She is just 15 like Maria, a Standard Eight pupil at Demera PrimarySchool in Salima who often goes to class hungry because her family did notharvest enough. Ordinarily, Greta Thunberg’s agemate would have been completingsecondary school by the time she sits Primary School Leaving Certificate ofEducation (PLSCE) examinations later this year. However, the rural girl haslagged because she twice stopped going to school because she was learning on anempty stomach.
For years, Maria’s family has not yielded enough maize to feed her and her siblings due to persistent drought and pest attacks. The harvest has been shrinking. According to Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, there are almost three million Malawians like her who face hunger as the new growing season begins.
At her school, Maria and her peers scramble for porridge rations credited with improving enrollment, performance and education attainment in hunger-stricken areas.
Greta, from Sweden, is enraged that world leaders and policymakers are not adequately tackling a familiar cause of the plight of communities like Maria’s.
Several months ago, the Swedish teenager started school strikes to demand bold action against neglect that fuels climate change.
On Monday, she and her father, Svante, arrived at crunch climate talks underway here in Katowice, Poland, with a revolutionary call for nearly 25 000 in attendance.
Sitting next to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, she declared: “We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.
“We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. We can longer save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to be changed.”
Such is the teenage’s passion who urges the youth to revolt for greater climate action and ambition.
“Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” says Greta whom Tawonga Mbale, the director of the Environmental Affairs Department in Lilongwe, described an embodiment of the role young Malawians can play if adequately empowered to understand how climate change endangers their future.
On Tuesday, Greta told journalists at the 24th conference of parties (COP24) to the United Convention on Climate Change to stop brainwashing the youth that football is more important than the devastating effects of climate change.
Back to basics
She spoke of encounters with most leaders who know “what they should be doing”, but hardly do the basics” because they cannot win votes by taking action to protect the planet.
When asked about the role of young people in the fight against climate change, she stated: “We need to hold them accountable and make them realise the mess they have created.
“The youth must educate themselves to understand what the climate crisis means and its effects on humanity. If the media continue portraying football as more important than the climate crisis, then people will grow up thinking climate crisis is less important.”
Greta is a great-grandchild of Svante Arrhenius, the 19th Century scientist credited with alerting humanity that its carbon emissions would heat the planet.
She first heard about climate change or global warming when she was eight, she said.
She achieved global notoriety when she began a solo school strike for climate. The uncompromising confrontation with Swedish politicians has inspired hundreds of school strikes around the world under the hashtag #ClimateStrikes and # FridayForFuture.
In an interview at COP24, the director of environmental affairs said to young Malawians, Greta is a face of empowered young citizens stepping up to demand bolder action to tackle catastrophes caused by climate change.
“The main lesson Greta offers young people in Malawi is that they are not leaders of tomorrow, but leaders of today. We all have a role to play to reduce effects of climate change. If the youth make it part of their lives, they can make a difference in their homes, communities and country,” she said.
Call for action
The German Watch ranks Malawi the world’s third most vulnerable country, but not many young Malawians seem aware of the immensity of the “climate crisis”.
“The Department of Environmental Affairs in partnership with the Malawi Institute of Education have reviewed the curriculum to ensure every Malawian learns the impact of the global phenomenon at a young age,” said Mbale.
In Malawi, the climate crisis mostly strikes in form of chronic flooding, drought as well as the drying of lakes water bodies, including Lake Malawi, Lake Chilwa and Lake Chiuta. The drying of Mpira Dam in Ntcheu has left taps dry in Balaka and Ntcheu districts.
The worst climate catastrophe struck in January 2015 when devastating floods affected 1.1 million people, displaced 230 000 and killed 176 in 15 districts. Troops deployed to rescue survivors in the Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa found a woman giving birth while trapped by floodwaters. This “gender calamity” is one of the highlights of the country’s position paper presented at COP24 in Poland.
Bright Kumwembe, the chief director in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, arrives in Katowice this week to lead the country’s delegation in high-level political negotiations for greater funding for least developed countries haunted by effects of climate breakdowns.