La Guajira’s ecosystem, classified as dry tropical forest, is very sensitive to even micro changes to the climate. Therefore the indigenous and afro-descendant populations who depend this environment to provide water, practice agriculture, and graze their animals are extremely vulnerable to climate change.
This week, Yasmin Romero Epiayu, a Wayuu leader and Member of La Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu (Wayuu Women’s Force), is traveling to Paris to attend the UNESCO event “Resilience in a time of uncertainty: Indigenous peoples and climate change,” which precedes the COP21 Climate Talks. She will speak on the impacts of climate change on Wayuu food sovereignty. Yasmin is heading a new research project with La Fuerza that focuses on Wayuu people’s perception of changes to their agricultural calendar over the last forty years. She is particularly interested in how climate change impacts Wayuu women who are responsible for the domestic economy, and therefore the most effected and sensitive to environmental changes.
La Guajira has suffered a severe drought since the summer of 2014 that has devastated regional agriculture and led to terrible community water shortages. Many Wayuu families lost their crops and livestock, leading to higher rates of child malnutrition among already vulnerable people. In some areas of the lower Guajira, people have died of dehydration. The drought has been an environmental disaster. At the same time, the Cerrejón coalmine is proposing to reroute the Arroyo Bruno, a tributary of the Ranchería River – the main water source for all of La Guajira. Yasmin, like many local activists, has been instrumental in organizing local resistance to this plan. In her presentation in Paris, she will speak of the ongoing environmental pressures of mining and climate change that have robbed Wayuu people of their ability to provide for their families and follow traditional agricultural cycles. Yasmin believes that the answers to finding more sustainable forms of economic development lie in a better understanding of traditional Wayuu practices and their innovative strategies to cope with climate change.
The UNESCO event is an important call to incorporate indigenous voices in the climate action agenda. It is imperative that world leaders attending the COP21 listen to and learn from the people who are most effected by climate change.