Climate change is displacing refugees across the world. Typically, it’s the planet’s poorest people who are on the front line of our collective struggle against global warming. Previously, we have looked at an activist racing to relocate her neighbours from a sinking idyllic island and nostalgic elders in the Sahara trying to replant the lost forests. Another crisis is growing in Central America which is turning Guatemalan farmers into asylum seekers with no way to escape.
The residents of Chiquimula are suffering an ongoing drought. Fearfully reminded of the droughts which destroyed the ancient Mayan civilisation, Guatemalan researchers blame the deteriorating situation on the changing “El Nino” and “El Nina” weather patterns. These global weather systems have been massively disrupted by global warming. “It only rained three times, and the crops all died. Normally, it rains so much you lose count, but this year it didn’t rain at all,” Pascuala Súchite, from Jocotán, Chiquimula, is deciding whether to leave her traditional way of life.
Juana Carranza, 31, holds her daughter Santos Griselda, three; Silvia Pérez, 27, holds her son Elzer, two; and María Elena Reyes, 36, holds her daughter Doren, 18 months. Photograph by James Rodríguez for The Guardian
The drought is causing entire regions to go hungry. “A lot of times, we will receive a child with signs of severe malnutrition, and the mother needs help too. But we only have the resources to attend to the children,” Sister Edna Morales runs a feeding centre outside of the town of San Agustín Acasaguastlán. She spends day after day riding a donkey around the dry and destitute mountains, looking for children whose families are too weak to send for help.
Carlos Gutierrez, 20, plants corn along a sloped terrain as his niece Delmi, 6, watches from behind. Photograph by James Rodríguez for The Guardian
Sister Edna Morales’ nutritional centre consistently runs at full capacity. “These children have so many health problems that are compounded by severe, chronic malnutrition. Their hair is falling out, they’re unable to walk,” she is desperate for support. “Living here, you hear about many cases of children dying from malnutrition. They don’t even get reported to the news.” In fact, many commentators say that the only times this crisis reaches the news is when refugees flee north, towards the United States’ border.
Ilda Gonzales and her daughter in the western highlands, which is extremely affected by climate change. Mauricio Lima for the New Yorker
Eduardo Mendez Lopez has spent months starving after his crops shrivelled and died, he struggles to feed his six children. Surviving on just plain tortillas and salt, he stated “This is the worst drought we’ve ever had. We’ve lost absolutely everything. If things don’t improve, we’ll be forced to migrate somewhere else. We can’t go on like this.” Like many across the globe who live in planet’s poorest regions, Eduardo’s life has been torn apart by events outside of his control. Unfortunately, his story is going to become more common as climate change continues. The United Nations estimates up to one billion climate refugees in 30 years time.
“We kept losing crops,” Irma Jiménez said. “There wasn’t money, and so we started to have to cut down trees.” Mauricio Lima for the New Yorker
Gloria Díaz is from a long line of farmers, her family has lived on the land for generations. Her farm now fails to grow any corn at all. “Here, 95 percent of us have been affected by droughts that started in 2014, but this year, we lost absolutely everything, even the seeds,” Díaz is like thousands around Chiquimula. “Now we’re stuck with no way out. We can’t plant the second harvest, and we’ve run out of the resources we had to be able to eat.” Díaz and her neighbours have resorted to foraging for malanga roots to feed themselves and their children, but the malanga have also become scarce. Diarrhoea, malnutrition and skin rashes have become increasingly common among children.
“There’s no transportation. People have run out of money to pay the fare, so cars don’t even come here anymore,” José René Súchite Ramos wants to take his family and escape Chiquimula. “We want to leave but we can’t.” Those who want to become refugees are imprisoned and starving. Without the option to leave, many families have lost loved ones. The short video below tells the further story of the famers who have lost everything to climate change.
At Planet Earth Games we are trying to demonstrate that a cleaner and greener future can be both achievable and enjoyable. For many of us, the hardships of being stranded these Guatemalan communities are unimaginable. So, while we have the luxuries of food and transport, perhaps we should try our best to use them responsibly. Why not choose to cycle this summer and join our Le Tour de France challenge and show-off your miles on our Strava leaderboards? Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and sign up to our newsletter to get updates from our ambassadors – including world-class Olympians and climate influencers – for our challenges during Planet Earth Games 2020.
by Matt Thomson