Communities in the Amazon are already dealing with the effects of increasing floods and droughts

Riverine communities in the Amazonas state Médio Juruá region are trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, which can already be felt in their daily lives. Actions developed in the region also contribute toward this objective, such as selective garbage collection, awareness programs on the importance of biodiversity and forest conservation and the increasingly intense participation in sustainable management projects (such as pirarucu management) and monitoring initiatives (including turtle preservation). 

"Climate change has become a reality in our region. What used to be our rainy season is now a time of intense sunshine; and in the dry season, we get a lot of rain. This is very noticeable, and we all have to readapt to these changes," says Maria da Cunha Figueiredo, a member of the São Raimundo community, in the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve.

This year, several Amazon rivers, such as the Negro and the Juruá, had historic floods, which devastated cities and communities. The dry season, between September and October, destroyed plantations and made navigation in several stretches of the river more difficult. Another immediate consequence were the fires: 28,000 forest fires were registered in the Amazon in August alone, and another 16,700 in September, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

"We have been trying to adapt. We try to protect the forest, but we believe that things could get worse because people are not aware that they need to stop deforesting and polluting. They think that forests are eternal, but they aren't. You need to take care of them," adds Maria, a volunteer environmental agent and also the coordinator of leadership training in the Youth Fighting for the Walk (JLPC) movement, a group that works on environmental issues in local communities.

Maria participated in the effort to investigate climate impacts on people's way of life. The result was the publication of a study titled "Climate Change and Its Impacts on the Sociobiodiversity of the Juruá River", conducted between 2017 and early 2021, during Phase 1 of the Médio Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ, in the Portuguese acronym). In total, 240 residents of 27 communities were interviewed (the full study is available here). 

The PTMJ has now entered its second cycle, supporting initiatives that address its three pillars: sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, and social cohesion. In addition to support from USAID/Brazil and Natura, the PTMJ will  partner with the Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA); as well as the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

SITAWI remains in charge of managing the project, and six local community organizations (ASPROC, ASMAMJ, AMECSARA, AMARU, CODAEMJ, and ASPODEX) will keep the role of implementing partners. Other implementing partners are ICMBio, the State Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA), and OPAN.

Economic impacts — Manuel Silva da Cunha, the ICMBio’s official who manages the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve and lives in the  São Raimundo community, was born and bred in the region. He summarizes the economic losses of this year’s floods: 

"This year we had a huge flood in the Juruá river I had never seen anything like this in my entire life. This imbalance has direct impacts on people's lives. For example, there are rubber tappers lost nearly 80 rubber trees on a single track. That's 10 kilos of rubber a day. Local vegetable gardens were all flooded, and now need to be rebuilt. People were also unable to collect seeds, as they were carried by the waters. This resulted in about R$ 2 million less money in the pockets of nearly 1,000 families in the Médio Juruá."

He compares the fight against climate change to a war. "Traditional communities are our frontline soldiers with a difference: no one carries weapons, nor do we have a mighty pen in our hands to change policy and contain climate change. Traditional communities live in the environment and off the environment. Any environmental imbalance directly affects their life," he adds.

Maria Francisca de Aquino do Carmo, a member of the Bauana community, recalls that the stories told by their elders described a different world. "When I talk to my mother, she says: ‘In the old days, when we worked in the fields, I could withstand the sun until noon. Now we can only last until 10am because the sun is too hot.’ Then I have to explain that these are the effects of climate change."

For Reginaldo Oliveira dos Santos, production coordinator at the Bauana community-based company (EBC) and a member of the Bom Jesus community, in the Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve, believes one of the alternatives is to protect the standing forest and educate future generations on the importance of biodiversity. "We are aware that people are destroying nature. Those of us who live here feel the effects of all this, but we will keep fighting to keep the forest standing."