The loss of livelihood due to increasing water scarcity and variability has been forcing those affected to migrate. Globally, water scarcity is becoming much more problematic due to climate change. Researchers affirm that climate change is altering rainfall patterns, which are leading to increased flooding, drought, and soil erosion in tropical and arid regions of the planet.[1]

Colombian indigenous climate migrants have been invisible for many years in Colombia’s migration and climate debates. Hence, this short Interview with Juan Talaga, the leader of the Nasa Indigenous territory in Cohetando, Paez, Cauca, Colombia, intends to explain what are the current challenges that exist in his community and what needs to be done.

Pamela: I am aware of the water scarcity situation in Cohetando, Cauca. Can you tell me more about the water supply situation in your territory?

Juan: In our territory, the population is around 6.000 inhabitants, and, due to the construction of a hydroelectric dam, the system changed together with climate variability, which we have been noticing a lot. Since recent years, water has become very scarce in our territories, especially during the dry seasons, which have been intensifying. In the past two years, there has been a lot of rain, but when it is complete and summer or dry temperature comes, the water availability will become very scarce again. Right now, we have to look for the highest part of the mountains to be able to go and collect water from there. So we have this huge problem in our community.

Pamela: Normally, who goes and collects the water? Is it the families? Or do you have an organization that does that?

Juan: Here family members have to go themselves and pick up the water because we do not have tanker trucks (water tanks), so we try to find the lowest parts of the river to go and collect water, but we have noticed that the more time passes the higher we have to go to collect the water.  Now with the rainy season, we go to the foothills, it is plain so we pick up the water in gallons.

Pamela: What about aqueducts?

Juan: The aqueducts in our zone were built many years ago, so they no longer work properly. They were designed for small families, maybe for a population of only 3000 inhabitants, but, as I said now, we are more than 6.000 inhabitants … the population has increased.. so this aqueduct is insufficient for the number of people that we have in our community. So now with the resources of the Cabildo (indigenous political council) and the municipal administration, we are trying to put pressure on this issue and try to see if it’s possible to invest in this problem. For example, we ask them to bring water from a natural reserve that belongs to a Colombian national park[2] (a governmental entity). We want to preserve this natural reserve but also make use of its water… because we really need water and it’s our closest source.

Pamela: Water scarcity has a huge impact on food production… Has and, if so, how has the water scarcity affected your crop production?

Juan: Of course, it is very important. Here in our zone, we produce coffee, and, as you know, coffee needs to be washed, and we spend more water on this process. The people who have the resources often use machines, machines that save water and they help to less use, but only a few people have them. So that is a big problem.

Pamela: Do you only have coffee plantains? What other crops do you have in your community?

Juan: The crop that generates the most profit is coffee, but we also have other crops such as beans, banana, cassava, arracacha (a vegetable), and lulo (a fruit). But those are crops of lower impact because they are not well paid, For example, lulo and arracacha: when we bring them to the market, they are sold for a very low price so they don’t offer a lot of profit. So we can’t pay all of our expenses at home. So some people cultivate these and other crops for their own consumption but it does not help to pay for other stuff such as energy etc.

Pamela: During dry periods, what do you do? Do you change to other types of crops or what do you do?

Juan: Well, a couple of years ago we had almost 4 months of very dry weather. Coffee was starting to get burnt and the production was very low… so we had to survive with the other crops that we had. In these areas, some people also grow sugar cane which supports a lot of dry weather, but, then again, sugar cane is also sold for a very low price, so we have sugar cane to survive because it’s the crop that sustains very well during the dry season.

Pamela: Are there families or people in your community that has decided to migrate because the crops aren’t profitable enough?

Juan: Yes of course. Mostly young people, the ones who end up their studies, when they notice that agricultural production is not well paid, they decide to migrate to the capital cities, for example, Bogota, Cali… they go there to work. But now, with all these problems with the Covid 19 pandemic, a lot of them have decided to return because they lost their jobs there. However, because now we are in a very rainy season, there are a lot of jobs here. Things are good. After this rainy season and when the dry season returns, we do not know what we will do… as I said before, with the small resources that we have in the territories and the small amounts that are left from the public administration for environmental administration, we are trying to fetch water from farther places. For example, where I live in the Colorado small town, we are trying to bring an aqueduct from 17 km far away from where there is a source of water, the mountain is called “El labrian”.

Pamela: So normally the people who try to migrate are mostly young people?

Juan: Yes, old people here are used to suffering… but the young people just want to open the tap and have water… and, well, we do not have such a possibility here.

Pamela: How many people approximately have decided to migrate? 

Juan: Mmm, I see a pattern of most of the young people, they get tired of work in the field and see it is not profitable, that they cant have families here, that the opportunities are very few, so they decide it’s better to leave.

Pamela: So this is also a problem with the crop production because young people leave? I mean they are labor, important labor...

Juan: Yes of course, eventually only the old ones will be left and no one will want to grow crops again or live here….

Pamela: Ok Juan, I think we have covered the most essential parts.  Thank you so much for sharing the experiences of your community with me.

[1] Jägerskog, Swain et. al. 2016. Water, migration and how they are interlinked. Working paper 27. SIWI, Stockholm.

[2] The protected areas of Colombia are grouped into the National System of Protected Areas.

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