After a little over a year, I’m returning to Malawi. I’ve entered the strange, liminal realm of airports, where I’ll remain suspended for the next forty hours. I’d like to reflect on the current crisis in Malawi, where recent flooding has displaced an estimated 300,000 people, killed 276, and affected the lives of more than one million. Instead – even though it won’t be long until I’m in the thick of it – Malawi seems like a distant idea, a dream I once had, or something I read about casually one evening. I remain most keenly aware of myself, of airport terminals, and of the fog in my head.
The idea of connectedness in this world is one that has challenged me with unanswered questions for at least the last dozen years. I hear about the islands of plastic floating around in the ocean, the war for oil, or the deforestation of the Amazon; and I carry on with my life, attempting to live consciously, but often just wandering along in bewilderment. From 1991 to 2001 they cleared somewhere between 415,000 and 587,000 km² of the Amazon. That’s about the size of Manitoba, or Spain. They do this to raise cows. The consequences are extreme and diverse, but what comes most immediately to mind is the disruption of weather patterns, not only in South America but also in far off places.
I believe that connectedness is a beautiful and essential thing. My connectedness to trees in the exchange of air is a beautiful thing. The affection I share with my beloved is a beautiful thing. The way that winter leads into spring is a beautiful thing. But what happens to connectedness when developed nations demand more beef, for example, and less developed nations respond by depleting the world of its rainforests? Consequences are felt, and not most immediately by the developed nations who are the cause of it.
It’s been suggested that the disruption of weather patterns even as far away as Africa is, in part, a result of deforestation in the Amazon. Connectedness in this circumstance seems less beautiful and less fair. When the lunch choices of millions of North Americans ultimately results in the loss of crops, by drought or floods, for millions of Malawians, our unavoidable connectedness then suggests a blatant disconnectedness in our consciousness. The connectedness happens no matter what. A person consuming a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant in Winnipeg, Manitoba is potentially inducing the deforestation of the Amazon, which is certainly affecting the lives of individuals living in that area, and potentially disturbing the weather patterns in countries as far away as Malawi. This leads to loss of crops. Loss of crops in a country like Malawi often results in loss of life.
This is just one possible outcome. Eating a hamburger in Canada doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody in Malawi dies. But the gross consumption of beef globally, does have global effects, including loss of life. We are not always conscious of the connectedness between our actions and seemingly distant and unrelated consequences; but they happen whether we are conscious of them or not. I’m not necessarily advocating for veganism, or a hundred-mile diet, or even necessarily for the complete preservation of the Amazon, but I am advocating that we raise our consciousness, at least enough to understand how our decisions impact the people nearest to us, and hopefully enough to understand how those same decisions ripple out to affect people in other parts of the world. From that place, we might begin to decide whether or not we want to import our foods, consume meat, or protect our forests.
Malawi is facing the worst flooding in their history. This has had an immediate impact on the lives of many Malawians. But what remains to be seen is what will happen next. Even as the rains continue to fall, I wonder how much more land will be destroyed. How will this land be recovered? Beyond those who have died in the floodwaters, how many more will die of Cholera, Malaria, and other diseases? How many will eventually die of starvation? The present moment is connected to the next, and so on, and so on. A year from now, there will be Malawians still recovering from what began a little over a month ago as the season’s first promising rains. A year from now there will be many Malawians who were unable to recover.
I’ll be spending three weeks in Malawi with my friend Samuel Magombo working on the Innovative Development Initiative of Malawi. We’ll be spending time documenting the devastating effects of the flooding as well IDI’s response, not only to the present crisis, but also to ongoing issues of agriculture, hunger, and sustainability. If anyone feels compelled to participate in IDI’s work, donations can be made through Groundwork Opportunities.