Saturday, July 12, 2008

Climate Change, Drought, and Indigenous Peoples: The Current Situation

Drylands cover 40% of the earth’s terrestrial surface and are home to over 2 billion people, the majority of whom belong to the poorest people in the world (MA 2005b). Most of the ‘poorest’ people living in drylands are pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and other traditional communities that can be considered as indigenous peoples according to international standards (ILO Convention No.169 Article 1). Dryland ecosystems are characterized by the limited availability of water and consequently a relatively low primary productivity. However, it is as much the uncertainty of precipitation as the total volume that determines many features of dryland ecosystems, as well as the livelihood strategies of the people. Based on the climatic conditions drylands are divided into dry subhumid, semiarid, arid and hyperarid areas.

Drylands host a unique array of biodiversity. About 32% of the global ‘‘biodiversity hotspots’’ are in drylands. At least 30% of the world’s cultivated plants originate in drylands and over 40% of all cultivated lands worldwide are within drylands. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment there is medium certainty that some 10–20% of the drylands are degraded and affecting the livelihoods of millions of people. Desertification thus ranks among the greatest environmental challenges. However, at the same time it is important not to forget that drylands are very resilient ecosystems. Plant and animal species and microorganism have developed numerous coping strategies to survive the high variability of rainfall – very short life cycles to make use of periods of water availability as well as numerous strategies to escape drought (Bonkoungou and Niamir-Fuller 2001). Drylands that look deserted after a period of drought are not necessarily degraded (MA 2005b; Bonkoungou and Niami-Fuller 2001). Similarly, people living in drylands have developed complex pastoral and cropping systems to cope with the erratic and harsh climate (Bonkoungou and Niamir-Fuller 2001).

Scientific studies on the current and projected impact of climate change in drylands are notoriously few. Although climate change will affect different regions in different ways, for drylands in general it is projected that climate change will lead to a decrease in water availability and quality while extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are projected to increase (IPCC 2007a; MA 2005a). In addition, although agricultural productivity is expected to rise in some regions, it will likely decrease overall in drylands (IPCC 2007a; MA 2005a). “Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries and regions is projected to be severely compromised by climate variability and change. The area suitable for agriculture, the length of growing seasons and yield potential, particularly along the margins of semi-arid and arid areas, are expected to decrease. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition in the continent. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020.” (IPCC 2007a)

Water availability in drylands is expected to decrease in the next 40 years by 10-30% while drought-affected areas will likely increase in extent and floods are expected to be more frequent (IPCC 2007a). Overall this is expected to have severe impacts on food security in drylands especially in subsistence sectors (IPCC 2007a) and will be worsened by the expected warming of lakes and rivers with effects on fish productivity. In addition, climate change is projected to overall severely affect the health of especially vulnerable people through malnutrition, decrease in water quality, heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts (IPCC 2007a). Impacts of climate change are already felt in drylands. For instance in the Sahelian region crop productivity has dropped due to warmer and drier conditions and thus a shorter growing season (IPCC 2007a). Hence, drylands and the people living in drylands appear to be one of the most affected by climate change, given the already existing water stress, land degradation and the limited capacity to adapt in these regions (IPCC 2007a; MA 2005 a3).

Case study: Sudan

The drought-prone Bara province is situated in western Sudan and is mainly composed of desert scrub vegetation and ondulating sand dunes. The average rainfall is around 250 mm per year with significant seasonal and inter-annual rainfall variability. The land is becoming increasingly degraded as a result of recurring droughts, cultivation of marginal lands, overstocking of livestock and fuelwood gathering. Since 1992 community based rangeland rehabilitation (CBRR) for carbon sequestration measurements have been implemented in 17 villages in central Bara province. These measurements mainly consisted of the implementation of simple model community-based natural resource management to prevent overexploitation of marginal lands and rehabilitate rangelands and the diversification of local production systems to ensure sustainability of the approach as well as to improve socio-economic conditions.

The outcomes of the CBRR project were very successful. Over 700 ha of rangeland were improved. Other achievements of the project included: the establishment of local institutions to coordinate community natural resource management and community development activities, regeneration and stabilization of five km of sand dunes to halt expansion of the desert, construction of windbreaks to protect farms from soil erosion, restocking of livestock by replacing goat herds with more resilient and less damaging sheep, creation of water management sub-committees to better manage wells and the preparation of a drought contingency plan. The main lesson learned was that in order to secure the long-term effectiveness of the achievements of this project it is crucial to build the capacity of the affected communities in order to enable them to cope with climate-induced stresses (IISD, 2003).

Further Reading

Indigenous Peoples, Climate Change, and the United Nations

Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change: A Human Rights Issue

Deforestation and the Baka and Bambendzele Indigenous Peoples of Africa

The Raika Indigenous Peoples of Rajasthan and Drought

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July 2 - 7, 2008: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Weeks of July 2 - July 7, 2008

Plan Afoot to Catalogue 25,000 Years Of Indigenous Art from Infamous Route

KIDNAPPED, chained, and force-fed salt - Aborigines were coerced by white explorers to help them find water in the desert on an expedition to cross Western Australia in 1906.

Their knowledge of water wells was critical to the success of the expedition, led by WA surveyor Alfred Canning, who drove a herd of cattle from Halls Creek to Wiluna across terrain where many had perished before him.

Today, researchers from the Australian National University are working with the local Martu people to document the rich indigenous heritage of the Canning Stock Route, inhabited for the past 25,000 years.

The 1700-kilometer track boasts one of the country's most diverse collections of Aboriginal art, which has wrongly been attributed to lost Dutch sailors in the past. Kangaroos and owl-shaped heads are depicted on rocks, including informative art such as maps of waterholes, which allowed tribes to communicate over large distances. Read the rest about this story here....

Bows and Arrows Give Way to Tools of Modernity

It took six flights, six airports, six landing strips, each one consecutively smaller, to get me from my base in Mexico City to La Petanha, a village of about 250 people set deep in Brazil's Western Amazon. Reporting from one of the most remote places on the planet.

That is just one indication of how remote this part of the world is, and how, even in the 21st century, there are still hundreds of communities that live totally cut off from the rest of civilization.

I was traveling to meet the Surui Indians - a tribe of 1200 people indigenous to the Amazon who until just forty years ago had never had contact with anyone outside their rainforest.

I was there to document a fascinating and historic first -- a team of volunteers and engineers from Google Earth was going to transfer technology and knowledge to the Surui to allow them access to the Internet.

The Surui had a story to tell, and they wanted the world to know it. In 1969 a Brazilian government team charged with making contact with indigenous peoples in the Amazon left a small pile of mirrors, machetes and other goods in a clearing in the western Amazon, near Brazil's border with Bolivia. Read more about this story here....

Seizing Native Land In Peru, One Parcel At A Time

Activists in Peru are mounting various legal challenges to that nation's recently passed package of legislation, called ''forest laws,'' which they say will make it easier for authorities to break up indigenous communities and prevent indigenous people from obtaining titles to their land.

''These measures taken by the current government attempt to take away our collective property and intend to destroy indigenous people, who are people with rights that have existed long before the formation of the Peruvian state,'' asserted Robert Guimaraes, an indigenous leader from the Amazon, regarding the controversial laws that were decreed by President Alan Garcia May 20.

The activists also assert that the forest laws were enacted to please multinational corporations connected to Peru's free trade agreement with the United States.

The two bills that have prompted large protests and constitutional lawsuits, however, were not part of the FTA; they are Legislative Decree 1015 and Law Project 1900-2007-CR. Garcia was able to enact these laws by decree through powers given to him by the Peruvian Congress to negotiate the free trade deal with the U.S. Find out more about this story here....

Indigenous People Ask G8 For Climate Talk Inclusion

Indigenous communities from around the world urged G8 rich nations on Friday to help them participate in global climate change talks, saying they contributed least to but are most affected by global warming.

Clad in colorful traditional robes, 26 representatives from countries including the United States, Canada, and Japan, along with some 400 students, activists, and academics, met on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. The island is the venue of the July 7-9 Group of Eight summit and home to the indigenous Ainu ethnic group.

At the meeting, members of indigenous communities blamed the market-oriented economic model of the G8 nations as the main cause for climate change, a food crisis, and high oil prices. These are issues high on the discussion agenda at the G8 summit.
"As we all know, the G8 is composed of the most powerful and richest governments in the world. The G8 is the one which makes decisions ... that have direct impact on us," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chair of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Read more here....

Pope Meets Brazilian Indians and Vows to Help Protect Their Land

Brazilian Indians Jacir José de Souza and Pierângela Nascimento da Cunha from the Makuxi and Wapixana tribes respectively were received in the Vatican, July 2, by Pope Benedict XVI, who pledged his support for their struggle to defend their Amazon home.
"We will do everything possible to help protect your land," said the pope.

The tribes of Raposa Serra do Sol, in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima, where Jacir and Pierângela people live, are under attack from Brazilian farmers who have shot and wounded ten people, burned bridges and thrown a bomb into an Indian community. A video obtained by Survival International, an organization that defends tribal peoples' human rights, shows the moment gunmen hired by the farmers attacked an Indian village in May.

The Brazilian government officially recognized the indigenous territory of Raposa Serra do Sol (Land of the Fox and Mountains of the Sun) in 2005, after a long campaign supported by the previous pope, John Paul II. But powerful farmers and the government of Roraima state are trying to get the legal recognition overturned, so that the farmers can take a large piece of the Indians' land. Read more about this story here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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