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How does climate change affect indigenous communities?

While the consequences of climate change have caused much controversy in recent years, there is little mention of its impact on one of the most vulnerable communities on the planet: indigenous peoples.

Most of these communities live in rural areas and are settled on territories used and occupied by their ancestors. They maintain a self-sufficient economy, which allows them to obtain food and supplies for housing, transportation, medicines and other resources. As a result of climate change, increased rainfall and drought are having a serious impact on indigenous food and household supplies.

According to World Bank data,

"in 2010 there were about 42 million indigenous people in Latin America, representing almost 8 percent of the region's total population."

They have made the least contribution to the problem of climate change and the greatest contribution to the ecosystem in the process of combating the impact of climate change, but have suffered the most serious consequences.

Via: Dwayne Reilander [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Indigenous communities and their importance in relation to biodiversity

Although it is taken for granted that care for the environment is made from the decisions made in large cities, indigenous communities play a key role in environmental conservation. They are the ones who live in the territories and know every dynamic that develops in them. Organizations such as the United Nations have repeatedly recognized that indigenous communities conserve 80% of the most biodiverse territories on the planet.

In addition, it has been recognized that indigenous communities have had preventive practices and techniques for adapting to climate change since their ancestors. For example, in Honduras, where hurricanes are frequent and climate change is increasingly present, the Quezungal people have developed an agricultural method that requires crops to be planted under the trees to "fix" the root crops and reduce losses during hurricanes.

It is important to value the knowledge, practices and institutions of indigenous peoples to ensure better management of natural resources. The combination of conserved natural environments with high biodiversity and an ancestral understanding of resource use has enabled them to meet their basic needs.

With the will to safeguard, conservation mechanisms such as the Convention on Biological Diversity have been created. This convention understands the importance of the participation and knowledge of indigenous communities to curb climate change.

A threat affecting indigenous communities

As global warming itself implies temperature changes around the globe, imbalance at the poles and more forest fires with more fire intensity. This impacts the entire planet in general. However, indigenous communities are among the most vulnerable to suffer from the threat of climate change in their own homes.

The reasons for this increased vulnerability are simple. Indigenous communities are affected because their habitat areas are in full contact with biodiversity and the vast natural regions of the countries.

Indigenous people live in vast natural territories that depend 100% on the natural resources found there. Water, food, housing, everything revolves around the environment where they live. And, due to climate change, this natural balance has been disrupted and threatened by environmental conditions that cause a commotion. The threat to the territories is a violation of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Communities most affected by climate change

Indigenous communities such as those living in the Arctic have been threatened in their ability to obtain food locally, due to the current melting rate at the pole. This causes wildlife to migrate to other regions leaving the area empty.

In communities such as the Amazon in Brazil, indigenous people have had to move to new territories. This was necessary due to intense forest fires. The biggest problem of this phenomenon is that it has been demonstrated that they are born due to human and commercial causes of landowners who want to exploit these lands.

Other communities, such as those living in the high Andean zone of South America, have seen their access to water deteriorate due to droughts in some streams and the disappearance of glaciers that used to provide water to these areas.

Who is at the forefront of the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples?

  • Patricia Gualinga

Patricia Gualinga is one of the voices of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador. She defends the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous human rights and is the leader of Foreign Relations of the Kichwa People. She has been fighting for more than twenty years against extractivist policies that destroy this region of the world.

Her leadership has contributed to the struggle of the Kichwa People of Sarayaku for the protection of the Living Forest in their ancestral territories. She filed a landmark case before the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) that ended in 2012 and currently faces other threats such as oil extraction projects by Chinese companies in their territory, and the long-standing conflict over the exploitation of the Sacred Bobonaza watershed.

Patricia is known nationally and internationally due to her ongoing work in defense of indigenous peoples' rights and the call she has made to amplify the call to keep fossil fuels in the ground in the Amazon.

  • Quannah Chasinghorse

Quannah Chasinghorse is an 18-year-old Alaskan who works with the Arctic protection campaign, Alaska Wilderness League. This organization fights against US plans to extract fossil fuels from the Arctic.

Arctic communities are especially affected by global warming. "Many of us live in villages on the coast, and because of erosion, they are literally crumbling. Communities that have lived in this region for thousands of years are being forced to move and leave what has been their land for generations," says Qannah.

Coastal villages are crumbling because of erosion and communities that have lived in this region for thousands of years are being forced to move. Chasinghorse considers it essential to feel a bond with the land, as his people have done since time immemorial.

"It heals us to know that we are on the same land as our ancestors, it is what ties us to the community."

  • Berta Isabel Cáceres

Lenca indigenous leader, feminist and Honduran environmental activist.

In 1993 she co-founded the Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations (COPINH), which organized fierce campaigns against megaprojects that violated the environmental and land rights of local communities. Berta confronted - and often defeated - illegal loggers, plantation owners, multinational corporations and dam projects that cut off food and water supplies to indigenous communities.

Cáceres was deeply involved in the campaign to defend the Galcarque River, the proposed site of the Água Zarca hydroelectric dam. Berta was one of the strongest voices in opposition to the construction of the hydroelectric dam, which was initiated without the consent of the local communities.

The human rights defender was shot with a firearm on March 3, 2016. All indications are that the murder was carried out in retaliation for the human rights defender's work in defense of indigenous and environmental rights and her public denunciation of human rights violations perpetrated in the context of megaproject development in Honduras.

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