Adama is severely malnourished, and is a patient along with his 35-year-old mother, Amadou, at a hospital in Bandiagara, in the sub-Saharan African republic of Mali.

The youngster was admitted last month because the circumference of his upper forearm measured less than 10 centimetres (4in). That is about the size of the thick end of a snooker cue, and is within the danger zone for malnutrition in children under five. He was also suffering from diarrhoea and pneumonia, and is being treated with drugs and food supplements, thanks to western aid. Out of the weighing harness, he clings to his mother’s pure white shawl, as she feeds another baby girl to whom she gave birth two days ago.

Like thousands of other children in his region, and millions more across the baking heart of Africa, Adama is not the victim of a natural disaster. His thin limbs,his frightened eyes, his gnawing hunger are testimony to something far more disturbing: an unfolding human catastrophe in which we are all implicated.

His village, Yawakanda, in the parched north of Mali, has been running out of food. The rains have been coming later and finishing earlier each year, and the crops of millet on which the villagers depend have failed. All around the village last week the tall plants were dry and dying, through lack of water.

“We did not receive the last rain, that is why the millet has died,” says the village chief, Suliman Dolo. He is sitting in the shade of the village Togouna, a huge thick thatch on columns of red stone, which serves as town hall and court.

“The women have very short pregnancies, and mothers do not have enough milk for their children, so the children cannot eat,” he says. “We know this problem in Yawakanda.”

As he talks, dozens of children and brightly-clad mothers stand and watch, while the cries of babies mingle with the bleating of goats nearby. Before he answers questions, Dolo gets advice from other men and women crouched in the Togouna.

“Things have changed,” he says. “A long time ago when I was a child, there was more rain, so we could produce more food.” He explains how the extended family groups that used to work together on patches of land, have been forced to split up to find smaller plots with access to water.

Yawakanda is being helped by a humani­tarian project run by the Catholic charity, Caritas, in partnership with Christian Aid. A large dam has been built to conserve water, and women are being taught to grow and dry onions for sale to western markets, to bring in income.

For all this Dolo is grateful, but he still worries about what will happen. “I am really not sure about the future.

I only hope the dam works,” he says, rubbing his huge hand over his face.

His suggestion that the rains are disappearing is reinforced by figures from David Sagara, the director of the project that helps Yawakanda. In the 1970s, about 600 millimetres (23½in) of rain fell every year, but now it is down to around 450mm (17½in) a year.

“The rainy season used to start in May and end in September, but now it starts in July,” he says. Sometimes when the rain does fall, though, it falls harder, washing away soil and causing erosion.

“People expect the climate to change in a traditional way, so when that does not happen they believe God is punishing them for not making the right sacrifices,” he adds.

“We are helping people understand what is happening and to survive.”

Yawakanda’s lifeblood, its river, used to dry up every March, but now it is drying up in December or January. Villagers recount how they used to be able to fill a barn with the milletthey could grow, but now they are struggling to grow enough to feed their families.


Sagara says that people used to be able to predict when it was due to rain by the appearance of telltale plants. “But now that has all changed, so farmers are lost and disorientated,” he says -- and as a result their children go hungry.

The message, he argues, is clear: climate change is a reality, and it is making hard lives much harder. The implications of this are truly revolutionary, African campaigners argue. It means our understanding, language and politics all have to change.

The carbon dioxide pollution that developed countries such as Scotland and the rest of the UK spew into the atmosphere from everything we do, and have done, is making Africa suffer.

The plight of the great continent is no longer a thing apart, a tragic accident of fate that pricks our conscience every Christmas, but a disaster directly caused by driving our cars, powering our homes and filling our shopping baskets.

Christian Aid has invited journalists to Mali to make the point, before world leaders gather in Copenhagen in December to try and thrash out a new global framework for cutting climate pollution. Negotiations in the run-up to Copenhagen, political leaders keep saying, are on a knife edge.

If the summit fails, it is countries like Mali that will reap the consequences. With 70% of its 12 million people living in poverty on less than a dollar a day (about 60p), it is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than one in 10 infants die, and the average life expectancy is 51.

“If Copenhagen fails, it may lead to political collapse,” warns Yacouba Kone, Christian Aid’s country manager in Mali. “Europe will face an influx of refugees. They will have nothing to lose. They will come.”

With the healthy young gone, Mali’s agriculture and trade will disintegrate. “There will be civil war and instability,” Kone predicts. “Democracy will collapse.”

He calls on world leaders to act decisively to cut their pollution and help Africa with funding. “There is a point beyond which you can’t cope and I think that is what we are now facing,” he says.

At a recent meeting in Burkino Faso, African countries, including Mali, suggested they needed in the region of $150 billion (£94bn) to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.The developed countries have not yet responded.

Science supports the African arguments. The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, involving more than 2000 climate scientists around the world, says the average temperature in sub-Saharan Africa rose by nearly half a degree centigrade between 1981 and 1995.

Scientists predict the region will suffer some of the world’s highest temperature increases in the future if developed countries carry on polluting. According to the United Nations, average temperatures could rise by nearly 4° by the 2050s, and rainfall could decrease a further 25%.

As a result the Sahara desert, which borders north Mali, could grow. “This year there were locusts,” says David Sagara. “With desertification comes the sand, and with the sand comes the locusts, and they eat the millet.”

He points out how the changing weather patterns are triggering social dislocation, as well as hunger. The increasing shortage of water has provoked multiple conflicts, with disputes now afflicting one in every three of the dams built to conserve water.

“Sometimes they make protests,” Sagara says. “Sometime they beat each other up, or go to court.”

With increasing shortages of land capable of growing crops, families and communities are breaking up. Asked through an interpreter if there have been killings, he says: “No, not yet.”

Back in the child malnutrition hospital in Bandiagara, another 35-year-old mother, Ada, is nursing her son, Mody. She stands proudly in a bright blue shirt, and answers questions shyly.

Realising her son was sick from lack of food, she walked 11 miles from her village to get to the hospital, despite being heavily pregnant with another child. She is being helped in the hospital by her mother, Kounindiou, 50.

The project that runs the hospital, which is jointly funded by Christian Aid, Caritas and the European Commission, is struggling to deal with all the region’s hungry children. It reckons there are about 1200 malnourished children, but this year it has managed to help only 720.

Asked what she would have done if there had been no hospital to come to, Ada looks at the red earth and speaks quietly, saying: “I would have given the child to the will of God.”


If you want to help Christian Aid’s campaign on climate change, see the

There will be a march to demonstrate support for a safe climate for all in Glasgow on December 5. More details at