The Latin American region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Many of its countries are located in the hurricane belt; others depend on the thaw of the snow and ice deposits in the Andes to supply water to their urban and agricultural sectors; and several are at high risk from major disasters such as floods. (This is an edited extract from our Moving Stories report. Download the entire report)
Rains recently have been very intense. Very intense. Without comparison, like nothing seen before. Years ago the rainy season lasted two months. November and December. Water levels reached 20 to 30 Centimetres. Today, they go past two metres in the last six to seven months. We’ve never seen this before. We don’t want to leave our land. Here are our past, our memories, our ancestors. We don’t want to move to other parts. We don’t know what to do there. We will turn into delinquents. We’d enter into a cycle of poverty which happens in the cities. Octavio Rodriguez. Las Caracuchas, Sucre, Colombia
Since 1998, the melting ice from the ice fields in Patagonia has contributed to around 2% of the global annual sea level rise. The region has experienced climate variability and more extreme weather events over recent years, such as intense Venezuelan rainfall (1999, 2005), flooding in Argentina (2000-2002, 2007), Amazon drought (2005), hail storms in Bolivia (2002) and the Greater Buenos Aires area (2006), the unprecedented Hurricane Catarina in the South Atlantic (2004) and the record hurricane season of 2005 in the Caribbean Basin, extreme floods in El Salvador (2011), Tropical storm Matthew in Venezuela (2010) and a series of floods in Colombia (2011).
When I was young, it was quite mild, not such a hot heat. That’s why Illimani is melting. It’s three times as hot. It did not use to be so hot. I am very sad when I see the snowline going up. I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t have any children, but other compañeros in the community, they do have children. They are going to suffer the last days, if there is no water. I am 67 years-old, and I am not going to suffer as I am going to die. But the other villagers, yes they will suffer. That’s why I am so upset that there is not going to be any water. I am going to live another ten to fifteen years, but the others… I am not going to see it. But the young will witness the end of Illimani. 67-year-old Marcos Choque, Khapi, Bolivia
Predicted increases in temperature will severely affect this region and its arable lands. Significantly, 90% of Latin America’s agriculture is rainfed. A survey of rural populations in Peru found that changing rainfall patterns had a ‘severe’ effect on 53% of respondents’ ability to produce food. Other stresses compound the ability of this region to adapt to climatic changes. Demographic pressures as a result of rural to urban migration have led to unemployment and unsanitary conditions, resulting in the spread of infectious diseases.
I am very worried. The snow and ice is disappearing and melting day by day, year by year. The sun is stronger. It doesn’t snow as much. We are very concerned… There could be a tremendous drought. There might be no more snow, no more water coming down. So how would we irrigate our plots of land? My son would have to leave and go somewhere else, to other countries. Lucia Quispe, 38, Khapi, Bolivia
Additionally, over-exploitation is a threat to local production systems and has led to water exploitation and the mismanagement of irrigation systems. Similarly deforestation from agricultural expansion in parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil has caused land degradation. Historically (prior to the 1970s) many Latin American countries were the destination for European migrants and had net immigration situation which has reversed in recent decades.
My grandfather, father and I have worked these lands. But times have changed…the rain is coming later now, so that we produce less. The only solution is to go away, at least for a while. Each year I’m working for 3 to 5 months in Wyoming. That’s my main source of income. But leaving my village forever? No. I was raised here and here I will stay. Miguel, 45 years, Hueyotlipan, Mexico
The debt crisis of the 1980s led to the so called ‘lost decade’; industrialisation growth in the extractive industries and large-scale intensive agriculture were all economic drivers of migration. Flow followthe pattern of urbanisation and emigration to the EU. In 2006 a third of Argentines claimed they would emigrate if they had the resources to do so. In Ecuador the top destination of internal migrants is to newly deforested areas, which are sites of intensive agriculture and jobs. Conflict is another main driver of migratory flows, especially in regards to Columbians fleeing the violence caused by the FARC / government fighting.
The number of government- registered ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) in Colombia rose to 3.9 million in 2010/11, making it the world’s largest internally displaced population. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that migration from the countryside to the cities will continue. Whilst there are inevitably a range of factors that lead people to migrate, the impact of climate change, especially if livelihoods are damaged, may intensify rural-urban migration. The significance of this is that urban areas will need to adapt to both climatic changes and an increase in population.
Thumbnail image. Creative Commons, from Flickr by Richard777
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