Ruairidh (Rory) Waddell was driving back from a food distribution site in western Zambia when he spotted a young boy walking along the road with his grandfather.
The two had just come from the food distribution site. The young boy was carrying a container of cooking oil. And with one hand on the boy’s collar, the grandfather, who is blind, was carrying a 100-pound sack of maize on his head.
Waddell, who works as the country consultant in Zambia for World Renew, stopped to offer the family a ride. As he drove them home, Waddell heard a story that gave him an example of the debilitating dimensions of the ongoing drought ravaging that part of southern Africa. It also reflected wider-impact issues that play a role in causing the lack of rain.
“The man told me he made a living by weaving rope from tree bark and making mats and other things from reeds,” said Waddell, who has worked for nearly a decade in different roles across Zambia.
“But because of the drought, farmers couldn’t afford to buy his rope to make halters for their ox carts, and fisherman couldn’t afford to buy material for their nets because the area where they fish had dried up.”
Rains have become increasingly erratic in Zambia, especially in the western part of the country, as the result of an unusually warm, two-year El Nino weather pattern.
Currently World Renew, in conjunction with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the United Church of Zambia, is providing food assistance to 4,500 households at 13 sites in the district of Mwandi. That means more than 38,000 people are receiving food.
A portion of the food is coming from elsewhere in Zambia, where World Renew works with farmers who so far have not been severely affected by the drought, said Waddell. Purchasing food locally reduces transportation costs and supports Zambian farmers.
When the drought finally breaks in Mwandi, the grandfather is confident that he will be able to get back to his business. In the meantime, like so many others in that part of Zambia, he is struggling, said Waddell.
“His is not a story of complete deprivation, but he and his family couldn’t survive without our intervention of food,” said Waddell, who has a bachelor’s degree in law and a dual specialty master’s degree in international and community development.
The son of missionaries from the Church of Scotland, Waddell grew up in Zambia. His wife, Fiona, is an Australian missionary serving with the Uniting Church of Australia. They have two children, Lucy and Cora.
Waddell has recently been in North America, speaking to groups about his work and the needs of the people in drought-stricken Zambia. Last week he spoke to a group at the Burlington, Ont., office of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
While some in the CRC are aware of changes in global weather patterns and their impact on people in poverty, there are still many people, inside and outside the church, who aren’t, said Waddell.
In North America, he said, he has been disturbed by the lack of awareness that the general population seems to have over how their prosperous lifestyle affects others.
“There is little understanding or acknowledgment over how the over-reliance on fossil fuels is having an enormous impact on the people I work with,” said Waddell.
“Some people can argue and debate climate change, but I see every day that our farmers have to deal with a new reality that wasn’t there before.”
Drought, he added, has a wide-ranging impact on Zambian society, ranging from domestic abuse that occurs in families who are hungry and under pressure, to the development that young women are being married off at younger ages so that their family home has one less mouth to feed.
“The drought puts incredible strain and tension on people in so many ways. . . . I see this as a justice issue—how climate change is afflicting the least among us the most,” said Waddell.
Only change at the government level to push for alternative and cleaner sources of fuel, and thus to cut the amount of climate-changing carbon going into the atmosphere, can make a difference, said Waddell.
Waddell said he realizes that individually it can seem hopeless and overwhelming to foster significant change.
But “collectively, by having more awareness, we can make better choices, and that can matter,” he said.
Still, “the real impact will have to come from advocating for governments to implement policies regarding renewable energy,” said Waddell.
At Synod 2012 the CRC adopted a Creation Stewardship Task Force report that describes causes of climate change and calls church members to take part in doing what they can to address the issue.