Are We Eating Our Young?

01/02/2014 10:47 am ET | Updated Mar 04, 2014

Refugee International reports that a Kiribatian man tried to convince a New Zealand court recently to make him the world's first climate change refugee. Kiribati is an impoverished group of Pacific islands and among the most vulnerable islands to climate change and rising sea levels. He did not succeed, but many experts predict a growing number of similarly displaced people seeking asylum because of global warming. There is too little drinkable water, fertile land, clean air, food, and the planet's supplies are steadily shrinking. We are hoarding what we can and destroying those in our way.
 
Valuable resources such as oil, fishing areas, minerals, mines, and even illicit drugs have become a violent crossroads for old ethnic rivalries, international money, and a survivalist mentality. The result is a threat to a global and local economies. Corporations will eventually run out of poor populations to harness, foreign resources to exploit, and regions free of violence in which to operate efficiently and safely. Local leaders are battling fiercely to control access and power and ethnic divisions are stronger than ever. Above all, the future of this planet, our youth, are experiencing challenges more likely to be identified with the Middle Ages than a post-modern world. 

The displacement of young people is producing experts in arenas that were once little known but are now all too central to society. Siddharth Chatterjee works at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) since 2011. A former Special Forces officer in the Indian Army, he is a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School for Public & International Affairs at Princeton University. In South Sudan, he negotiated the release and demobilized 3,551 child soldiers from the Sudan People's Liberation Army. This demobilization of child soldiers was the first program of its kind during an ongoing conflict.  

Unfortunately, ethnic conflicts like those in South Sudan are likely to increase and reappear in direct proportion to the decrease in availability of vital resources. CNN reported recently:

The South Sudanese government and military, dominated by the Dinka ethnic group of President Salva Kiir, is fighting rebels allied with former Vice President Riek Machar of the Nuer ethnic group... At stake for now is control of oil-rich regions responsible for more than 95% of the country's economy, and perhaps leadership of the country.

In the first two weeks of violence, tens of thousands of people to seek the protection of United Nations forces. The high stakes involved with oil production as well as South Sudan's gold, copper and possibly uranium resources, brought international pressure for what is, no doubt, a very uneasy cease fire.

Chatterjee writes for Forbes and reports:

millions of children are caught in a viscous cycle of armed conflicts and are exposed to the most egregious forms of violence, deprived of health care and an education. [...] There were 11,420 children killed in Syria between March 2011 and August 2013. Among them, 389 were killed by snipers, 764 were executed, and 100 were tortured.

Why target children in these battles? They are the future of a society. Destroy them, and you destroy the culture. Yet, despite the compelling arguments for protecting the future generation, there is little escape for them. 

The magnitude of the challenge can be overwhelming. Canadian high school student, Chelsea Liu, describes the feeling for the American Diversity Report:

I recently came across an article titled "Millionth Child Flees Syria" on Yahoo News. The picture under the headline was one of a young girl, with dark circles under her eyes, staring hauntingly at the camera... In the West, perhaps in Canada, she would be going to school in a few years, wearing nice clothes and hanging out with friends. But she's in Jordan, sitting in a mobile home at a refugee camp. She's wearing a blue blanket, and her candid expression shows nothing but distrust for everything that has come her way. And you could hardly blame her... Every time I read an article like this, I feel the need to start an awareness campaign, donate to a charity, etc. But then comes another article, with a similarly horrid issue in need of fixing. In ninth grade, I often found myself lost in trying to do too many things, and yet not knowing what to focus on.

There is a growing apathy and antipathy stemming from a shortage of resources, abundance of violent conflicts, and an overall economic squeeze. How can any country, never mind individual, hold back the tidal wave of refugees over time?  And while the children refugees tug at our heart strings, how can we feed them and provide clean drinking water? Egypt deports Syrian and Ethiopian refugees, Singapore deports Indian nationals, and National Turk magazine reports on Saudi Arabia, "Thousands of Egyptians, Indonesians, Malaysians and others have been flown out of the country as the Saudi government seeks to create jobs for local people by deporting some of the estimated nine million foreign workers."

No region is exempt from the challenges of diminishing resources and growing needs. The United States narrows its borders with Mexico, the richer nations in the European Union struggle with the influx fleeing the poorer member countries. Trucks and boats of the poverty-stricken attempt life-threatening escapes from Haiti, the Central African Republic, and other countries decimated by war or natural disasters. They often die in the attempt or end up in make-shift refugee camps that resemble hopeless prisons without adequate food, water, plumbing, or shelter. 

The calls for help are many. Chatterjee asks:

Will 2014 be the year to protect children caught in armed conflict?  We start a New Year in January 2014, filled with hope and happiness, eager to see a better world where Human Rights and equality are advanced. Yet, in another part of our world we see the compelling misery and despair.

 

It's time to recognize that compassion can alleviate, but not resolve.  Yes, humanity leads to acts that make a difference.  However, there is simply not enough money or resources to counteract the massive dislocations we are seeing.  Increasingly, our compassionate acts are like band aids, more temporary and less effective every year.  How else can we use our humanity to magnify our efforts, to change the trajectory of the destruction of our children, our future?  

Let's address the root causes of this "devour-our-young" syndrome.  We must create enough food and drinking water for the planet's population instead of killing each other to survive. Fast-forward current attempts to clean the water and build urban agricultural options. Focus on developing alternative fuels and renewable energy, to power us beyond the fossil fuels that are poisoning the air we breathe. Require international companies to invest more of their profits in the impoverished populations that produce the oil and minerals they extract. Otherwise, the violence engendered by the ongoing depletion will only increase and swamp us all.

No longer can we turn a blind eye to the global impact of natural disasters.  Yes, it is humane to contribute food and clothing for those affected. However, we should anticipate the need to relocate vulnerable populations where ocean levels have already risen to dangerous levels. Step up plans for the next disaster on islands at sea level or low lying coastal cities like New Orleans. Design whole cities that can withstand changing weather patterns.  Many worthy experiments for a sustainable world are emerging, but 2014 should not aim simply for a path to the future. We need massive investment in a high speed railway to a new world. 

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