Lifestyle, Okology

Guardians of the Earth, victims of climate change

Paradoxically, although the potential of saving the planet is in their hands, it is the indigenous communities of the world, that are most affected by global warming generated by the industrialised countries.


Miriam Valero

While a section of the earth’s population consumes without measure, contaminates with its industries and contributes every day to the planets worsening situation, there is another part of the world that has been protecting the world’s ecosystems and environment for thousands of years.

The 370 million plus indigenous people that live in the natural and virgin regions of the earth are the principal victims of climate change, without having contributed to it, and at the same time they are the fundamental guardians needed by the planet to slow global warming and recuperate a harmony with the planets resources.

According to the United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the indigenous communities occupy 20% of the earth’s surface. The settlements are often located in areas abundant in natural resources and are considered to be the lungs of the earth, areas that counterbalance the ‘white man’s’ overexploitation of other areas.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation for the United Nations (FAO) approximately 80% of the world’s existing biodiversity is found in the territories where these settlements are found.

Through their way of life, the indigenous peoples have managed to conserve the natural areas in which they live without damaging the ecosystems.

However, while their ecological footprint appears to be invisible, generally, the analyses of the effects of climate change leave them in the margins.

Research is centred on the consequences for the planet and the environment, but does not pay attention to the socioeconomic effects, of which the indigenous communities are both the principal witnesses and victims.

In recent years, these groups of people have seen their subsistence being affected by droughts, rising sea levels, changes in the health and behaviour of insects and alterations of age-long crop cycles.

Although international organisations such as the United Nations affirm that climate change “is already placing the existence of indigenous people in danger”, the international community rarely thinks of them.

However, it is the indigenous who possess the knowledge of the environment and some groups have developed their own methods of confronting climate change

Change the Amazon

It is in the forest of this South American region where climate change is most evident. The Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world, is gradually being transformed into savannah by tree felling.

The deforestation and separations of sections of the forest in this region of Latin America is noticeably diminishing the number of trees, which impedes the absorption of the carbon into the atmosphere. This is how changes in the climate and seasons are produced. Causing severe droughts in the area, which affect the 400 different indigenous communities that live in the rainforest.

According to the non-governmental organisation Survival International, the indigenous community Yanomami of the Brasilian Amazon, has reported that the pattern of rainfall of the forest has changed.

Other Amazonian indigenous groups convey in studies how the droughts and rising temperatures are gravely affecting their crops, and that the heat continues until a much later hour during the day, which inhibits germination in agricultural plantations.

This directly affects the ability of these communities to feed themselves, leading them to begin to lack the basic foods necessary for survival. On the other hand, the wild animals with which they live, and which they protect, are also beginning to behave differently.

For example the indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon Rainforest live at a calculated distance from the mosquitoes that carry malaria, a distance that due to the change in temperatures and subsequent change in the mosquitoes’ behaviour has decreased making it more difficult to prevent and treat their bites.

It is also surmised that other illnesses derived from high temperatures are growing and worsening health: Cholera, malaria, Dengue fever, respiratory and intestinal illnesses as well as other new conditions that are appearing.

In other words, the habitat of the indigenous groups, their daily life and health, and the ecosystem that surrounds them has been disturbed. This is proof of the damage from climate change to the Amazon, the rainforest, and to the entire population: to the green lung that regulates the world’s climate.

Arriving at Perú

The indigenous communities that reside in the Peruvian Andes are also seeing how their territory is one of the most affected by the rising average temperature of the world’s surface: what most worries the 5800 indigenous communities, and the other 9 million people that live in this country in the Southern Cone

According to information from the FAO about climate change in this area, one of the greatest impacts is the magnification of the effects of “El Niño” a climatological phenomenon found in Peru and other South American Nations, which each year generate climates with pronounced floods and droughts. In recent years the floods and severe droughts have ended the lives of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of millions of rural dwellers.

The region’s water has also been compromised. The increase in the world’s temperature puts the ice caps in danger and as they thaw, water is supplied to the altiplano (higher plains), and when the ice has completely thawed, there will be no water left.

In the worst case scenario the communities will lose their self-sufficiency with regards to food, which they have had for centuries.

The melting of the ice caps, will also affect the atmospheric circulation, which regulates the rhythm and frequency of snowfall and precipitation. It is estimated that by 2050 that the available water in Peru will be reduced by half.

The Ancestral Role

Many of the indigenous communities of the world are already finding solutions and have adapted to the new climatic terrestrial characteristics, through which they can take on a fundamental role aiding the global adaptation to climate change.

The FAO has documented that in Peru, the indigenous people have discovered how to survive and feed themselves during the unprecedented frosts which usually only planted potatoes could weather.

In Honduras, the communities developed a way to evade the loss of crops by the growing number of natural disasters in the area. They began to sow seeds beneath trees, allowing the roots of the crops to anchor themselves more firmly into the earth for later collection.

Likewise, in other regions of Central America, South America and the Caribbean, agricultural crops are being moved to new locations which are less susceptible to adverse climatic conditions.

For example, the indigenous people of Guyana, have started to relocate and leave their homes in the savannah for forested areas in times of drought. They have also begun to take advantage of the alluvial plains, which are usually too humid for crops, by planting cassava, their primary food.

Unfortunately, the international community does not choose to profit from this knowledge, to the contrary, it attacks it. Survival International has denounced the international community for this very reason in a report which points to Brazil, where bio fuel crops, which are the much vaunted weapon against pollution and fossil fuels, are being planted in much of the ancestral earth of the indigenous people, particularly in the terrain of the Guarani.

It is estimated that if we continue at this pace, 60 million of the indigenous people will lose their land and ancestral crops, which until now they have conserved the areas, under the premise that the international community is fighting against climate change.

(Translated by Oliver Harris)

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