For hour after hour, the train hurtled west. This was my third night of travelling, spending my days in beautiful, exotic cities and my nights sleeping away the great north Indian plane. But this morning I would be reaching my farthest point west in this round trip of Asia, the shimmering sapphire blue city of Jodhpur. Standing sentry on the edge of the great Thar desert, the indigo houses of Jodhpur form an iridescent robe clinging to a steep rock, crowned by the mighty fort of Mehrangarth, the Citadel of the Sun. Deep in Rajasthan, the Land of the Kings, this was the kingdom of Marawa , the Place of Death. At the laying of the foundation stone, Tehrianarchi, Lord of the Birds, had cursed it (or rather, stated the plain truth), declaring that “Mehrangarth will always suffer a shortage of water”. He wasn’t wrong.
So as the train driver set the controls for the heart of the sun (ish), and the temperature soared to 45ºC, so I watched the land slowly parch. The paddy fields and crops, dotted along the train line like fat fruit ripening on a vine, withered and fell away. The trees that provided much needed shelter and something to tie your goat to thinned to nothing, leaving the goats, themselves increasingly rare, to wander in search of wilting scrub.
Yet the one thing that did not seem depleted was the population. Still so many people seemed to live here, without agriculture providing food or employment, and water shipped in by lorry – why? “It wasn’t always like this”, said a local travelling companion. “a generation ago, there were forests, and the land was rich. We cleared the trees for farms, but when the trees went, so did the rain.”
Travelling through the cities and lands where Servants works, during the hot, pre-monsoon season this year, everywhere, amongst the usual concerns of grinding poverty, there was another theme. Everywhere, people were worried about the weather. Everywhere, it was the hottest hot season ever. Here, the rains hadn’t come, there they came early. Everywhere, people were discussing environmental: How to compost on a hot roof; whether the allotment would flood… or scorch; how to remind locals of sustainable agriculture in the face or urbanisation; locals discussing lost land, learning and lifestyles; fear of unpredictable and increasing floods and typhoons; a window box garden in a dusty slum.
Everywhere, it is the poor who will be hit by what is now the inevitable reality of global warming, who will be left without land, water or livelihood. This summer, we saw the devastating first stages of what is to come, throughout Asia and Europe. I myself had to flee the flood waters in Oxford , as many millions did around the globe. Here, structures are in place to protect us, to a degree, but still it is the poorest in low-cost housing on cheaper floodplain land that are hit. For the poorest of the poor in Asia and elsewhere – as they hurtle in desperation towards the western-style progress that may help bring about their own demise – the effects are devastating.
As Servants to Asia ‘s Urban Poor – and to the poor elsewhere – we have to begin to look for answers to these issues. And I believe that we may already have some. In serving the poor, we have to address the causes of poverty. In celebrating creativity – and the creativity of God- we uphold the value of the world around us and our vital role as stewards. In prioritising simplicity, we stand against the rising tide of mass development, corporate greed, rampant capitalism and hungry consumerism behind the problem. In working through community, we gain the critical mass necessary for change. We, like that train, may be hurtling headlong into Marawa, the Kingdom of Death. But in a world of droughts and floods, we must bring a river and a kingdom of life
[Miriam Hadcocks: Servants UK]