Emtithal Mahmoud calls for urgent action in new poem highlighting the impact of climate change

World champion poet, Emtithal Mahmoud performs her new poem at COP26 to highlight how the climate crisis is a human crisis, particularly for displaced people.

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©UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

World champion poet, Emtithal Mahmoud released her new poem at COP26, bringing awareness to the devastating impact that climate change is having on humankind, particularly on displaced people. 

Emtithal, known as “Emi”, wrote the poem Di Baladna which means Our Land in Arabic, following a series of discussions with refugees living on the front lines of the climate crisis in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Jordan. The individuals she spoke to represent millions of displaced and stateless people around the world who are currently living in climate vulnerable “hotspots” and adapting to an increasingly inhospitable environment, despite the limited resources. 

Emi is calling for urgent action from States to include vulnerable communities most in need of support in all possible efforts to curb the devastating humanitarian consequences of the climate emergency. 

Mahmoud commented, “We must act now; swiftly, tangibly and decisively in full collaboration with people on the ground to support and bolster their ongoing efforts to combat climate change. Regardless of our background and existing situations, we all have a duty to protect one another and our future generations.” 

Calling out to the world for action, Di Baladna opens from the perspective of Mother Earth, describing the damages she has endured and the negative impact this has on mankind. The poem then switches to first person to address the devastating consequences climate change is having on refugees and vulnerable populations specifically.  

Di Baladna reads: “At 11 years old, I saw my neighbour’s house crumble before my eyes … our country was already locked in turmoil and now the earth began to purge us too.” 

Released today by UNHCR, a video version of Di Baladna features Emi walking through Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan, a region increasingly affected by climate change, but also learning to adapt and effect change. Having engaged with those whose lives have been negatively impacted by climate change and witnessed these effects, Emi is using this video and attending COP26 to amplify the voices of the over 82 million people forcibly displaced around the world. Emi wants to use her poem to emphasise the human toll of the climate crisis which needs to be addressed now. 

Di Baladna 

By Emtithal Mahmoud 

If you are reading this, I forgive you. 
You have grown far from the heart of me, my child 
have lost the familiar love we held for one another 
in your first years of life. 

When you were young, you marvelled 
at the plants and critters that ran across 
my bosom, you worshipped the water, 
swam up and down my rivers, 
drank from my rain, laughed at each first snow, 
begged for sun on the cloudy days.  

You didn’t hesitate to sink your fingers 
into the mud of me and tickle loose little pebbles, 
droplets, seedlings, and worms 
how you built a refuge for every wayward wanderer, 
lining the kitchen shelves with jars 
of lighting bugs and butterflies. 

You drank the breeze from my trees, 
the honey, sap, gum, with joy and ease 
How you came to me 
resting your head at my tender hearth 
your weary body in my pockets – 
you loved me. 

You nurtured me before you knew 
what it was to nurture, 
tended me before you knew 
what it was to tend, 
tiller, sower, farmer, 
green thumbed little one— 
you knew me. 

Lately, you hurt me, 
you break and cut 
and tear into me 
and I forgive you. 

For I am a part of you, 
like your brothers and sisters before you 
and those who are close to me now, so I forgive you. 

I forgive you again for the reaping you do 
with no intention to sow 
again, for the waste and greed and gluttony. 

When you were young 
you asked me why they do this, 
once brothers and sisters staining the earth 
with the blood of your people 
shaking apart the branches of your family tree, 
you losing ground and hope 
all in one fell swoop you turned to me 
resting beneath the shade of date-palms and magnolias, 
you begged me to make sense of it all. 

All I could offer you then was a promise 
that wherever you would go you would find me 
But now there isn’t much left for me to promise 
They’ve dug pits into my sides, 
have stolen the rubies, gold, and diamonds 
Maya placed in my thighs. 

I do all I can to heal but my weary body 
can’t clear away the hurt so easily 
My waters rush but do not soothe, 
the air in my lungs suffocates the little ones. 

I cough and spew and gush and bruise, 
and it will not heal— 
when a child of mine dies by my hands. 

Here in the long-forgotten valleys of your youth, 
visitors come not of their own accord 
but by necessity and I am made whole again 
Abdulghani and Izdahara sink their hands into the mud of me, 
saplings cling and I am whole again. 

Hatem builds monuments to my skies, 
captures the sun, channels the lightening, 
and I am whole again. 

Luka and Layatu fill their homes with fruit born of me, 
the children eat and grow and are healthy, 
and I am whole again. 

Osman protests 
It isn’t mine alone to mend he says 
I need you 

To build and build again to make new 
to bring forth life from relentless earth 
making an oasis from charred terrain 
creating refuge from only scar tissue 
and lightning strikes 

Let me be more to you than just a final resting place. 
Let me do more for you than call you home. 
Child of mine if you are reading this, 
I need you. 

— Your Mother 
 If this land could speak, would she thank us, praise us, 
would she ridicule us, or beg us? 
would her voice be weary, gentle, disdainful? 
Would it shake with sorrow, with rage? 
I used to wonder about these things all the time.  

At 11 years old, I watched my neighbour’s house 
crumble before my eyes 
The flood waters washed away the earth and clay 
most people used to build their homes 
To see her wade through her home like that, 
to watch her try to salvage what little she had left 
Our country was already locked in turmoil 
and now the earth began to purge us too. 

If you could stop the next tornado from hitting your home, 
the next hurricane from wiping out your city, 
the next drought from starving your people, 
the next lightning strike from ending your life 
wouldn’t you?  

The locusts in the Horn of Africa, 
the floods of South Sudan, 
the ice in Chicago, 
the fires in California, Australia. 
The threat of rain that won’t stop 
or rest, that won’t come. 

We are at the precipice of possible change 
A turning point that can and will define us. 

Fire or ice, how will the world end? 
I don’t know and I don’t want to find out 
not in our generation, and not in the next. 

For more information on climate change and disaster-related displacement, please visit our website.  

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