 lessons will end with “green habits”, aimed at shrinking the carbon footprint of students’ households through behaviour changes such as switching off lights and adopting solar power.
In an October report, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water identified Maharashtra, India’s third largest state, as one of the country’s most climate-vulnerable areas.
The state has over the last year paid out $2 billion in compensation to those impacted by extreme weather, Maharashtra environment minister Aaditya Thackeray said at the COP26 summit.
Yusuf Kabir from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Maharashtra, who helped design the new curriculum, said climate change “is real and we can’t deny it any further”.
“We want students to understand how the lives we lead are dependent on fossil fuels, why solar panels are now being used to boil water in tribal schools, why the Arabian Sea is more turbulent and so on,” Kabir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
One in five young people across the world think they can no longer do anything to prevent climate change, a poll by a creative agency showed last month.
In India, youth activists believe including global warming in school lessons could help expand much-needed awareness.
Tenth-grade climate activist Ridhima Pandey, 14, said she had not studied climate change in her school in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, but had gained an understanding from talking to her parents and reading news publications.
“We don’t discuss climate change or global warming in school. There would be one paragraph on it and the teacher would just skim through,” said Pandey.
She welcomed the new curriculum in Maharashtra but said it needed to teach children knowledge they can use in their lives.
“If they learn in school, the next generation would be more responsible, unlike our older generation. Also they will not have the same attitude as them that has led to so much destruction,” she said.
The Maharashtra curriculum is aiming to get at least some of that right: It includes farm visits to identify crops and how much water they consume, activities such as gauging rainfall and video screenings on rising seas and cyclones.
The lessons will also shine a light on changes being made locally to switch from coal to solar power, as well as on global goals for climate action including the warming targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement, nature protection and air quality.
“If we learn, we will be able to conserve,” said Pandey.
DURBAN, – As climate change takes a heavy toll on Africa, about two-thirds of the continent’s young people are pushing for bolder policy action or trying to reduce their own carbon footprint, a new survey has found.
From locust infestations in the east to devastating droughts in the south, the impacts of climate change are being felt across the continent, which is responsible for only 3% of global carbon emissions.
Africa has the world’s youngest population – 60% of its 1.25 billion people are aged 25 or younger – and youth activists from Sudan to South Africa were vocal in demanding bigger emissions cuts by rich nations at last month’s U.N. climate talks.
New data compiled from 4,500 face-to-face interviews with 18- to 24-year-olds across the continent by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, an African charity, shines a light on the concerns of young people in 15 countries.
From Angola to Gabon, Uganda to South Africa, here are some of the main concerns highlighted by the African Youth Survey:
While 70% of Africa’s youth are concerned about climate change, less than half are satisfied with how their leaders are tackling it, the survey found.
Among those polled, 85% said their governments should be more proactive in addressing climate change, led by 99% of Rwandans, 95% of Ethiopians and 95% of Malawians.
Besides wanting bolder policy action, about two-thirds said they actively support, participate in or donate to environmental causes, while 64% are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.
As climate campaigners such as Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate become known in Africa and beyond, the survey shows Africa’s youth want to be “global actors in environmental activism”, said Ineza Umuhoza Grace, founder of Rwandan eco-group Green Fighter.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned that climate change would lead to an increase in infestation and crop destruction from insects such as locusts, with most worry in Ethiopia (91%), Malawi (91%) and Kenya (88%).
East Africa has been battling locust infestations in recent years that have ravaged crops and triggered food insecurity.
Hundreds of millions of locusts swept across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya last year in what the United Nations called the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, with Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti also affected.
Warmer seas have resulted in a rise in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and heavy downpours along the Arabian peninsula have created ideal conditions for locust breeding in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
It is estimated that a locust swarm of one square km (0.38 square mile) can eat the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
About 78% of the young people polled said they were worried about increasing air pollution, with the most concern found among those in countries including Ghana (92%), Ethiopia (89%) and Rwanda (88%).
Air pollution from sources such as vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, fires and domestic heating and cooking causes the early death of nearly 16,000 Ghanaians each year, the World Bank has said.
Hue, Vietnam — With people in the region beset by devastating floods and effects of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, sisters from the Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation convent in Tien Thanh thought that nativity sets would help bring some joy and hope to area residents amid the difficulties.
Seven sisters and some local youths made more than 60 nativity scenes since Advent began Nov. 28 through Dec. 11. The crèches, about 30 inches by 27 inches, are made of cardboard boxes, thick paper, bamboo and Christmas decorations, and include nativity figurines.
“We have offered all those crèches to poor families, elderly people without relatives and patients as our Christmas gifts so as to console them and bring them Christmas joy,” said Sr. Anna Vo Thi Ngoi Khen, head of the convent based in Kim Doi Parish in the central province of Thua Thien Hue.
Families were also given 200,000 dong (about $9) to get basic food to celebrate the coming Christmas, Khen said.
The parish serves 500 Catholics among a population of 7,000. Restrictions to isolate villages infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the region were lifted on Nov. 20.
The nun said local people have been extremely depressed by the prolonged pandemic and floods that destroyed their crops and houses in late November, and consequently many of them start to ignore their faith life. They fear having no jobs and the difficulties next year may bring.
“Crèches are absolutely indispensable to local Catholic families in the Christmas season as they bind the material and spiritual worlds together. However, this year many feel down in the dumps and are not interested in making crèches. We want to help them maintain the Christmas spirit,” the 46-year-old nun said.
Anna Nguyen Thi Hoa, 84, said her granddaughter from Da Nang died of COVID-19 in 2020. She lives with her grandson, who is not Catholic, in a 400-square-foot house provided by benefactors.
“We are really delighted to be given a crèche by the nuns, who bring Christmas atmosphere to our home,” Hoa said. The care of the sisters and reminder of Christmas eases some of her grief for her dead relative.
She said she also receives food and money from the nuns.
Khen said many villagers could not land jobs in Hue and have only two simple meals per day. The sister said the nuns provide rice, bread, fish, meat, vegetables and milk for people in need.
Anna Tran Thi Tuyen from Van Quat village said floods in November washed away all fish on her farm and destroyed more than 37 pounds of rice. She and her husband have to sell duck eggs and dumplings all day to support their three children.
Tuyen said they have no time to make crèches in their homes to celebrate the coming Christmas as they did in the past. “We gratefully get a crèche from the nuns. That is a generous gift to us in this Christmas,” she said.
The Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation nuns also held a special gathering for 36 single pregnant women on Dec. 10 at their Thien Xuan convent in Luong Van parish in Phu Vang district.
Sr. Mary Bui Thi Vinh, head of the convent, said participants prayed with candles in hands, listened to a Bible passage, sang carols, received Christmas gifts and enjoyed a hearty meal. Gifts including cash, medical oil, clothes and shampoos costing 2.5 million dong (about $109) each.
Vinh said the donations come from benefactors and families whose members have joined the congregation.
The pregnant women, who live with their families, are from Hope Group, set up in 2016 by the nuns. Members meet monthly at the convent to share their joy and sadness and help one another to overcome challenges.
“The gathering is an opportunity for those women, most of them are Buddhists and followers of other indigenous faiths, to understand the meaning of Christmas and be interested in Catholicism,” she said, adding that Christmas joy will lend them emotional strength to overcome the pandemic’s negative effects.
The nuns started to work among local people in 2015, visiting and offering material support, providing scholarships and giving health care to the elderly. They also furnish the pregnant teens with accommodations, food and health care until the birth as a way to keep them from having abortions.
In previous Advents, the nuns took Hope Group members to visit and offer incense at Ngoc Hoi cemetery, where 45,000 aborted fetuses have been buried. They also have made pilgrimages to the national Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Quang Tri province. This year they could not do such tours, to avoid COVID-19 infections.
A Buddhist participant whose family name is Hoang said she felt the warm atmosphere of the coming Christmas. “The gathering is a chance for us to meet one another and maintain sisterhood among us. We are really appreciative of all the help the nuns have given us,” she said.
Vinh, 53, said 18 additional people, including five women from the group, have embraced Catholicism since the nuns started to serve in the parish.
Floods have been a major issue in some regions, said Missionaries of Charity of Vinh Sr. Teresa Tran Thi Oanh from Ninh Cuong community based in Huong Khe district of Ha Tinh province. Local people lack clean water after floods destroyed water supply systems in the region in late November. Poor people must use polluted flood water as they have no money to buy clean water, she added.
“We daily produce 50 to 100 bottles of clean water, 20 liters each, and deliver free of charge to people in need regardless of their background,” Oanh said.
The 36-year-old nun said the sisters use motorbikes to deliver water to the elderly and people with physical disabilities.
On Saturdays during this Advent, the community of five nuns and four novices visit and offer food to 50 families whose members live with mental disabilities, she said. Most of patients have mental disorders at birth and their parents had been in the military. The families face starvation, as the COVID-19 pandemic has left their relatives unemployed for months and other charity groups could not offer them donations.
One particularly painful case involves a woman in her 70s who looks after her three adult children, who have mental disabilities.
“Many shed tears of happiness when we visit and hand food to them. They feel warmth and love of Christmas in this cold winter,” she said, adding that the nuns will continue visiting them after Christmas.
New Delhi, India — Catholic nuns are rejoicing in the success of an historic yearlong protest by India’s farmers against federal reforms that deregulated crop prices and opened fields to corporate interests. Many hail the farmers’ stand as the country’s second freedom movement, the first being Gandhi’s.
Sr. Jyoti Pinto, former superior general of the Bethany Sisters in Mangalore and a social worker, applauded the victory of “the longest post-independent struggle in India with the weapon of non-violence.”
India won independence from the British in 1947 after decades of nonviolent protests led by Mahatma Gandhi.
Praising the farmers’ perseverance, Pinto told GSR, “It is an indication that democracy is still alive in India.”
Over the weekend of Dec. 11 and 12, the farmers began folding up their camps outside Delhi, the nation’s capital, after the legislature made good on the federal government’s agreement last month to repeal three controversial 2020 agricultural reforms, drop criminal proceedings against demonstrators and consider adopting minimum crop prices.
Thousands of farmers had camped on the borders of Delhi since Nov. 26, 2020, and more than 700 of them died from the effects of extreme heat, cold and COVID-19. A few took their own lives.
Welcoming the success of “the longest and greatest historical protest in the entire world,” activist and Presentation Sr. Dorothy Fernandes, says farmers “have given a loud and clear message of what is possible if we are united in purpose and not afraid to pay the price.”
Fernandes, the new national secretary of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, an advocacy group for Catholic religious, told GSR that the farmers won because of their “clarity of thought and meticulous organization of people and resources.”
The farmers were led by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, a coalition of more than 40 farmers’ unions formed in November 2020.
Almost 60% of India’s 1.4 billion population works primarily in agriculture, which represents an estimated 20% share of the country’s economic output, national statistics state.
The protests began after the government hastily passed three farm bills claiming to overhaul the country’s agricultural sector and benefit the farmers. The farmers, on the other hand, saw the laws as a ploy to turn over farmland and markets to corporate interests, undermining their ability to make a living.
The protests began September 2020 in Punjab in the north and spread to other states in India. As the government refused to heed them, the farmers came to the national capital. After their entry was denied, the farmers camped at three main entry points to Delhi.
The government and the farmers had several rounds of futile discussions initially. Meanwhile, members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters labeled the farmers anti-nationals funded by overseas Sikh secessionist groups.
The laws also favored corporate control of the production and distribution of the food crops. The traditional farmers, especially from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, opposed them. The protesting farmers attracted national and international support for their demonstration.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the farmers were sharply at odds for a year. Modi Nov. 19 surprised the farmers and others by announcing the repeal of the farm laws while addressing the nation. The parliament followed it up a week later by repealing the laws without debate.
Some state governments announced compensation to the relatives of the farmers who had died on the Delhi borders.
The farmers’ union leaders say they will review the situation Jan. 15, 2022, and relaunch the protest if the government fails to keep its promises.
Fernandes’ forum was among Catholic groups that had backed the farmers, although the official church bodies in India stayed away from the stir.
Fernandes and her forum members came to New Delhi to join the farmers. She says the farmers’ protest has helped highlight “the meaning and understanding of struggle in a peaceful democratic manner.”
She hails their determination and sense of purpose, saying, “Even the loss of lives of their brothers and sisters did not deter them from their goal. Instead, the deaths only strengthened them and encouraged them to keep going.”
Presentation Sr. Shalini Mulackal, a leading woman theologian in India, also had joined the farmers on the Delhi borders on several occasions, after realizing the farm laws were aimed at “changing the way agricultural produce is marketed, sold and stored across the country.”
She says she is convinced that the main purpose of the farm laws was to benefit a few corporate houses in India.
The farmers’ protest, she says, was against “the injustices embedded in the new farm laws” that would have harmed not just the farmers but millions of consumers with big business controlling production and supply.
“I look at the farmers’ protest as a sign of hope. They are the only group protesting against the present government and their policies, which are anti-poor, anti-minorities and anti-people,” says Mulackal, who labeled the dispute a “second independence movement” of India.
The farmers’ victory has enthused Holy Cross Sr. Vijaya Sebastian, a social worker and health care activist in a few northern Indian states and a supporter of the farmers’ actions.
“We have to wait and see if the government keeps its promises. We need the deliverables, not the promises,” says Sebastian, who directs the Holy Cross Consortium with nearly 2,000 members in eight provinces in India.
Another supporter is Sr. Ajitha Mathew, a social worker who manages a movement of women farmers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The member of the Sisters of the Queen of Apostles welcomes the farmers’ victory but remains skeptical about the government keeping its promises.
“I cheer the farmers’ victory after more than a year of protests in the open, fighting scorching sun and freezing winter, and the pandemic,” she told GSR.
Mathew plans to celebrate the victory with her women associates on Dec. 23, which is designated as Farmers Day in India.
Sr. Jofi Joseph in Kerala, southern India, welcomed the end of the farmers’ protest and called for pro-farmer legislation. The member of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel made headlines in September after the Kerala High Court allowed her and 15 others to kill wild boars that destroyed crops. The wild beasts are as damaging to farmers as corporations, she told GSR, speaking in Malayalam.
Priests and brothers also supported the farmers.
“It is a big victory for the farmers, whatever may be the political compulsions for Prime Minister Modi,” says Indian Missionary Society Fr. Anand Mathew, who had joined the protesting farmers in Delhi with other priests and nuns.
The farmers’ victory “is an inspiration and tremendous encouragement for those of us who are on the path of Satyagraha [a form of nonviolent protest, propagated by Mahatma Gandhi],” said the activist priest, who organized a series of protests, rallies and meetings on the farmers’ issue in Varanasi, his base in Uttar Pradesh state.
“We Farm,” a farmers movement in Kerala, welcomed the end to the protest but hinted the farmers will wait for the actual implementation of government promises.
Mulackal says the present Indian government’s policies are “diametrically opposed” to the Gospel values.
“Showing our solidarity with a group that is clearly standing against anti-Kingdom values is the least we can do as Christians,” asserts the nun who said she was privileged to spend time with the protesting farmers.