July 25, 2008
Please read the following urgent appeal for support for the victims
of heavy rains in eastern Guatemala, particularly La Union Zacapa, a
Chorti Maya region near the border with Honduras. Over the past couple
days, dozens of people have been killed by mudslides, immense damage
has been done to crops and homes. Thousands have fled their houses,
and are without food or homes. The rains continue with no sign of
After several years straight of unusual rains, scientist have
confirmed what Guatemalans suspected, this is not ‘normal’ weather,
it is the result of global warming. This morning the first truck full
of food for the shelters, sent by Rights Action through the
Coordinator of Chorti Organizations, COMUNDICH, is reaching La Union.
But when the rains finally stop, there will be a long hard road to
Please donate to help these Refugees of Global Warming.
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With their road washed out and covered with fallen trees, families
try to determine the safest route to evacuate their village.
**Refugees of Global Warming**
Eastern Guatemala Devastated by Floods and Mudslides
Over 28 People Feared Dead in La Union Zacapa
Over the past few days local organizations report that at least 28
people have been killed in mud slides in La Union, Zacapa. Ten
shelters have been created and villagers are fleeing the region.
Mudslides and flooded rivers have destroyed homes and devastated
crops. Dozens of villages are completely cut off from road access,
provoking a crisis in access to food availability. Yesterday afternoon
the President o Guatemala declared a State of Disaster.
Similar conditions have been reported across eastern Guatemala,
particularly in Camotan and Jocotan in Chiquimula, in Morales, Izabal,
in Purula, Baja Verapaz, in Xenahu, Teleman, Panzos, La Tinta, Chisec,
and Santa Cruz in Alta Verapaz. As news is only beginning to trickle
out, there is not yet clarity as to the extent of the disaster.
**Polar Bears Are Not the Only Victims**
The image of a Polar bear stranded on a raft of the melting ice cap
has become a symbol of the effects of global warming. Unfortunately
images of poor families buried in mud should also become a popularly
understood visual representation of global warming.
A home in La Union covered in a mudslide. We hope the family got out,
but no one knows for certain yet.
**Global Warming Increases Tropical Rainfall**
This week’s floods and mudslides are the effects of constant, heavy
rains. Guatemalans have experienced heavier then normal rains over the
past few years, some in the form of hurricanes, and they have provoked
enormous damages. We are accustomed to hearing about massive
destruction caused by hurricanes. But the damage this week in Eastern
Guatemala is very similar to what happened during recent hurricanes.
The massive damages and deaths in hurricanes Mitch and Stan were not
caused by the force of the winds, the factor by which a storm is
categorized as a hurricane, they were caused by the sheer quantity of
rain they produced.
The increase in tropical rainfall over the past few years is a
reality, it is global warming, and it is every bit as much a disaster
and an emergency as hurricanes. The world must respond.
In August 2007 NASA scientists released a study which surveyed
tropical rainfall levels over the past 27 years, and observed that the
highest levels of rainfall happened over the last five years. They
found that the level of rainfall on the planet as a whole has not
changed, but the level in the tropics has changed considerably, an
increase of 5%.
The increased rainfall is not distributed evenly across the tropics like a
blanket, how rainfall is distributed depends on climatic convection
routes that channel rainfall along certain paths. Global warming
provokes what some have ironically termed a ‘rich get richer and
poor get poorer’ effect in which humid areas become more humid and dry
areas become dryer.
**The Poor Get Poorer**
The climatic shift that is taking place is playing itself out
economically, as if mimicking the global economic system, the
climatic system is making the poor poorer. The massive flooding and
the less dramatic but just as real droughts are causing millions of
dollars worth of damages to crops in Guatemala alone.
The vast majority of these damages are to the crops of small
producers, subsistence farmers who due to the history of
internationally sponsored violent repression of land and social reform
movements plant small tracts of marginal land most vulnerable to the
effects of the climate, such as steep inclines. For similar historic
reasons, these farmers have no safety net, no insurance, and whatever
government programs are created to help bail out producers is
generally monopolized by large plantations with political influence.
Mudslides affect steep inclines which are farmed for lack of access to
more level ground.
**Global Warming Refugees**
The logical consequence that this has produced is environmental
refugees, refugees not only in the moment they are temporarily housed
in shelters and resettlement camps, but refugees who months later,
once international aid (if they were lucky enough to have received any)
has petered out, and they have no food since their crops were
destroyed, are forced to migrate, literally risking their lives to
work as undocumented workers in the United States sending money home
to feed their broken families.
The roads are filled with families fleeing their homes to move into
**Environmental Impunity: Blaming the Victim, Rewarding the Culprit**
When the world was first learning about global warming, the popular
understanding was that poor people were the cause of global warming.
Images of massive deforestation in the Amazon were explained away as
the result of poverty; that the poor people were moving in and cutting
Today general public is beginning to understand that that is not the
case; that Carbon emissions in industrialized countries are the
principal agents of global warming, and that global deforestation has
been principally provoked by transnational logging companies
satisfying demand for tropical hardwoods in wealthier nations.
Even if we are beginning to better understand the causes, we have not
been implementing solutions. The only major international mechanism to
combat Global Warming is the Carbon Credits Mechanism. Not only is it
not enough, it is possibly having a negative impact, allowing polluters to
keep on polluting by buying credits, credits which are sometimes issued
for activities of questionable value, such as hydroelectric dams and
**Real Alternatives Exist**
The problems seem overwhelming, but there is no end to the
possibilities for positive, impactful actions. Rights Action is
supporting a few of the many alternative proposals, helping
communities’ carryout activities they propose that both resolve the
communities’ needs and reforest.
Following Hurricane Stan in 2005, Rights Action responded to the call
for support thirteen villages in Santa Catarina Ixtuahcan, Solola
which were permanently displaced to resettlement villages, abandoning
their agricultural lands and villages that were in a danger zone.
Though no longer threatened by annual mudslides, the resettled
villagers no longer had any agricultural lands or any way to make a
living. The communities created tree nurseries with a mixture of fruit
trees and wood trees that they planted in the lands they abandoned.
The tree project will stabilize the soil to prevent mudslides, provide
a sustainable source of income to the communities, and combat carbon
In Northern Baja Verapaz and Southeastern Quiche, along the basin of
the Chixoy Dam, the communities who were displaced by the massive
hydroelectric project built in 1982, are seeking to establish
extensions of fruit and forest trees in an over 40,000 acre region
that has been deforested since Colonial times. The dam flooded out the
agricultural lands of the communities, leaving them displaced and in
extreme poverty for years. Reforestation of the marginal, historically
degraded lands around the dam basin could generate sustainable
livelihood for the communities and help stop global warming. Often
thought of as a source of clean energy, large hydro electric dams
deforest often vast areas and generate significant levels of carbon
emissions from the rotting vegetation flooded out.
**What To Do**
Read Up – Keep track of what’s going on and tell people about it.
Dream and Act – Envision new ways of living that keep our planet
healthy and respects the rights of our global neighbors.
Demand Changes – Fight for policies that can force polluters to
stop, provide incentives for truly environmentally friendly
Give – Donate for the global warming refugees in their moment of
crisis and support them as they rebuild a way of life and production
that helps us all by combating climate change.
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