I have been working with Arup for seven years,...
Remote rural communities, which have long lived within the limits of environments they know and understand, are becoming victims of the effects of climate change. Some risk being displaced completely. They need to adapt quickly to increasingly turbulent conditions and they need the resources and support to do that.
The world is still coming to terms with the idea and manifestation of climate change. There is a tendency to find evidence for it in shock events that affect a country's economy or that strike densely populated areas. These are the events that grab the attention of the world’s media.
But what about the people who live in remote locations, who are already feeling the impact of climate change on their daily lives? Their stories don't make headlines. It's not that their problems have been forgotten – their story was never told in the first place.
However, I’ve been lucky enough to hear it firsthand. I have been volunteering with DB Peru, a charity providing healthcare and health education to 25 jungle communities along the Napo River, near its confluence with the Amazon in north-east Peru.
The communities range in size from just a few homes in the deep jungle to 50 or more houses carefully arranged around the village football pitch. Living and working in these villages, I met some of the people who have lived there for generations and heard their experiences.
Arriving in mid-March, it was plain to see that the river levels in this region were higher than should be expected. Even though they’re constructed on land above the normal flood level and raised on stilts or platforms, homes, schools and infrastructure have been compromised by this year’s floods.
Through conversations with local people, l learned that this is the culmination of progressively higher waters over the last 10 years. These are due to more prolonged and intense local rainfall together with snowmelt in the mountain tributaries that feed the Napo.
While the river level usually subsides during early May, these floods are expected to continue well into June. The floods are having a major physical, social and economic impact on life in communities that can ill-afford to deal with it.
In a place where wood is the major material for construction, infrastructure quickly rots beneath the water. Agricultural land is inundated, leading to severe food shortages that are likely to continue even after the floods recede.
While children love to play in the water during widespread school closures, many are now presenting with health complaints derived from contaminated water. One lady also observed an increase in the number of mosquitoes, which carry life-threatening diseases like malaria and dengue fever; and the nearest health centre can be an eight-hour boat ride away.
These are the unobserved impacts of climate change, which are becoming common in remote communities worldwide. With their history of a close relationship with the environment these people are more resilient than most, but their resources and skills are limited.
I think regional and national governments should place the needs of their rural constituents higher on the policy agenda, and engineers and planners should give rural adaptation solutions greater focus.
If they don’t, then rural people could be displaced to cities that are unprepared for their arrival, and where a whole new landscape of risk awaits them.