Lila Haines from Oxfam Cymru is currently in Bolivia following the charity’s work in the region.
As world leaders once again failed to act seriously on climate change in their Warsaw summit, here in Bolivia school children were doing their bit to help avert climate-related disasters.
On Friday I joined pupils and staff of Pablo Zarate Villca School, in the rapidly growing high Andes city of El Paso, for a simulated flood alert to try out their disaster risk reduction skills.
Twelve-year-old Viviana Villegas is a Brigadista, one of 15 children in the school trained to evacuate their co-pupils in the event of flooding.
“The moment we hear the alarm we Brigadistas will put on our jackets, go to our positions and begin to control the students’ exit from the classrooms. We’ll close the doors and do everything we’ve practised, ensuring they behave and leading them up to higher ground.”
Flooding is the main risk in El Alto, where unseasonably early torrential rain wiped out thirty houses earlier in November.
Further down the mountain towards La Paz there’s now a bare swathe of precipitous hillside where homes stood before a mega landslide. Fortunately for some of the homeless, on the eve of the disaster Oxfam had just completed emergency homes for use in just such an eventuality. The local authorities accept the need to erect more such accommodation, as the danger of climate-fuelled disasters looks more, not less likely in the future.
Snow-capped Mount Illimani gleams above El Paso and the Bolivian capital, La Paz. Its waters have been feeding life to this region for a millenia. But now the glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, with serious implications for agriculture and rural life.
(Flooding in Bolivia in 2008)
Urban areas, too, are feeling the effects, as the water pattern changes and spiralling in-migration piles on extra pressures, according to Juan Javier Cusi Choque, an engineer with 15 years experience as a search and rescue volunteer, and now director of a programme to enhance risk readiness and response, and raise awareness of how people’s behaviour impacts on their environment.
“We’re working to raise awareness, so that people love their city and change their behaviour,” says Juan Javier. Persuading people to change their mindset and prepare for worsening climate conditions is no easy task, he admits, hence the need to start young.
And that’s a global challenge too: making world leaders change their mindset. They could learn a lot from the children of El Alto – The Summit. A suitable place for the next climate summit, perhaps, to focus minds on climate change realities.