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Climate Change

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 percent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. At a Covering Climate Now panel in New York on Friday, indigenous leaders reiterated the need for the world to listen to them in addressing climate concerns. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2020 (IPS) Mina Setra remembers the story clearly. As a Dayak Pompakng indigenous person from Indonesia, when  visitors from the city who came into her community; brought bottled water with them because they were worried about the water not being suitable for drinking. 

Setra, who is the deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), recalls one of the elders telling the visitors, “This is the problem of you city people: You eat and drink all the dead things. Like the water that is already in a bottle? It is dead water. The vegetables that you buy from the freezer in the supermarket, they’re all dead plants.”

The anecdote sums up a much bigger conversation that is relevant today: how climate change is linked to coronavirus, and why it’s important to listen to indigenous leaders on the matter.

Setra shared the story with IPS when asked about links between climate change and coronavirus, during a panel talk by Covering Climate Now in New York on Friday, where indigenous leaders reiterated the need for the world to listen to them in addressing climate concerns — and reminding them how climate change can lead to or exacerbate a global health crisis as grave as the current virus. 

The talk took place as global communities scrambled to take effective measures against the deadly virus, and just as the U.S. announced a global emergency while struggling to contain its coronavirus cases. More than two months since the world became aware of coronavirus — and increasingly learned of its alarming implicants — the pandemic has globally claimed 8,810 lives, with more than 218,800, cases. 

While global conversations have mainly focused on the issue of death rate, or the racism attached to the virus, or different countries’ isolation methods (or lack thereof), little has been said about the link to climate change.

This remains a much bigger conversation that indigenous leaders want people to be aware of: how climate change can exacerbate the dangers of something like the coronavirus, and why the world should’ve been listening to indigenous leaders to avoid such a catastrophic spread.  While many believe that coronavirus started with a bat, experts argue it’s not so black and white. A February report established what the leaders discussed at the talk: how deforestation can lead to a loss of habitat for many wild animals and species. As a result, they move to habitat that brings them to closer proximity to humans which can lead to repeated contact between them.  

“The inequilibrium of our planet is not just about climate change, but it’s also about the global economy,” Levi Sucre Romero, a member of the BriBri indigenous community from Costa Rica, told IPS at the panel talk. “So coronavirus is now telling the world what we have been saying for thousands of years: that if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, that we will face this and worse future threats.”

Romero, a coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, further highlighted a United Nations’ statement for why it’s important for global communities to work with indigenous leaders and learn from their knowledge. United Nations for Indigenous Peoples did not respond to the IPS’ request for comments. 

While wild animals and species are forced to find a home in close proximity to humans as a result of deforestation, another crucial concern is the treatment of animals by people from commercial hubs and cities that can act as a catalyst for such a global crisis.

“Our animals are not contaminated by themselves. They get contaminated by people,” Tuxá said in response to IPS’ question about the link between coronavirus and climate change. “And the proof is that these viruses start in the commercial centres of the world. There is a direct correlation between this and coronavirus and other pandemics that are to come.”

Tuxá added the next pandemic’s cure can be found in the diversity of indigenous peoples’ lands. 

“That’s why it’s really important to demarcate and recognise our lands, to protect our lands and our biodiversity because future life depends on it,” he said.


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