On the front lines of climate change: Nicaragua's Miskitos people

By David Viñuales

The Miskitos indigenous people of Central America have been living and farming according to natural rhythms ever since their state was formed in the early 1600s. But now something is going badly wrong.

In the past few years they have no longer been able to predict the seasons, so they don't know when to plant. Traditional signs found in nature—white cranes, flowering avocado plants, silver fish, and flashes of lightning—are no longer heralding the rains.

"The summer now is winter," says Howard Fernández, a farmer in the remote San Andrés de Bocay community in northeastern Nicaragua. "April used to be summer, but it rained the entire month. In May—wintertime—it doesn't rain. We listen to the thunder, we see the lightning that should let us know that the rain is coming, but it is not coming. Because of this climate change we are suffering the decrease of our farm's production."

The changing climate is having a devastating effect on the Miskito people, who live in wooden huts and subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers. Already among the poorest and most marginalized groups in the country, they are now on the front lines of this new threat, which is hitting them practically and psychologically. As well as badly reducing their rice crop, this year's drought meant the river levels were much lower than usual, affecting the communities' vital transport artery. And then, after the drought, Hurricane Felix hit the Miskitos in September.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported decreasing rainfall patterns in Nicaragua. The panel's report also shows how the remote areas where these Native Americans live are becoming increasingly vulnerable from the impact of hurricanes, predicted to increase as a result of climate change. Oxfam is working with communities on a hurricane early warning system, which involves measuring river water levels and predicting possible flooding, to help them cope with these changes in weather.

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