All posts by sndden

Asian farmers turn to drones, apps for labour, climate challenges

BAN MAI, Thailand – As a child, Manit Boonkhiew watched his grandparents plough their rice farm near Bangkok with water buffaloes, and harvest by hand. His parents switched to tractors and threshers, while he now uses a zippy drone to spray pesticide in his field.

Manit, who grows rice, orchids and fruit trees on about 40 acres (16 hectares) of land in Ban Mai, is part of a community enterprise that recently acquired a drone under a Thai government programme to digitise agriculture.

Drones to plant seeds, and spray pesticide and fertilisers are growing in popularity in the Southeast Asian country as it grapples with a labour shortage that worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions on movement of workers.

“Labour is the biggest challenge for us – it’s hard to get, and it’s expensive,” said Manit, 56, a leader of the Ban Mai Community Rice Centre farm that comprises 57 members with nearly 400 acres of land.

“With the drone, we not only save money on labour, we can also be more precise. It’s faster and safer, as we are not exposed to the chemicals, and it can help us deal with climate-change impacts such as less rain more easily,” he said.

The Ban Mai community is part of a wider transformation of agriculture in Asia Pacific, where artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are powering smartphones, robots and drones to improve farming techniques, boost crop yields and incomes.

The trend towards data-based precision agriculture and other digital tools is being driven by demographic changes, technological advances and climate change, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“They help farmers produce more with less water, land, inputs, energy and labour, while protecting biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions,” the FAO said in a report at a regional conference on digitalisation in agriculture this week.

“Farmers can optimise yields and obtain major cost savings, enhanced efficiency, and more profitability,” it said.

But agricultural technology – or agri-tech – also poses risks from job losses to social inequities and data governance concerns. The technologies can be costly and hard to adopt, particularly for women and older farmers, experts said.

“In India, there are far more pressing concerns that the government should be paying attention to,” said Nachiket Udupa with the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

“We’ve seen massive farmers’ protests in India on issues like the minimum support price and lack of support from the government. Drones are not the biggest issue for farmers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Worldwide, the rise of cloud computing and AI technologies have popularised the use of big data in numerous applications in agriculture – from irrigation controllers to services that capture and analyse data on the soil, weather and crop yields.

Asia Pacific is one of the fastest growing markets for digital farming information and marketplaces, fintech solutions, and blockchain technologies for food traceability.

But smallholders in Asia largely use only low-cost tools such as digital soil-testing kits and app-based or text-based services for weather forecasting because of cost barriers, skills gaps and regulatory bottlenecks, the FAO said.

Women too, face more constraints in accessing technologies.

In India, the average size of a land holding is less than 2 hectares, which does not lend itself to much mechanisation or digitisation – which are also expensive for most farmers, said Udupa.

There are about 20 million farmers in India who use some technology, a fraction of the nearly 500 million farmers in the country, said M. Haridas, co-founder of DataVal Analytics, that has an AI-based mobile app to provide real-time crop analysis.

“Data makes farming more democratic – even smallholders can access AI and machine learning to improve yields and returns,” he said.

“The biggest challenges are the lack of devices, lack of internet connectivity and lack of training,” he added.

To improve rural internet connectivity, the FAO’s “digital villages” initiative has teamed up with tech firms such as Microsoft and IBM in 1,000 sites worldwide, including in Nepal, Bangladesh, Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam.

“The aim is to use technology to advance and improve agriculture, nutrition, health and well-being of citizens, especially rural populations,” said Sridhar Dharmapuri, a senior food safety and nutrition officer at FAO, noting that this is particularly crucial after disruptions from COVID-19.

“As 4G services expand and 5G services are rolled out, the decreasing costs of smartphones and data are accelerating the adoption of digital tools, including among small holders and family farmers, therefore powering further inclusion” he added.


Despite regulatory hurdles and land fragmentation, the Asia-Pacific region is the fastest growing market for agricultural drones, according to the FAO, driven by local providers, falling prices, and rising labour costs.

Governments in the region are using drones, with satellite imagery, for weather forecasts, disaster management and crop insurance, as well as for monitoring and mapping crops strategic for food security, mostly rice.

In India, so-called kisan drones, or farmer drones, are to be used for crop damage assessment and digitisation of land records, which risks excluding women and tillers who are typically not named in land records, said Udupa.

“Land records are a mess in India – so using drones won’t solve the issue,” he said.

“Drones are largely being pushed as a means of greater mechanisation because there is a perception that farm labour is getting relatively expensive. But for the average small or marginal farmers, these technologies are simply unaffordable.”

In Thailand, the state digital economy promotion agency has, since 2020, given individual farmers a 10,000-baht ($306) grant for agri-tech, while community enterprises get a 300,000-baht grant.

In Ban Mai, a bright orange 10-litre agriculture drone from the agency sits in a black carton, waiting to be used as soon as some farmers get a licence to operate it.

In the meantime, the community has been hiring a drone from one of its members, who bought a 30-litre drone with his savings after battling constant labour shortages on his rice farm.

“A lot of people hire me to spray their farms, because they see how efficient and cost-effective it is,” said Sayan Thongthep, 52.

“I’m going to train my daughter also to operate the drone – it’s a good way to get youngsters interested in farming.”

Dr. Paul Farmer, aka ‘kenosis man,’ emptied himself in love and service to others

Dr. Paul Farmer sits with a young leukemia patient, Marta Cassmand, in Cange, Haiti, in January 2004. Marta’s father, Sanoit Valceus (foreground), had cut a tendon in his hand with a machete and was asking Farmer for advice. (Newscom/PSG/St. Petersburg Times/Daniel Wallace)

In the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 2022, a band of angels and saints, among them some familiar faces, made their way to a humble room in rural Rwanda to bring Paul Farmer home to God. The room was filled with light and peace and there was much joy and rejoicing in the heavens as God’s good and faithful servant entered the kingdom of God.

As the word of Farmer’s death quickly spread around the world, thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life were shocked and heartbroken as they received the news of his untimely passing at the age of 62. Many knew Paul as friend, colleague, doctor, mentor and teacher, and, yes, as a personal hero. Still millions of others knew him through his exemplary reputation.

For his wonderful close-knit family — his mother, Ginny, his wife, Didi, his children, Catherine, Sebastian* and Elisabeth, and his siblings Jim, Jeff, Katie, Peggy and Jennifer — he was just “Dad” or “PJ” or “Bro,” and his death is a searing and irreversible loss.

The news of Farmer’s death has been reported widely in every major news outlet including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and social media feeds in many languages. The accomplishments of his extraordinary life have been reported in detail using words like visionary, genius, humanity’s hero, a radical pioneer, fighter, poet and healer — just to name a few.

I have seen his 120-page curriculum vitae that details his educational successes at Duke University and Harvard Medical School; his exemplary academic, teaching and administration career; his prolific publishing history with a dozen books and hundreds of scholarly articles; and the long list of the many prestigious awards he received over the years, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and most recently the million-dollar Berggruen Prize (which he promptly gave away to the poor and then cheerfully quipped, “I was a millionaire for almost a week!”).

And of course, among his greatest achievements is the amazing nongovernmental organization Partners in Health that Paul founded more than 30 years ago with the late Tom White, and his dearest friends, Ophelia Dahl, Jim Kim and Todd McCormack. Partners in Health provides high-quality health care globally to those who need it most and strives to ease suffering by also providing access to food, transportation, housing and other key components of healing. It established clinics in Haiti and Rwanda and later expanded to Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Sierra Leone and the Navajo Nation in the United States.

I was Farmer’s spiritual director (or as he liked to joke, “his interior decorator”), and I can tell you that even these most impressive credentials pale in comparison to his interior life. To put it quite simply, Paul Farmer was a man of great faith who loved God wildly and with his whole heart, and he set the standard for loving his neighbor as himself.

Paul loved to give nicknames to his friends and even his patients. He affectionally called me his “BFF,” but sometimes his nicknames could be cryptic or could have even come across as irreverent if one didn’t understand the context and the love with which they were used. For example, “pus boy” was a young patient with a severe infection, and “land mine boy” was a young man injured by stepping on a landmine in post-genocide Rwanda — but these nicknames were always with said with an affection that mirrored the tender care he offered his patients.

Since Paul died, the quote from Philippians at the beginning of this essay keeps running through my head. The passage, of course, refers to the way Jesus did not cling to godliness but emptied himself unto death out of love for humanity — an emptying best expressed by the Greek word kenosis. And now “kenosis man” is my nickname for my beloved friend Paul, because he did not cling to prestige or wealth or reputation — no, he emptied himself, each and every day, in love and service to others, especially the world’s poorest people. Kenosis man, indeed.

Dominican Sr. Barbara Reid, president of Catholic Theological Union, told me it was her great privilege to moderate a discussion between Paul and his great friend and mentor Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, to launch their best-selling book, In the Company of the Poor.

Reid recounts, “The synergy between Paul and Gustavo was electric. There were more than 2,000 people at that gathering and most of them lined up to talk with Paul after the panel presentation. He stayed until every person who wanted to talk with him did so.”

That was Paul. I was with him on many occasions as we closed out many venues late at night after book signings or speeches where he stood for hours, for as long as he could, and then finally sat down when his leg — injured long ago in an accident, would start to ache. He always chatted in an unhurried manner with every person who had patiently stood in line to meet him, and now I am so glad for the thousands of pictures of Paul I took with young people — whom he often referred to as “his retirement plan.” I am sure these photos are now treasured relics.

Paul loved to be around nuns and priests and he very much admired Reid for her graciousness and her academic rigor. Sometimes he would say, “Wow! Did she really edit a hundred-volume Scripture series?”

Reid was right on point when she noted, “Paul had a way of making every person he ever met feel like they were among his best friends. He gave everyone that kind of attention, a most extraordinary gift. He truly had an enormous impact on me and I’m sure everyone else who was part of his life in any way would say the same.”

The last years of Paul’s life were very happy. The pandemic gave him long stretches of months at a time at home with his family engaged in ordinary activities — making dinner and playing Scrabble with his children, watching movies, and sometimes grocery shopping and driving his daughter to her swim lessons. He even spent a few weekends away with his beautiful wife, Didi, whom he greatly admired for her work with the Women and Girls Initiative she founded in Haiti.

In between endless Zoom sessions for teaching and meetings, he was able to carve out long hours of silence, of planting in his garden, of sitting at his koi pond nurturing his contemplative leanings. In the past months, I sensed a profound growth of his religious imagination.

He was in Rwanda for the last month of his life doing want he loved best: teaching and seeing patients. The comments and emails that he sent me during the last weeks of his life were filled with pictures of his patients with requests for prayers and updates on their conditions. The last pictures he sent me showed him sitting on the bed with a beautiful little girl named Josiane who was being treated for cancer. He was so happy that he had made her smile.

He had lost a patient just a few days ago, a young man named Faustin. He had sent me a picture of him a few days earlier to ask for prayers and told me there was a “sliver of hope.” He was so sad when he wrote and told me, “We lost Faustin at midnight.”

He sent me a picture of him with Faustin’s father and a forlorn image of four men carrying Faustin’s casket. I told him that his accompaniment of Faustin and his family was a sign of God’s love and mercy.

I was supposed to have been on this trip with Paul, but we put it off because of the omicron situation. When I said I wished I was there with him and asked if he was OK, his response was: “But you are here because you know. I am OK deep down and love this work so much.”

There are so many images throughout the years of Paul with his patients throughout the world — young and old people — many of whom he gave many extra years of life. His love and his compassion for all of humanity is the subtext of all these beautiful photos. Really, is it any wonder that his heart gave out?

Paul loved his work, his patients, his wife and his children, his mother and his siblings, and his many friends around the globe fiercely and unconditionally. Both publicly and privately, thousands of people are grief-stricken by trying to imagine our lives without Paul. For me, I know with great certainty that he is with God, and I actually know, too, that he is happy and in good spirits.

Jesuit Fr. Jim Keenan of Boston College was a great friend of Paul’s for many years and they shared much in common — they were both gifted intellectuals and writers with deeply moral compasses, and an especially an uncommon dedication to their students. When I asked Jim for a comment for this obituary, I was not surprised how he captured the essence of Paul’s spirit.

“From the very first time I met Paul some 20 years ago, I always thought of him as playful; it was that playfulness that made him so accessible. By that playfulness, he made you believe that you were fun to be with. He helped you, wherever you were, to laugh. That playfulness was infectious. He helped each of us to be childlike,” Keenan said.

“I am not trying to romanticize his work or his death,” he added. “To know Paul was to know a man who faced disease and death more than anyone we knew. He was fearless; if for instance, you read his recent book on Ebola, Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds, you knew how incredibly courageous he was.”

“It is said that what makes us vulnerable to one another is when we recognize the child in each other,” Keenan said. “Paul saw the world as a world of children. Against the backdrop of disease, threat and death he wanted the children to flourish. And that was all of us. I imagine he is right now playing with God. And, I imagine, everyone else around the kingdom of God is watching. And they are probably thinking that he’s helping God to feel that God is fun to be with.”

Although I believe that Paul is happy and in good spirits, I also know that for me, and so many others, his passing leaves a massive void. We will miss Paul for the rest of our lives. I pray that we can all dig deep and enter this void with grace and courage by trying to emulate Paul, so we too, might someday laugh with him in the kingdom of God.

What now? For sure, we must go forward with hope and courage — Paul would expect nothing else and, believe me, no one in his orbit would want to disappoint Paul. But I feel I must share some comments that I have received in the three long days since Paul died. More than one person has told me that when they started to pray for Paul, they felt themselves shifting and beginning to pray to Paul.

One of these people, the internationally known Dominican theologian Fr. Vivian Boland, wrote to say: “I was very saddened to read about the sudden death of Paul Farmer. It was one of the highlights of my time at St. Louis to learn about his work and then to have the honor of meeting him. I remembered him and his family at Mass this morning. In fact, I prayed ‘to‘ him and not just ‘for‘ him, believing him to be already among the saints, asking him to intercede for a little girl called Martha, whom I was also praying for this morning: she is just 2 years old and has been living with cancer for practically all of her short life. I hope her recovery might be Paul’s first miracle!”

In the Catholic tradition, we know that one of the signs that mark a saint is when people begin to pray to them for their intercessions. Paul would be the last person who would ever have thought of himself as a saint. He was far too aware of his faults and human failings, and, like most of us, he knew he had many.

He would likely have chuckled and shrugged his shoulders, but then turned serious and said something like, “Hey, if it will make people think how they make a preferential option for the poor and work together to build the kingdom of God in the here and now, call me anything you want.”

Rest in peace, kenosis man. Thank you for drawing all of us closer to the kingdom of God. And please, Paul, pray for us so we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Nuns in Ukraine rescue, escort stranded foreign students to border

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Saint-Marc at Mukachevo, Ukraine, serve food to rescued foreign students before helping them to cross the border. (Courtesy of Ligi Payyappilly)

An Indian Catholic nun and her associates are working round-the-clock to help stranded students and others fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

“God is using me to save people from death in Ukraine,” said Sr. Ligi Payyappilly, the 48-year-old superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Saint-Marc in Mukachevo, Ukraine.*

Payyappilly, who is Indian, and 17 sisters of her congregation are giving shelter and food to the distressed students, besides helping them cross the Ukrainian border to escape to countries including Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

“Being in Ukraine for over 20 years, I have a lot of contacts and networks that helped me carry out this mission so far,” Payyappilly told GSR by phone after midnight March 3, just before her scheduled two-hour sleep. Her convent in Mukachevo in western Ukraine is some 480 miles southwest of the national capital of Kiev.

People helped by Payyappilly’s team profusely thanked the nuns.

“We never thought we would be alive now,” said Vignesh Suresh, a third-year student of medicine who hails Payyappilly as “God’s angel who came to help us when we were totally lost.”

Speaking to GSR en route to Bucharest by train, Suresh said he and 45 other Indian students were stranded at the Polish border for 15 hours when Payyappilly and Sr. Christina Tymurzhina, a Ukrainian, came to help them.

“The sisters took us to their convent in their vehicles, hugged each of us with their love and warmth, gave us food, a warm hall to sleep in and escorted us in the morning to cross the Romania border,” Suresh said as his friends slept on the train.

Payyappilly said Suresh was among about 1,000 foreign students her convent has helped so far.

Other congregations are also involved in rescue operations but they mostly help fleeing Ukrainians, whose numbers have reached more than 1 million, according to U.N. estimates.

Other congregations have shared Payyappilly’s contact numbers with the foreign students stranded at various locations. “Since there were many to support Ukrainians, we opted to help foreign students, a lot of them being Indians,” Payyappilly explained.

Since the start of the war Feb. 24, the Russians have targeted Kiev and Kharkiv, the second largest Ukrainian city, killing at least 752 civilians and triggering mass exodus, according to the U.N. estimates. Unverified reports from the Ukrainian government put the toll at several thousands.

Russia, meanwhile, confirmed March 2 that about 500 Russian troops have died and 1,600 have been injured, National Public Radio reported.

Payyappilly said she could reach out to the stranded students because she knows “every nook and corner” of Ukraine.

India initially helped the rescue operations for about 20,000 Indians, many of them students, through its embassy in Kiev, which was closed as the two cities were targeted. It then asked students to reach the border on their own. Many students have walked at least three days to reach the Polish border, but they were not allowed to cross.

“There were cases of police stopping foreigners from boarding trains to help Ukrainian women and children reach safer locations first,” Payyappilly said, quoting students and media reports. She acknowledged that she could help evacuate the foreign students only because of aid from Ukrainian citizens.

Payyappilly is also a retreat preacher; people throughout Ukraine used to come to her convent and an adjacent retreat center for prayer. “People know me well,” she said.

Many Ukrainian refugees stay at the convent, which they consider a relatively safer place, instead of going to another country.

The Ukrainian government had recognized the contributions of Payyappilly, a native of Kerala state in India, and made her a citizen.

Payyappilly says all her sisters in Ukraine are involved in helping the stranded. “Some work in the field, some cook and others bring the students to the convent and the border in vehicles.” Many arrange for the fugitives to stay at the convent.

Tymurzhina has coordinated several evacuation tasks through her contacts with government officers and volunteers.

“Both of us drove the students to the border, coordinated with the volunteers and the Indian embassy officers at the borders of Romania, Hungary and Slovakia and facilitated their easy passage to those countries,” Payyappilly said.

The superior said about 100 Ukrainian fugitives are staying with them. “We are not sure when they would return to their places,” she said. “But the students stay with us for only a night,” she added.

She said most students reached them in a desperate state. “They had not bathed for many days or eaten food. They were mentally shocked and physically weak. So, our first priority was to give them a comfortable stay before taking them to the border,” Payyappilly said.

Their convent, which is two or three dozen miles to the border with Romania and Hungary, has been so far.

Payyappilly said the sisters are flooded with phone calls from panicked parents after a Catholic website in Kerala published information about their services.

The students have shared the nuns’ hospitality and support through audio and video clips on social media platforms.

In an audio clip to the nuns, the mother of Vishnu Manoharan, a Hindu boy, says she is indebted to them for the “motherly loving care for our children” when they were in deep crises.

She also hailed the nuns as “truly God’s messengers” on whom God’s blessings will remain always.

Meanwhile, Suresh and his team reached Bucharest in Romania and was on the way to a shelter home. He said another convent inside Romania helped them with food, water and immigration procedures. “It was another miracle,” he added.

Payyappilly said once the people cross the border safely, they consider the mission accomplished and look for other lost ones in Ukraine. “So, we never attend their ‘thank you calls,’ but attend only the calls in distress,” she said. “God had saved me from death 20 years ago and is using me now to help others from deaths in Ukraine.”

Payyappilly was severely affected by chronic spinal tuberculosis and was suffering in bed for almost a year until “God touched and healed me.”

She recalls praying almost 10 hours a day before the Blessed Sacrament during her illness. “I have enough strength to attend to many more people in Ukraine now,” she said during the hourlong telephone interview.

The convent in Ukraine was started in 1998; Payyappilly has served there for the past 22 years. Her preaching at retreats has drawn many young Ukrainian women to her congregation. Currently, 15 Ukrainian nuns serve in various ministries.

“We have never done any vocation promotion camps or recruitments, but they came on their own,” Payyappilly said. All Ukrainian nuns are professionally qualified in various fields, she said. The convent also has two more Indian nuns.

New UN report ‘rings the latest alarm bell’ about climate change effects on nature and people

A man collects water from the Athi River near Yathui, Kenya, Oct. 27, 2021. He will use the water to irrigate crops on dry farmland. Erratic climate patterns across the African continent, including droughts and typhoons, are disrupting people’s lives, especially the poor and most vulnerable. (CNS/Fredrick Nzwili)

The picture emerging from this week’s major scientific report on climate change reaffirmed what Catholic development agencies have observed across the globe for years and they say supports their calls for transformational measures to reverse course and limit the suffering.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, on Feb. 28 issued a sweeping report on the present and future impacts of climate change, which it said “has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.” Those impacts have disproportionately impacted the world’s most vulnerable people and systems, it added, and has pushed some beyond their ability to adapt.

Still, the report emphasized that humanity has the ability to change course, and that greater efforts to adapt to rising temperatures can blunt suffering. Each degree of warming avoided can lower the loss of lives and economic and social costs.

“Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” the report authors said.

Prepared by 270 authors, the 3,600-page report reviewed thousands of scientific studies on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. It is the second issued by the IPCC in the past six months; the first focused on the physical science of climate change. A third report, on climate mitigation, will be released in April. All three are part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, prepared to guide governments in their responses to climate change.

The report found that nearly every part of the globe and every facet of society has been impacted by climate change. It estimated more than 3 billion people live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, and millions now face food insecurity due to rising temperatures.

In a statement, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns said the report “rings the latest alarm bell” for urgent action to curb global warming but also respond to mounting loss and damages.

“With a report like this, world leaders cannot say they didn’t know a deadly future is at hand,” said Chloe Noel, the faith, economy and ecology project coordinator for Maryknoll. She added it “exposes what the world can no longer deny — the incalculable loss of life, culture, livelihoods and biodiversity from the climate crisis.”

“How many crystal-clear red alerts on the climate crisis do we need before we take the urgent and meaningful action?” Neil Thorns, director of advocacy for CAFOD, the overseas development agency for the bishops in England and Wales, said in a statement.

Already, the planet has heated roughly 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Government plans to reduce emissions project to hold average temperature rise to 2.7 C — well above the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, which are “well below” 2 C and ideally 1.5 C. Some parts of the globe have already seen temperatures exceed the 1.5 C threshold.

Regions especially vulnerable to climate impacts — such as vast parts of Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and island nations — are often parts of the world facing development constraints and where poverty, governance challenges and limited access to resources are prevalent, the report said.

The authors added that actions in the next two decades to hold temperature rise to 1.5 C “would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems” though not fully eliminate them. For instance, the difference between 1.5 C and 2 C could be 65 million fewer people exposed to extreme heat events every five years.

While effective adaptation is occurring, it’s often uneven, the report said, and more often efforts have prioritized reducing immediate risks over more transformational changes necessary to bend the curve in greenhouse gas emissions downward.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

CAFOD and other Catholic development agencies said the report reinforces the need to meet the 1.5 C goal in the Paris Agreement, and also for governments to prioritize adaptation measures and financial compensation for loss and damages that have occurred.

“Climate change is real for us,” said Bishop Peter Kihara Kariuki of Marsabit, Kenya, in a press release from CAFOD.

Parts of his north Kenyan region face severe drought, he said, and some people walk miles to the nearest water source.

“Suffering from the impacts of climate change, they are now dependent on aid from the church, the government, and NGOs for the basics of life: to be able to eat and drink clean water,” Kariuki said.

The IPCC report stated that Africa, while responsible for just 3% of global greenhouse emissions, faces disproportionate risks, including more than half of excess deaths from climate-related illnesses and far greater exposure to extreme heat compared to other continents.

More erratic climate patterns across the African continent, including droughts and typhoons, are “creating so much havoc on many people’s lives, especially the poor and most vulnerable,” Fr. Germain Rajoelison of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar said in a press release issued by CIDSE, a network of mostly European-based Catholic development agencies.

“Many of them are reaching the limits of adaptation,” he added.

CIDSE called on governments to adopt “urgent and transformative measures” to combat climate change, including greater use of agroecology techniques, increased climate finance and for nations to submit new climate pledges in line with the 1.5 C target.

Noel of Maryknoll said that the U.S., as the largest historical emitter and richest nation, has particular responsibility to lead not just in mitigating climate change by rapidly transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy but also by helping communities and countries that are facing increasing droughts, flooding and extreme weather now.

She added that remaining dependent on burning fossil fuels for energy — the primary driver of climate change — not only puts the 1.5 C target further out of reach but “will continue to fuel violent conflicts, as we are seeing play out around the world today.”

The Laudato Si’ Movement said the IPCC report shows that addressing climate change must go hand in hand with efforts to safeguard biodiversity. The coalition of nearly 800 Catholic organizations encouraged Catholics to sign onto its Healthy Planet, Healthy People petition, a copy of which was delivered to world leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and which will also be shared at the upcoming COP15 U.N. biodiversity conference scheduled for the spring in Kunming, China.

The IPCC report noted that less than 15% of land, 21% of freshwater and 8% of oceans are considered protected areas, and even in those locations, “there is insufficient stewardship to contribute to reducing damage from, or increasing resilience to, climate change.”

The report found that between 3% and 14% of species face “very high risk of extinction” under a 1.5 C scenario, with more at risk as temperatures rise. The authors wrote that “safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems is fundamental to climate resilient development, in light of the threats climate change poses to them and their roles in adaptation and mitigation.”

In a press release issued by Laudato Si’ Movement, Salesian Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the ecology and creation sector for the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the IPCC report “makes painfully clear that the cry of the Earth is at its highest pitch yet.”

“God’s creation is groaning for our help, and God’s creation is ready to help us, but only if we are able to look beyond ourselves and care for our common home as Pope Francis calls us to do in Laudato Si’,” he said.

UN wants faith groups to help work against plastic pollution

A woman uses a net to sort recyclable plastic materials from a dumping site in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 1, 2022. (CNS/Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A senior U.N. official urged religious groups to help reach a global agreement to curb plastic pollution, amid experts warning that single-use or disposable plastics were choking the planet.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, spoke during the interfaith online dialogue sessions on religion and ecology organized by the U.N. body.

The sessions, known as Faith for Earth Dialogue, run Feb. 21–March 5. They are being held alongside the fifth session of the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi. The assembly also will mark the 50th anniversary of the environment program.

“We have a suggested resolution before the member states, for starting a global agreement to end plastic pollution — to reduce the use of plastic from source to sea. We hope UNEA will be that historical milestone as the Paris Agreement was for the climate. And we hope and trust and pray with your strong engagement, you will help get us there,” said Andersen.

According to the UNEP, 1 million plastic drinking water bottles are purchased every minute, while 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Half of the plastics are designed to be used once and thrown away.

Andersen, a Danish economist and environmentalist, said when the faith community is mobilized to act on science, the world shifts.

“The power of faith communities is enormous. It’s worth reckoning with. The power of the faith communities in economic reach is not to be underestimated,” she said.

Recently, religions have joined the efforts to protect the planet, highlighting more strongly the negative impacts of climate change and for the conservation of the environment and ecology. From divesting from fossil fuel to challenging massive oil and gas projects, faith-based groups have led in tree planting and promoted better farming methods to conserve the environment. They also are key educators in environmental protection and conservation.

Officials say this is the largest-ever interfaith dialogue on religion and ecology, with 180 speakers and 20 sessions. It was organized by 94 faith-based organizations representing more than 50 religions from 74 countries. Christian denominations — including several Catholic organizations and networks — Islamic and Hindu faith groups are participating in the discussion.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, former prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the conversations in the online conference underlined Pope Francis’ urgent call to religious leaders and people of goodwill in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’” to care for the planet before it’s too late.

“He (Pope Francis) said I urgently appeal for a new dialogue about how we shape our planet. That’s what we are doing now,” said Cardinal Turkson. He had outlined how the dicastery had developed principles to put the encyclical into practice.

“The dicastery decided to move ‘Laudato Si’‘ to concrete applications and we formulated … the Laudato Si’ Platform,” to encourage the connectivity of all peoples of the world, he said.

The cardinal said the method includes identifying seven actors, then formulating seven goals and establishing in seven years ways to implement the demands of “Laudato Si’.” Some of the actors can include families, parishes and dioceses. Mosques, synagogues, religious places of worship, educational institutions and schools also are invited.

Cardinal Turkson said adoption of new lifestyles is something within everyone’s reach: avoiding single use plastics, avoiding meat consumption, greater use of public transport.

“We know what our Scriptures encourage us to do. The ecology is sensitive, but it’s the time we move from all motivational talks to concrete and measurable programs and actions,” said the cardinal.

The Faith for Earth Dialogue is seeking to demonstrate the power and potential of faith-based organizations and faith leaders in shaping discussions at the UNEA as well as engaging in dialogue with other stakeholders, including governments, organizations, cities and businesses.

“Religions must — this our responsibility to respective religions and traditions — care for God’s creation. There is a critical fundamental obligation,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.

Climate change to make world sicker, poorer: UN report

The report warns if warming exceeds a few more tenths of a degree, it could lead to some areas becoming uninhabitable [Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

Climate change is likely going to make the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and way more dangerous by 2040 with an “unavoidable” increase in risks, a new United Nations science report has said, warning that there remained only “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) study on Monday said if human-caused global warming was not limited to just another couple tenths of a degree, an Earth now struck regularly by deadly heat, fires, floods and drought in future decades will degrade in 127 ways – with some being “potentially irreversible”.

Delaying cuts in heat-trapping carbon emissions and waiting on adapting to warming’s impacts, it warns, “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.

Children today who may still be alive in the year 2100 are going to experience four times more climate extremes than they do now even with only a few more tenths of a degree of warming over today’s heat. But if temperatures increase nearly two more degrees Celsius from now (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit), they would feel five times the floods, storms, drought and heatwaves, according to the collection of scientists at the IPCC.

Already, at least 3.3 billion people’s daily lives “are highly vulnerable to climate change” and 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather, the report said.

Large numbers of people are being displaced by worsening weather extremes. And the world’s poor are being hit by far the hardest, it said. More people are going to die each year from heatwaves, diseases, extreme weather, air pollution and starvation because of global warming, the report added.

How many people die depends on how much heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas gets spewed into the air and how the world adapts to an ever-hotter world, the scientists said.

“Climate change is killing people,” said co-author Helen Adams of King’s College London. “Yes, things are bad, but actually the future depends on us, not the climate.”

By 2050, a billion people will face coastal flooding risk from rising seas, the report said. More people will be forced out of their homes from weather disasters, especially flooding, sea level rise and tropical cyclones.

If warming exceeds a few more tenths of a degree, it could lead to some areas becoming uninhabitable, including some small islands, said report co-author Adelle Thomas of the University of Bahamas and Climate Analytics.

And eventually in some places it will become too hot for people to work outdoors, which will be a problem for raising crops, said report co-author Rachel Bezner Kerr of Cornell University.

Following the release of the report, UN chief Antonio Guterres blasted world powers for a “criminal” abdication of leadership.

“Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now,” said Guterres.

“This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”

Africa’s innovators turn to tech to tackle transport woes

An electric OX truck drives past cyclists carrying heavy loads in Nyamasheke, Rwanda. September 14, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Handout via OX.

DURBAN, – After a minibus taxi driver threatened to throw her out on the street for asking him to slow down as he raced down the highway, South African nurse Lebogang Matjila scoured the internet for a safer, cheaper way to get to her patients.

When she found Planet42, a rent-to-buy car company that said it would help her eventually own her own vehicle, she thought it sounded too good to be true.

“I had been scammed once before, but I filled in my details and applied online because desperation can do that to you,” said the 42-year-old mother of two from Pretoria.

“Some may say it’s just transport, so it’s not so important. But you can only say that in South Africa if you don’t care about your safety,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

About 33% of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population has access to public transport, in contrast to 75% in Europe and North America, according to United Nations statistics.

To help people get around safely and affordably, Africa’s innovators are looking to technology, from a data-driven company that helps South Africans with bad credit buy cars to an app-based truck service delivering potatoes and more in Rwanda.

“Transport is a very important piece in the puzzle of people accessing jobs, feeling included and realising their potential,” said Planet42 founder Eerik Oja in a video interview.

Using algorithms to detect applicants who have been “unfairly ignored by banks”, the social enterprise has helped put some 8,000 insured cars on the road in the past five years, Oja said.

Planet42’s machine learning tracks thousands of public data points from credit bureaus – such as credit scores – to calculate who is eligible to rent a car from them and eventually buy it at a reduced cost.

“As we get more data, we get better at determining which customer is a good risk to take, so we can actually keep lowering the price of our service,” said Oja.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed tens of thousands of South Africans into arrears, he said, adding that those are the kinds of “blacklisted” customers Planet42 can help as they try to rebuild their credit scores.

For Matjila in Pretoria, it was unpaid store credit from her student days that destroyed her score and left her unable to get a loan, even after she had paid it off.

Since getting her car, she said her income has doubled as she is able to travel to more patients every day.

“There are so many other blacklisted South Africans stuck without solutions and without safe transport,” she said.

“Tech solutions that they can access from their homes or phones could change their lives, too.”


Transport inequality – the unequal distribution of travel resources such as cars or public transport – reinforces socio-economic divides while impacting livelihoods and safety, transport researchers say.

In Africa, vulnerable groups living in informally developed urban areas on city peripheries can face long, pricey and often dangerous journeys to work, according to a 2020 report by research financing group Volvo Research and Educational Foundations.

While Planet42 focuses on car ownership to advance what it calls the “democratisation of mobility”, OX, a new truck company in Rwanda’s Western province, is helping small business owners move everything from cows to coffins.

Launched in March 2021, OX allows customers to rent a spot in one of their eight trucks on a pay-as-you-go basis, all coordinated through an app managed by the driver.

For many of OX’s customers, previous options for moving their stock were bicycles, donkeys or porters, which limited how much and how fast they could sell.

The company has gained more than 300 customers since its launch and is growing 40% month-on-month in terms of revenue and volume, said managing director Simon Davis, adding that one customer – an animal feed supplier – has tripled his sales since he started using the service.

“If you move stuff, you make more money,” said Davis. “If you make more money, you can afford to access healthcare, send your kids to school, look after yourself … all byproducts of economic progress.”


As in the rest of the world, mobile phone use is rising in Africa, driving a surge in apps designed to help people get around their cities safely and cheaply.

By the end of 2020, more than 45% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population subscribed to mobile services, with nearly 20 million people signing up just in the previous year, according to telecoms lobby group GSMA.

“We’re seeing a massive increase in ride-hailing platforms for motorcars and motorcycle taxis,” said Sam Clark, head of programmes at transport charity Transaid.

In Uganda, where research published in the journal Transportation Planning and Technology estimates there are half a million motorcycle and three-wheeler taxis, SafeBoda uses an app to link commuters with trained and reliable drivers.

Female riders interviewed by the researchers said they felt safer not having to negotiate prices with drivers and being able to identify and track their drive on the app.

But tech solutions are no silver bullet, warned Clark, citing poor connectivity in rural areas and noting that half of the African population still has no access to a smartphone.

More work needs to be done to make regular public transportation more accessible to everyone, he said – and that includes more investment in infrastructure and more women in senior roles.

“Many of the decisions concerning service delivery are made by men, for men,” said Clark, whose work at Transaid includes efforts to boost female leadership in transport.

“When more women are part of the decision-making process, greater consideration will be given to the needs of women as passengers.”

For nurse Matjila, filling in that online application has meant she can now choose whether to be a passenger or drive her own car, which has made her feel safer, increased her income and lets her spend more time with her family.

“To be honest, it changed my life,” she said.

Sisters in Africa debunk myths and educate people to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Sr. Dr. Lucy Hometowu, a member of the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, educates the parishioners in Ho Dome, a town in the Volta Region of Ghana. She is also the COVID-19 vaccine campaign coordinator of her congregation’s medical team. (Damian Avevor)

Accra, Ghana — It is noon, and Elijah Nayoo takes his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Akrofu, a town some 84 miles northeast of this country’s capital. His decision to get vaccinated followed a massive education and awareness campaign by religious sisters that encouraged him and thousands of others to get vaccinated against the virus. Nayoo received the vaccine at Mater Ecclesiae Hospital in Akrofu, run by the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church.

Before, Nayoo believed that the vaccine was unsafe and had severe side effects on human bodies, thus vowing never to take “the jab,” as it is referred to in many African countries.

“I couldn’t believe that one day I would receive the COVID-19 vaccine because I have always had a negative perception about the vaccines,” said the 36-year-old father of two, who works as an accountant in Accra. He got his first dose at the end of January.

Religious sisters in the West African nation of over 31 million people have been working hard to debunk COVID-19 vaccine myths that are rampant, ranging from denial that the virus exists to various false side effects. As of Feb. 16, just over 15% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

“I am thankful to the sisters for their key intervention towards containing the pandemic,” said Nayoo, explaining that through the education he received from the sisters, he has been able to speak to his family members and friends to take their jabs, which they have willingly received without any fear or panic. A sister who is a nurse administered the vaccine. “The campaign messages changed my mind, and that of other people to avail themselves for the vaccine,” he said. The information provided by the sisters was important in “demystifying the myth about the negative effects of the vaccines.”

Sr. Lucy Hometowu, superior general of the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, said vaccine myths in Ghana and other African countries had led many citizens to forego vaccinations as virus cases and deaths are rising fast in the continent amid a fourth wave of infections.

“We have undertaken educative campaigns to demystify the myth surrounding the vaccines,” said Hometowu, who is also an obstetrician and gynecologist. “Our sensitization campaign helped increase the number of people who went for the jabs and got vaccinated with Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.”

Hometowu said that when they launched the Catholic Sisters COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors Campaign, meant to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, people were reluctant to get the vaccine despite the government’s efforts to ensure there were enough doses in the country.

The campaign led by the Conference of Major Superiors of Religious in Ghana in collaboration with the Vatican COVID-19 Commission is to create awareness, educate, sensitize and undertake advocacy on vaccine safety and adherence to the protocols. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a U.S. charitable foundation established in 1944 by the hotel entrepreneur, sponsors the initiative. The foundation provides grants to nonprofit organizations in seven program areas, including its Catholic Sisters program for the education and training of Catholic sisters, and to support their human development work in Africa, the U.S. and other regions globally. (The foundation is a major funder of Global Sisters Report.)

Hometowu said the sisters all over the country are using the Vatican toolkit of consistent and factual communication strategies for the campaigns to “combat misinformation and disinformation related to COVID-19 and ensure accurate information is distributed about lifesaving vaccines.”

“The campaign being undertaken by hundreds of sisters from various congregations in designated areas is to complement the government and the National Catholic Health Service

COVID-19 response,” she said, noting that 800 sisters are participating in the campaign.

COVID-19 response,” she said, noting that 800 sisters are participating in the campaign.

The vaccination education effort by Catholic sisters in Ghana is also happening in other African countries.

In March of last year, the Catholic Sisters Initiative at the Hilton Foundation partnered with the Vatican COVID-19 Commission to aid the church in mitigating the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 virus in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Religious sisters in the four countries started campaigns to encourage millions of citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The sisters’ initiatives to educate and encourage people to get vaccinated as the best means to fight the virus have paid off. Thousands of people have availed themselves at various centers run by the sisters to receive the vaccine and avoid contracting the deadly virus, said Sr. Jane Wakahiu, associate vice president of program operations and head of the Catholic Sisters program at the Hilton Foundation.

“The project has been very successful. Thousands of people have accepted taking vaccines because they have seen religious sisters themselves taking the vaccines, and nothing bad happened to them, which is a success for me,” said Wakahiu, a member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis.

Wakahiu said the foundation allocated $10 million to the program so that sisters working in health facilities can be imparted with knowledge about COVID-19 and vaccines and disseminate the same message to the communities they serve. The campaigns involved sisters going to homes of vulnerable people, slums, rural communities and market centers, and the mobilization of community leaders, churches and mass media.

“The reason for us starting this initiative [Catholic Sisters COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors Campaign] was to advocate and educate people about the vaccine because people had a lot of myths,” she said. The program has since been expanded to other countries including India, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Therefore, the sisters needed to provide clear education about the vaccine to reduce hesitancy. The other thing we needed was to increase the vaccine uptake so that more people can take in the vaccine, and this is in line with the Catholic social teachings to reach out to the most vulnerable and most poor who could not access the vaccine.”

In Ghana, for example, between Dec. 18 to Jan. 14, sisters convinced more than 1,700 people to get the vaccine. Ghana has administered over 12 million doses of coronavirus vaccines so far.

“Through the education and advocacy by the sisters, the people had a change of mind and were vaccinated,” said Sr. Mary Consolata Ntenye of the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, who works with Hometowu. “The government, politicians and health professionals in Ghana have put in much effort and resources in procuring these vaccines for the nation, and as citizens, it’s our civic duty to get vaccinated to protect ourselves and others, our families, friends, loved ones, coworkers and above all to bring an end to the pandemic in the world.”

In Zambia, religious sisters have carried out a vaccine campaign that has helped reduce severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. The program under the Zambia Association of Sisterhoods, or ZAS, umbrella started in June 2021, targeting 1,200 healthcare providers, including Catholic nuns and citizens.

The southern African country of over 18 million people has administered about 2.5 million doses of COVID vaccines so far, with about 9.8% of the population fully vaccinated. Sr. Astridah Banda, a member of Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, said the sisters had contributed a lot to the number of people who have been vaccinated in the country. Many people had been hesitant to take the vaccine because of a lack of adequate information on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, she said, adding that the sisters raised awareness among members of the general public to come out and receive the jab.

Banda, the project coordinator of ZAS, said she has been running a show on Radio Maria: Yatsani Voice, dubbed the “COVID-19 Awareness Program,” to share critical health information about the pandemic and also dispel vaccine myths in the country.

“Through our influence, community members have been vaccinated, and because of that, I have seen many of our colleagues get the vaccine, and it’s good that the response is so far overwhelming as people are now proud to state publicly that they are fully vaccinated,” said Banda, who is also a social worker by profession.

In Kenya, sisters through the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya, or AOSK, have been raising public awareness and fighting myths around COVID-19 vaccines through radio broadcasts, presentations, asking priests to include information during Masses, and the distribution of printed materials to reach around five million people.

The East African nation of nearly 54 million people has administered more than 15.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and 13.5% of the population is fully vaccinated. Since the launch, the AOSK has worked through 80 sister-run health facilities with 240 sisters across the country to reach out to millions of Kenyans.

“The vaccine uptake has increased in our hospitals,” said Sr. Regina Nthenya Ndambuki, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Mombasa, who is also a nurse and a psychological counselor. “Before, some of our health care (facilities) could only vaccinate 10 people a day, but nowadays the number has gone up to 50 to 70 in a day.”

The East African nation of Uganda has experienced a low rate of vaccinations due to myths and misconceptions about the effects of vaccines. In a country of over 45 million people, it is estimated that roughly 5% of citizens have been vaccinated. Religious sisters have intensified the vaccination campaign to increase vaccine uptake.

Meanwhile, the foundation’s goal has also been to train and prepare sisters who work in the health care systems in the various countries to deal with other future pandemic and non-communicable diseases.

“We didn’t want sisters to come together just for the COVID-19 crisis,” said Angelique Mutombo, senior program officer, Catholic Sisters (Africa) at the Hilton Foundation. “We are very aware that there are also noncommunicable diseases that sisters could be working on, like high blood pressure, diabetes among others,” she said.

Mutombo said registering a network of religious sisters working in every country’s health care system would help sisters swiftly respond to any other type of pandemic in a coordinated way to protect life on the frontlines without being at risk.

“Our whole idea was to bring the sisters who work in the health care system into a network to respond to future pandemics in a very coordinated way,” she said.

UK cost-of-living crisis reveals ‘hidden’ child poverty

A woman and children cast their shadows as they stroll in the sunshine on the Southbank in London, Britain September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON, – Kim dreads her children’s birthdays. When her son recently turned 11 she gave him a chocolate bar and a card – with food and fuel costs sky-rocketing, it was all she could afford.

The family’s north Wales home gets bitterly cold in winter, but heating remains a luxury.

Kim’s four sons – among 4.3 million British children living in poverty – walk round the house bundled in layers of clothing, dressing gowns and blankets, clutching hot water bottles.

“I try and make it out to be an adventure to them. But it’s not an adventure for anybody. They’re cold,” said Kim, whose husband lost his job as a builder six months into the pandemic.

Poorer families, already squeezed by years of austerity, are struggling more than ever as food prices surge – and things are set to get even tougher in April when energy bills soar by 54%.

Anti-poverty charities have called for urgent fixes to the country’s welfare system, saying growing numbers of families are being forced to choose between eating and heating, while parents like Kim skip meals so their children get enough.

“It’s shocking. We’re in 2022, living in an advanced country – apparently, but we’ve got families where people are starving,” Kim told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Inflation hit 5.4% in December, a 30-year-high, and could top 7% in coming months – welfare benefits will only rise 3.1% in April in what is the world’s fifth richest economy.

A likely increase in housing costs and a looming tax hike to help fund the country’s struggling health and social care systems will only add to the pressure.

The boss of budget supermarket Iceland, Richard Walker, made headlines recently when he said his stores were losing customers to food banks and hunger, amid rising food prices.

Kim, 37, used to cook everything from scratch, but is now reduced to feeding her children “cheap, processed crap”.

“That’s the only way I can describe it because it’s not food,” said Kim, who asked not to use her full name.

For two pounds ($2.70) she can put chicken nuggets, noodles and tinned beans on the table. Cooking a roast chicken with vegetables would cost more than four times that – money she does not have.

Kim and her husband miss most meals, surviving on toast.

It pains her to see the children missing out.

“Birthdays are heart-breaking,” she said. “What kid wants to open nothing on their birthday?”


More than 31% of children in Britain were living in poverty in 2019/2020, up from 27% in 2013/14.

But the latest data predates COVID-19 and the jump in costs, which charities say have tipped yet more families into hardship.

Even before the pandemic, the numbers in extreme poverty had soared. More than a million households, including 550,000 children, experienced destitution in 2019, up 35% since 2017, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Child poverty rates are particularly high in single-parent homes, larger families and those from ethnic backgrounds.

Single mother Jo Barker-Marsh, 49, who lives with 12-year-old son Harry in the northern city of Manchester, said child poverty remained hidden in Britain with many families sliding into hardship after relationship breakdowns and job losses.

Ten years ago, she was a filmmaker earning a good salary. But as a single mother raising a son with special educational needs, she could not resume a full-time career.

She took a part-time cleaning job, but lost it as the pandemic struck.

“There’s shame and humiliation that comes with poverty,” Barker-Marsh said.

“People think they’re better than us. They accuse you of scrounging.”

Poverty is not only exhausting but physically painful, said Barker-Marsh, who like Kim has reduced what she eats.

“The cold radiates from the centre of your being. Because you can’t eat enough food, your body doesn’t operate properly. You go to bed freezing and wake up in pain.”


Kim and Barker-Marsh are part of a project called Covid Realities, spearheaded by the universities of York and Birmingham and the Child Poverty Action Group charity, which has charted the lives of low-income families during the pandemic.

A report published last month called for major reforms to the social security system, branding it “unfit for purpose”.

The government was praised at the start of the pandemic for temporarily boosting Britain’s Universal Credit welfare payment by 20 pounds a week, but it withdrew the top-up in October.

Anti-poverty campaigners want it restored urgently.

Dan Paskins of Save the Children UK said some European countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, had much lower child poverty rates.

This was largely due to better childcare support, so more parents were able to work, and higher welfare payments.

Britain, however, has seen significant cuts to social security in the last decade and is one of the world’s most expensive countries for childcare, Paskins said.

The Conservative government has rejected accusations of doing too little, pointing to measures worth 12 billion pounds to help struggling households and a 9-billion-pound package to counter rising energy costs.

But the massive hike in fuel prices, which will add hundreds of pounds to household bills, triggered further outrage this month after energy giants unveiled multi-billion-pound profits.

Some politicians have called for a windfall tax on their gains to help families facing fuel poverty.

Barker-Marsh said the higher bills meant she would have to sell her home, and accused energy suppliers of “dancing on the bodies of the poor”.

“My son is sick of being cold,” she said, her voice breaking.

“I’m really, really angry right now. There are so many of us. But no one is listening.”

‘They pray all day long’: How religious sisters are helping people in need amid the Ukraine conflict

Religious sisters in Ukraine deliver supplies from Caritas. | Private archive.

For Sister Franciszka Tumanevych, the first day of the full-scale Russian invasion was the most difficult.

The 42-year-old member of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth told CNA that fear spread in Zhytomyr, the northern Ukrainian city where her convent is based, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to attack on Feb. 24.

“It was a shock, panic broke out. People were lining up for food, medicine, gasoline,” she recalled.

“But everything calmed down in the evening. Then the next day, we understood that we had to learn to live in war conditions, and we took up concrete work. For if you remain idle, it’s terrible. Now, we keep praying.”

Ukraine is an Eastern European country of 44 million people bordering Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Since Russian forces began their advance, more than 368,000 people have fled Ukraine, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have fought fierce battles in the north, east, and south of the country. Facing military setbacks and international condemnation, Putin told defense chiefs on Feb. 27 to put Russia’s nuclear forces on “special alert.”

Zhytomyr came under attack on the same day, when a Russian ballistic missile fired from nearby Belarus struck the city’s airport.

Tumanevych, who was born in the city, graduated in psychology, gained a doctorate in canon law, and served in the diocesan ecclesiastical court. Before this month’s Russian offensive, she organized meetings for families and worked with the Catholic charitable organization Caritas-Spes.

She is one of three sisters at her convent. The Caritas-Spes center where the sisters used to work is now closed, so they spend their days praying and making sandwiches for the city’s civilian defenders.

Tumanevych said that there was a great spirit of solidarity in Zhytomyr, which has a population of more than 260,000 people. The sisters have received phone calls from locals offering transportation and other forms of help. When Tumanevych went to donate blood for Ukraine’s wounded, she found more than 100 people waiting in line, so she vowed to return another day.

While performing their daily tasks, the sisters seek to pray constantly.

On Feb. 16, a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine, the sisters in Zhytomyr connected with 25 families through the videoconferencing app Zoom. Afterward, they decided to hold a communal prayer every evening.

“Now more and more people are joining for the rosary. Yesterday there were already 72 families, as well as our sisters from America, Italy and Great Britain,” Tumanevych said.

“And at the end of the rosary, we say that we can now go to sleep because sisters from America are taking over the duty,” she added.

Many local parishes host perpetual adoration, while priests hear confessions from morning to night.

The sisters pray the rosary especially for the conversion of President Putin, who was born on Oct. 7, 1952, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Tumanevych said that her mother, with whom she is constantly in touch, prayed as many as seven rosaries a day.

The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth was founded in Rome in 1875 by Franciszka Siedliska, a Polish blessed also known as Maria of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

The congregation, which is dedicated to education and ministry to families, has six houses in Ukraine. But one was forced to close shortly after the invasion began. The two sisters in Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine, had to flee their convent and are making their way to Poland, where more than 150,000 people from Ukraine have sought refugee since Feb. 24.

In the besieged capital city of Kyiv, the congregation has a community of seven sisters. They have taken refuge in a church basement, where they are caring for around 100 people forced to evacuate their apartments.

“The sisters are with the people all the time,” Tumanevych said. “They pray all day long, and one of the nuns from the convent in Kyiv has lost her voice because they constantly pray.”

Although shops are closed, the sisters have been able to buy blankets and disposable plates. They also provide food, but fear it could run out.

The sisters continue to dream of life after the war. They hope to open a dormitory for female students that would help young women to discern whether they have vocations to marriage or religious life.

Tumanevych said: “I’m staying. This is my country, and I will defend it. With the rosary and sandwiches, and everything that can be done in these conditions.”