“TIME IS RUNNING OUT. CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALREADY HERE” – Q&A WITH DILMANI, A YOUNG CLIMATE ACTIVIST IN SRI LANKA
Despite contributing the least to the climate crisis, children will be the most affected by its consequences. Climate change threatens children's futures and lives. As the planet continues to get warmer, children face a variety of challenges that could affect their health, well-being, and quality of life for a long time.
Across the globe, children and youth are leading the fight against climate change through school strikes, online campaigns, habit changes, and spreading awareness.
As we recently celebrated World Environment Day, it is important to recognise children's voices to bring about change, particularly when it comes to addressing the pressing issues of climate change.
We spoke to Dilmani, a 16-year-old Sri Lankan climate activist who is also a part of the Save the Children's Red Alert on Climate campaign. Dilmani shares her thoughts and experiences of being affected by climate change, and how it has inspired her to shape a more sustainable future.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU FIRST BECAME INTERESTED IN ADDRESSING THE CLIMATE CRISIS?
My name is Dilmani, and I am a 16-year-old Sri Lankan climate activist. My interest in climate change began when my community in the Colombo suburbs was impacted by excessive rain and flooding. Even though I had prior experience with climate campaigns, I was exposed to Save the Children through a climate change programme in 2020.
Although physical meetings were prohibited during the pandemic, I was able to participate in a variety of online workshops, conferences, and meetings, which allowed me to expand my knowledge of climate change and its consequences. Conversations with young people from other countries, as well as their campaigns, encouraged me to unite with them to preserve the globe.
HAS CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECTED YOU AND/OR YOUR COUNTRY? IF SO, CAN YOU TELL US HOW IT HAS IMPACTED CHILDREN AND YOUTH?
A flood in 2016 was my first personal experience with climate change. I missed school for a few days as the water levels dropped. I sensed something was amiss. Many of my classmates were also unable to attend school as their neighborhoods were also flooded. Retrospectively, I became interested in climate change action because of this.
In rural parts of Sri Lanka, disasters like floods, droughts, and landslide are occurring. The impact of these events is disproportionately negative on children. Their right to education is being denied. There is no transportation for them to go to school, they are unable to leave their families because of the situation there, and they are mentally challenged to focus on school work.
Additionally, their schools and homes may be damaged. Loss and damage to property, assets and basic needs are the main impacts of climate change in rural areas. They lack basic necessities like water and food, and are denied their rights to education, safety, and shelter.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE CLIMATE CRISIS MIGHT AFFECT YOUR FUTURE?
As of now, Sri Lanka is experiencing unusually high temperatures, which are expected to increase in the next few years. Since hydropower is one of the main ways Sri Lanka generates electricity, we may also have to endure another series of power cuts. There is an increased risk that floods, droughts, and landslide will occur in the future, affecting thousands of people and children in rural areas and developed cities like Colombo.
Children need to be educated to love and protect the environment from an early age. It is important to teach them at an early age that improper garbage disposal, deforestation, sand mining and irregular road construction are not environmentally friendly activities, and that reforestation, recycling, and reusing support community-led climate actions. Thus, a better future is possible.
By bringing awareness to these issues at the school level, I hope to inspire young students to take action to combat climate change and its impacts. I also hope to encourage the development of a more sustainable lifestyle among others.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN CAMPAIGNING FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE AND CALLING ON LEADERS TO TAKE MORE ACTION?
If we don't take action against climate change now, future generations, including animals, and endemic species, are going to be affected, on a much larger scale than they are already being affected. The future, mother nature, and the lives of thousands of innocent human beings and animals are in our hands. We must not let people destroy mother nature and ruin our future.
The climate crisis and its impacts are already being tackled by many young climate activists and young people from all over the world. It is our mission to represent thousands of children and people who have already been affected by climate change! Time is running out: climate change is already here. We must be respectful of nature and help her survive.
IN LIGHT OF WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY, WHAT’S YOUR MESSAGE TO GOVERNMENTS/LEADERS?
My messages for the government are:
- Environmental conservation should account for at least 14% of the annual budget, thus saving nations' power and costs.
- It is important that the education system educates all children about climate change and encourages them to care for the environment.
- Subsidies and assistance from the government should not be extended to projects that cause climate change.
- There should be laws allowing for heavy fines to be imposed on the perpetrators.
In order to protect the environment, world leaders should rethink their position on a budget for environmental protection.
WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE WITH CHILDREN AND YOUTH GLOBALLY TO ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO ADOPT A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE?
We must create a secure future for ourselves. If we don't, who will?
It is crucial that we take action against climate change in order to help people and children suffering from its effects, as well as to save mother nature. By reducing plastic consumption and polythene, planting more trees, reducing electricity consumption, and raising awareness among family, friends, and communities, we can start very simply.
In addition, you can recycle paper, collect plastic pens, and send them to recycling centers. In order to preserve life on earth, we must raise awareness, take action, and invest in our planet.
"The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to earth" -Chief Seattle-