Climate change and hands of resistance

By Rebekah Nimtz, an MCC Service Worker in the cross-roads, bread-basket city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This post is part of a series by MCC Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) on climate change and food security

Several years ago in Bolivia during the rainy season I noticed that a drip bucket in my house was nearly overflowing when I returned from an annual absence of a few weeks. The next year I was surprised to come back to find it only half full. The rainy season had begun a month late. This past year it began well over two months late. On the south side of Cochabamba, in migrant zones where many kids I work with live without running water, even the cacti appeared to be drying up. Bolivia continues to experience the effects of its worst drought in almost four decades and the highest recorded temperatures in the past ten years.

The drought on the ground

The drought on the ground. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia.

El Niño and climate change are credited with playing the major roles in  weather fluctuations, in a country whose ecosystems the UN considers some of the most vulnerable worldwide to the effects of global warming. Late rains have made only a dent in lost reserves, which hovered around 8% capacity, with a reservoir in the governing capital of La Paz at only 1% at the end of last year. This lack of water caused President Evo Morales to declare a national emergency in November. Friends in the city of Cochabamba weren’t as startled by the state of the emergency as those in La Paz, as rationing of water in Cochabamba is the norm. This past year Cochabamba only received, on average, water via the municipal water company, SEMAPA, a few hours once a week.

In the region of Mizque, 160 km outside of Cochabamba, adaptability to the effects of drought depends on whether one lives closer to the village, with more access to an irrigation system and agricultural machinery, or half-an-hour further out in the mountains, where one’s livelihood is more dependent on cultivating corn and raising cows, goats and vicuñas.

Jaime Pardo works for OBADES, the social arm of the Baptist church in Bolivia. MCC partners with OBADES in its work with locals in Mizque on food security projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, and crop diversity. Jaime shared that in early 2016 the rainy season not only started late, but was cut short when the rains stopped in March, leaving already planted corn unable to reach maturity. By the end of the year there was no more pasture left for livestock. Animals had to move around for hours in search of first water and then food, complicated by the drying up of once full rivers. It was a bit easier for the goats, who would eat anything within sight, even plastic. Jaime commented that the image seared in his mind of this past year is of skin-and-bone cows wobbling down the mountainside as though drunk, trembling and barely able to stand. As for their owners, without water to sow their crops, the only option has been to leave for the city.

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity. Photo by Jaime Pardo.

A vast number of farmers have also left Bolivia’s already dry southeast Chaco due to the unprecedented rate of cattle deaths, the region’s primary income. Lake Poopo in the western part of the country completely dried up at the beginning of 2016, not only due to drought,  but also water deviation for mining. The Uru people, who lived off the lake for centuries, have long since gone, along with their way of life. The swell in already exploding urban populations exacerbates poverty and puts greater demands on failing infrastructure and local municipalities to implement solutions.

In rural and urban areas alike, communities have plead with the government for assistance, with the repeated loss of crops resulting in economic ruin for families. Some irrigation and groundwater projects have come about as a result. Nevertheless, even the breadbasket of Cochabamba unprecedentedly began importing food from neighboring countries. Outdated infrastructure exacerbates the problem with up to 50% losses of water in some places within pipes and distribution networks. Privatization is an option, but faces opposition for often failing to reach city outskirts and municipalities. The Misicuni dam and hydroelectric project of Cochabamba, underway since 1957, is a set-back filled effort of 10 private local and international companies that is only now gradually approaching completion. It was originally planned to give water to 400,000 people in a city with now closer to a million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, deforestation of the northern Amazon, in Bolivia and beyond, inhibits the flow of humid air and rain to the Andes. Hydroelectric projects damage the river arteries of the jungle and affects the natural water preservation cycle. Damaged water cycles leave torrents of rain that show up late, to destroy crops at the time of harvest and cause catastrophes with flash-flooding, as opposed to the gradual, soft rains of days gone by. The need to address emergency situations means that working on root causes turns into a catch-up game for a government that is already behind on developing prevention and relief plans for a problem long foreseen.

Bolivia has accessed, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s green fund for a “My Irrigation” program to assist in rural areas. The construction of grain storage plants are underway. Experts emphasize the need for long term water shortage plans such as dikes for water storage, preservation and education initiatives, and continued efforts to renovate outdated water distribution systems so they can be ready to carry, for example, the water now beginning to finally gush from the Misicuni dam project.

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia Ramos.

The small, hopeful steps of local communities across the country, especially alongside governing bodies, are prevailing against the obstacles, even if those steps begin as little more than drops in a dry bucket. The community of Villa Vinto, not far from Mizque, in partnership with OBADES, is enlisting a Peruvian model in the creation of artificial lakes and dykes to capture and store rainwater. With municipal government offers of new farming tools as prizes for the best efforts, the project is hoped to spread to communities throughout the entire region. Mizque continues to produce drought-resistant maca, which in addition to being a delicious superfood, reaps greater economic benefits than typical potato crops. The persistent well-digging of colony Mennonites in Durango on the border with Argentina has allowed them to grow crops in previously declared agricultural dead-zones. If a drop of water can carve out a canyon, the small efforts of hands working together might be able to eventually fill that canyon with more water for the future.

 

What DFATD can learn from CIDA

This week’s blog is written by Dan Leonard, Operating Principles Coordinator for MCC.  Originally from Philadelphia, Dan now lives in Winnipeg where he has learned to love the winter. In February, he nevertheless looks forward to the start of Major League Baseball spring training.

In November, the government released the Global Markets Action Plan, a government strategic plan for promoting international trade opportunities for the Canadian private sector. One of the standout lines in the document is this: “under the plan, all diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector in order to achieve the stated objectives within key foreign markets.”

Goat project Jordan

A goat project in Jordan provides income and food for poor families. Khulood, 11, holds one of the offspring of the goat that her father received. MCC partners with the Wadi Araba Benevolent Society to provide goats for families.

The government’s focus on “economic diplomacy” is particularly interesting to read in light of the decision last year to amalgamate Canada’s foreign affairs, trade and development agendas into one new department—the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).

The action plan deals little with the development agenda specifically, other than to “leverage development programming to advance Canada’s trade interests.” This leads some to question whether global poverty reduction as an end in itself is still a goal for Canada. So what impact, if any, will prioritizing the international trade agenda have on Canada’s international development agenda? This question been discussed previously on this blog; MCC Canada’s ongoing concerns on policy coherence recently prompted letters to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and International Development.

Some context for the Global Markets Action Plan is helpful. The 2012 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer review of Canadian foreign aid noted that Canada has a “strong reputation for its contributions to international development, multilateral organizations and the promotion of human rights.” Central to the effectiveness of Canadian development work has been the insistence that communities should be active participants in defining their own development. One of the key aspects of Canada’s commitment to the Aid Effectiveness Agenda is that “development must be locally-led in order to produce and sustain meaningful results.” More so, Canada has been at the forefront among donor countries pushing NGOs to integrate a gender lens into programming, regularly outspending other DAC members in resources allocated to gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Mahmoud Hassan sorts tomatoes he picked in the field where he works in Wadi Araba. The crops were grown with water from an MCC-supported water catchment project.

Mahmoud Hassan sorts tomatoes he picked in the field where he works in Wadi Araba, Jordan. The crops were grown with water from an MCC-supported water catchment project.

My intention is not to create an idyllic and selective narrative of CIDA’s past. But recognizing the role and reputation of Canada in international development in years past is useful for reflecting on how the intentions and values guiding Canadian development work overseas might change in the future, as Canada aligns a development agenda with a trade agenda.

For example, how will marshalling all Canadian diplomats “on behalf of the private sector” coincide with a desire for “locally-led” development? Will diplomats reviewing CIDA proposals analyze them for community participation, or for how well they align with Canadian economic interests, or perhaps both? Can gender equality help define trade interests? What might that even look like? Or for instance, will plans for a mining project be required to adopt a gender lens and demonstrate that the environment is not unnecessarily degraded? Or, in that same example, if a community does not want the mine, will the project be halted or adjusted even if it limits Canada’s economic opportunities?

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Goldcorp, a global leader in gold mining.

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Vancouver-based gold mining giant, Goldcorp.

Truthfully, we do not know fully what this amalgamation of agendas will mean in practice. But some clues are emerging in the Global Markets Action Plan. Even in the years leading up to the amalgamation, CIDA began funding partnerships between NGOs and mining companies, raising questions as to whether development is acting as a subsidy to, or public relations activity for, mining companies.

On the other hand, in the “development” section of the DFATD website, key priorities of gender equality and environmental sustainability are still mentioned. Projects implemented by NGOs are also still required to integrate a gender and environment lens. So perhaps there is potential for these principles to more forcefully speak into how we conduct trade–though there is no indication in the Global Markets Action Plan that this will be the case.

The win-win of Canadian growth and international development is admittedly tempting. The questions I raise here are not to dispute the merits of aid and trade, or to reject the idea that private sector and NGOs should work together. The point here is that Canada’s private sector interests overseas should not compromise the tremendous learning gained over years of  Canadian development work–namely, that essential ingredients to sustainable development are local ownership, gender equity, and environmental sustainability. This is true whether you are an NGO or part of the private sector. Otherwise the win-win of aid and trade will be more of a dream than a reality.