COP26: UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emtithal Mahmoud calls for urgent global action in new poem highlighting impact of climate change on humankind

Emtithal (Emi) Mahmoud, world champion poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, shooting her poem Di Baladna, which is about the devastating impact that climate change is having on humankind, particularly on refugees.   © UNHCR/Andy Hall

  • World champion poet, Emtithal Mahmoud performs and releases new poem at COP26 to highlight how the climate crisis is a human crisis, particularly for refugees and those displaced.
  • Emotive poem highlighting discussions with refugees living on the front lines of the climate crisis in Bangladesh, Cameroon, and Jordan.
  • Released today, a video version of her poem, visually bringing her composition to light:

Glasgow — World champion poet, Emtithal Mahmoud released an emotive poem today 8th November, bringing awareness to the devastating impact that climate change is having on humankind, particularly on displaced people. It coincides with her attendance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, this week at which she is representing refugees around the world in her role as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and as a former refugee herself.

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.

Today and tomorrow, Emi will be attending COP 26 , speaking on several panels, and performing the poem at multiple events in the Presidency Programme. She 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 specifically address the devastating consequences climate change is having on refugees and vulnerable populations. 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 which is a region increasingly affected by climate change, but also learning to adapt and affect 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 voices of the over 82 million people forcibly displaced around the world. Emi wants to use her poem to emphasize the human toll of the climate crisis which needs to be addressed now.

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future.

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 worshiped 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 defines 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.