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ND Voices: Climate Change a Human Rights Issue


Thursday, August 19, 2021   

FARGO, N.D. -- From smoky air to extreme drought, scientists say the visible effects of climate change are surfacing just about everywhere. In North Dakota, those who provide specific services say it's a threat to basic human needs.

Last week's report from the United Nations provided a grim outlook when it comes to climate devastation, including more frequent droughts.

Currently, 73% of North Dakota is in extreme drought, raising concerns about how crops will manage.

Becky Kopp Dunham, clinical social worker and co-owner of Together Counseling, provides affordable mental-health care for farmers across the region through telehealth. She said such services are already hard to come by in rural areas, and if producers cannot afford it, more could lose access.

"How do you get a farmer or rancher to come in who's being crippled financially and say, 'Spend more money to see me to talk about you being crippled financially?'" Kopp Dunham asked.

She pointed out, thankfully, her business has a special program that uses grants to help cover therapy costs, but she cautioned many farmers are reluctant to seek counseling to begin with, and some might never get the help they need if they're not aware.

Nutrition experts also warn that if climate change disrupts the food production system, healthier options could become more out of reach for marginalized people.

Karen Ehrens, a food and nutrition consultant and advocate based in Bismarck, said last year's supply-chain issues caused by the pandemic, which resulted in fewer options in grocery stores, could have served as a preview to future and more severe shortages linked to climate change.

"When there's less agricultural products produced, usually that means there's less of a supply and the price mostly likely will increase," Ehrens explained. "So then, those with the least resources to buy food are most impacted by higher food prices."

She contended it is important to ensure the region has a variety of thriving producers, so there will be enough locally grown food to withstand an extreme weather event.

Ehrens added the public can do its part by consuming food in moderation, so that it can be spread to those in need.

On a broader scale, the United Nations said climate change can affect a person's right to housing because extreme weather events can destroy homes in vulnerable areas.

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