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| 12/16/2009 12:00:00 AM

Climate Change Poses Threat To Colombian Coast

Dec 16--For more than 300 years, residents of Colombia's Pacific Coast area of Tumaco have mostly been left alone to fish or grow bananas, cacao or other crops, often cultivating communal plots. Their part of southwestern Colombia is isolated from the rest of the country, and the largely Afro-Colombian population lived peacefully in relative autonomy.

But in recent years, the peace has been disturbed by new security threats, aggravated by climate change. The Tumaco area, in Colombia's Narino province, has become a prime example of how environmental and security pressures work in tandem to undermine previously stable communities.

The problems in Tumaco, a municipality roughly the size of Rhode Island, began with the arrival about 10 years ago of violent drug trafficking groups that had been dislodged from their strongholds in the central part of the country. Colombian military forces soon moved in to challenge the armed groups and fumigate their coca crops, without much consideration for the effect such efforts had on the local population.

This year, the people of Tumaco and the surrounding lowlands (population 160,000) were hit by a devastating flood, wiping out 62 villages and leaving about 30,000 people homeless. Worse, Colombian authorities predict that climate change is likely to provoke more "extreme weather events" in the future, raising the prospect of new social crises.

"We're hit from all sides," says Roberto Solorzano, a community leader in the village of El Guabo, on the banks of the Mira River, which overflowed last February. "We had the fumigation, the government and then the flood. We've been beat up by the environment itself."

Solorzano and his family, like most of their neighbors, were left homeless by the February flood and are now living in a tiny shack built from salvaged flood debris.
 
Read more here.
 
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