19 April 2023 — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) recognises the critical role that the environment plays in supporting thriving communities. Earth Day highlights the urgent need to protect our planet and its resources, as conflict and economic instability provide a feedback loop to environmental degradation, which exacerbates displacement. Communities that contribute the least to the causes of climate change are bearing the brunt of extreme weather worldwide.
The IRC is committed to addressing the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable people and communities through programs in places such as the United States, Central Africa, and Pakistan, focusing on adaptation, building resilience, and emergency response:
United States - New Roots
New Roots is a national food and urban farming initiative that aims to help refugees and immigrants in the United States establish a foundation in their new communities through agriculture and food-based initiatives. New Roots provides participants with access to land, tools, and training to grow their own culturally familiar fruits and vegetables, as well as opportunities to sell their produce at local farmers markets. Refugees and immigrants are able to earn income, improve their health and nutrition, and build social connections with their neighbours.
Eugenia Gusev, the IRC’s senior technical advisor for food security and agriculture:
"New Roots is not just about growing food, it's about growing communities. By engaging immigrants and local partners in urban agriculture, food markets, and youth food justice programmes, New Roots is helping to build a more sustainable and equitable food system.
“Gardening helps people provide for their families, build new jobs and life skills, and gain unique pathways for integration. New Roots is creating a new generation of food and climate leaders who will be equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
“Anyone can participate in New Roots, regardless of citizenship status, but the programme has emerged from the strong farming and food cultures of refugees. By supporting urban agriculture, New Roots is mitigating climate change and building stronger, more resilient communities across 12 U.S. cities."
Chad: Cotton production and land restoration program
A four-year programme in the Lake Chad basin in Central Africa, with the IRC in partnership with the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance and LVMH, aims to address the negative impact of climate change while supporting sustainable cotton growing as a major source of income for local communities.
Approximately 80% of Chadians work in the agricultural sector, and cotton is a major cash crop that requires water to grow. In support of the country’s efforts to regenerate land and boost cotton production, the programme will support sustainable cotton farming and plant 520,000 indigenous trees across 4,800 hectares of land around the lake. Through local farmers’ associations, it will also support other agricultural value chains like timber and fruit farming, while facilitating access to markets.
Ali Amadou, the IRC Chad deputy director of programmes:
"The Lake Chad basin is facing the devastating effects of climate change, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on its resources. To combat this challenge, solutions that address the root causes of environmental degradation should be prioritized while supporting the local communities that depend on the region's resources.
“Sustainable cotton growing not only provides a vital source of income for farmers but also has the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change by promoting responsible land use practices. By adopting these pilot methods in the Logone Occidental and Lac provinces, we can reduce water usage and prevent soil degradation, while also protecting fragile ecosystems. At the same time, we can ensure that local communities have access to fair prices for their cotton and are able to continue to support themselves and their families.
“This programme aims to create a better future for all - one that is more resilient, more prosperous, and more sustainable for generations to come."
Building disaster resilience in Pakistan
Increasingly, many of the crises that the IRC responds to are caused by the negative impacts of climate change and augmented severity of natural disasters. The devastating floods in Pakistan last summer submerged a third of the country, causing loss of life, displacement of populations, damage to infrastructure, and disruption of agriculture and other economic activities. The impacts of these floods have been particularly severe for vulnerable populations, such as women and children, who are often disproportionately affected by natural disasters.
Shabnam Baloch, the IRC’s country director for Pakistan:
"The International Rescue Committee recognises that responding to disasters is not enough, and that practical measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of disasters and increase resilience to shocks.
“To build resilience, the IRC provided skills training and materials to over 1,500 male and female farmers on climate-smart agriculture and conservation agriculture-based technologies and practices. We also distributed vegetable seeds and poultry packages to women, while working with partners to provide quality seeds and establish demo plots for seed multiplication. Farmers were provided with quality agricultural inputs and training to grow vegetables for commercial purposes, while an innovative concept of high-value off-season vegetables was introduced in targeted areas.
“These initiatives not only helped poor households increase their income but also involved villages and communities in the development of hazard and resource maps, risk management plans, early warning systems, community response mechanisms, and disaster risk reduction. By working with communities to increase resilience to shocks, the IRC is helping to build a more sustainable and secure future for vulnerable populations."