With the Climate Camp in the UK now underway, it is a good moment to reflect on some of the stakes involved in climate change activism. For many people, climate change is an abstract ‘environmental’ issue with little impact on their lives – but there are many people on the front lines who often face a life and death struggle. Such was the story of Sajida Khan, who’s battle was not with climate change per se, but with some of its so-called ‘solutions’.
What follows is a Currents story featured in the latest magazine soon to be in your mailboxes. In it we refer to some videos that feature Sajida and her struggle.
The first video is a shorter version of the documentary Green Gold by Cheekystreak Productions which focuses specifically on Sajida’s story.
The full length docmentary on carbon trading and the World Bank can be found here.
Sajida Khan 1952-2007
Activist dies after long battle against toxic waste dump
South African environmental activist Sajida Khan has sadly passed away on 12 July after a long struggle with cancer. Khan campaigned for over a decade against the Bisasar Road waste dump in Durban - one of the largest municipal dumps in the Southern hemisphere - which she was forced to see, hear and smell every day outside the window of her Clare Estate home. The dump came to international attention when it was revealed that the World Bank was planning to invest in so-called ‘clean development’ financing of a landfill gas capture project on the site. Khan quickly realized that the dump would need to stay open even longer than originally planned in order for the project to generate the desired number of ‘carbon credits’ - which Northern countries would then purchase, and put towards meeting their Kyoto Protocol commitments. As she put it: ‘The poor countries are so poor they will accept crumbs. The World Bank know this and they are taking up advantage of it.’
For Khan and many other residents, this was unacceptable. Having lost her nephew to leukaemia and neighbours who had contracted tumours and other illnesses, she was convinced the dump was partially to blame for their ill-health. That the dump was now getting a new lease of life thanks to the supposedly environmental Kyoto treaty was a bitter irony. With the support of the Durban Network for Climate Justice and others, Khan made contacts with environmental justice activists across the world, learning about similar struggles elsewhere and finding support for her work back home.
She organized petitions and demonstrations, lobbied government officials and provided exhaustive testimony and documentation. She studied landfill economics and relied on her background in chemistry to prepare a 90-page Environmental Impact Assessment that is said to be one of the major factors behind the World Bank’s subsequent decision to pull out of the project. The city of Durban and the South African government are still hopeful that they can attract carbon investment for the dump - something South African environmental justice activists are calling ‘eco-prostitution’.
Thanks to Khan’s diligence and dedication, we are all better informed about some of the dangers of so-called ‘carbon trading’ and ‘carbon offset’ projects, but more importantly of the need not to lose sight of the human dimension of climate change and our own consumption. She will be sorely missed.
Who killed Sajida Khan?" by Patrick Bond and Rehana Dada