Caritas India: The poor and climate resilience
by Alessandra De Poli

Yesterday the #we4resilience conference, a two-day event to understand how to deal with the disasters caused by climate change ended in the Indian capital. The event - held just as COP28 opens in Dubai - was attended by dozens of aid workers, priests and beneficiaries of projects implemented by Caritas together with other partners. The focus was on a comprehensive approach that takes into account the experiences of vulnerable communities.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - A two-day conference organized by Caritas India on climate resilience ended yesterday in New Delhi, in which several representatives of civil society organizations who work with the Catholic organization took part to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized communities are prepared to face environmental disasters and upheavals of various types, such as the increase in epidemics and food insecurity.

In India - and in several other parts of Asia, where extreme events have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years - there is a strong awareness that it is too late to act only on the causes of climate change; for this reason it appears increasingly essential to try to mitigate the consequences caused by various types of calamities and catastrophes.

Often, however, "Asia produces the guidelines, while the resources and means to implement them are in the West", Babita Pinto, head of Caritas India programs, commented to AsiaNews.

The #we4resilience conference - held on 29 and 30 November at the United Service Institution of India in New Delhi, just as COP28, the annual international conference on the fight against climate change, was starting in Dubai - was organized thanks to the support of Caritas of Germany and Australia, and of Misereor, the organization of the German Catholic bishops for development cooperation, even if the donors also differ based on their interest in the various types of projects.

Like many other Catholic organizations or those managed by religious minorities, Caritas, despite the good relations built over the years with the Indian government, may not have its license renewed which allows it to receive funds from abroad, known by the acronym FCRA. Which is why the social arm of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of India has begun to adopt an increasingly locally oriented approach also with regards to fundraising.

Dozens of operators, priests, cooperation and development experts, government representatives and project beneficiaries took part in the event. After the opening prayer and greetings, the first day of work continued with a technical session on "coordinated actions to build resilience", in which several speakers underlined the need for cooperation between those involved in climate resilience and communities interested parties, often groups of farmers, women and indigenous populations.

Ranjini Mukeherjee, United Nations expert on risk reduction, recalled that in the last three years alone, 200 billion dollars have been spent on disaster response, an element that adds to the "climate of general uncertainty in which we live": " The only certain thing about our times is uncertainty,” said the expert.

Jaison Varghese, head of Caritas' global strategy, explained the organisation's approach to building resilience, while some project beneficiaries from the Indian states of Bihar and Assam shared their testimonies regarding the positive impact that Caritas projects have had on the lives of their communities of farmers in one case and of indigenous women in the other.

The subsequent sessions focused on adaptation to climate change (with particular attention to the migration of seasonal workers due to climate changes), food insecurity (which also included the presentation of joint approaches between the public and the private thanks to the presence of representatives of the well-known Indian company Tata), and the collaboration between the various actors of civil society.

Some of the projects supported by Caritas India were presented in an exhibition set up on the lower floor of the venue where the conference took place. Participants were thus able to discover, for example, the Sanjivani programme, which seeks to encourage the cultivation of native seeds among farming families in Gujarat so that adults and children can have access to a healthy and differentiated diet at low cost.

Other stands showed how villages on stilts were built in the areas of India most prone to flooding, so that communities can be safe and protect their sources of income (livestock, seeds and other materials) from the water. of production).

As several speakers underlined during the sessions, the need for a global approach derives from the fact that communities affected by cataclysms and climate change do not analyze their problems in sectors, unlike development cooperation, which often acts on single themes: at the on the contrary, the vulnerable sections of the population, custodians of knowledge that often prove fundamental for building resilience, suffer the impact of various factors at the same time, but lack the resources (in most cases economic) to face the challenges posed by the climate.

However, climate resilience is only one of the sectors that Caritas India deals with, explained  54 years old Fr.Jolly Puthenpura to AsiaNews. The deputy executive director, who is , originally from the southern state of Kerala, opened the conference and brought greetings from the archbishop of Delhi, Sebastian Kallupura.

The Catholic organization also works particularly in the emergency response sector, being able to mobilize aid in any area of the country in a few hours thanks to the widespread distribution of dozens of offices throughout India. 

The priest also recalled that "around 85%-90% of the beneficiaries of Caritas projects are non-Catholic". But it is not important: "We speak the language of the heart", said Fr. Jolly,.

“Pope Francis has also repeatedly underlined with the encyclical 'Laudato si'' and the apostolic exhortation 'Laudate Deum' the importance we must place on the environment. For us it is a question of humanity, this is the principle according to which we try to guide our actions here at Caritas".