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Effects of a fast-changing climate on Suriname’s indigenous communities

Suriname is known as a HLDF country, almost 94.6% equivalent to 14.758.000 hectare of the country consists of forests. The coastal area is is where most inhabitants are, therefore the communities in the interior need to be heard; having the continuous change of weather patterns, these communities, the Indigenous as well as the Maroon communities are affected. From production to even health and safety.0

The interior of Suriname is known for its opulent forests; according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, this covers almost 94.6% of the area which is an equivalent of 14.758.000 hectare. Different flora and fauna can be found within the interior. 

Organisations such as the REDD+, Conservation International Suriname, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Nations have been striving to preserve Suriname’s wildlife and forests while conserving the communities in the interior.

Within the interior of Suriname, mainly concentrating on the southern indigenous tribes as well as the Maroon communities who live on the resources from their environment, the impact the climate and weather have on them, highly affects their daily habits,from fishing and hunting to logging and agriculture. 

According to representatives from areas in Apoera, Apetina, Stoelmanseiland and Kwamalasamoetoe the effects of climate change have drastically changed certain habits, their production, and the soil composition. It’s particularly important to point out the large and illegal mining and deforestation activities, which are contributing to degradation of the environment and compounding the impacts of climate change.

They have caused harm and danger to these communities and will be detrimental in the medium to long run. Some Maroon communities have been affected by this, because their main source of water are the rivers which have been polluted greatly with mercury.

Photo credit: Mr. Roy Meliwa ( Wayana youngster) of the Kuluwayak foundation in Apetina

Mr. Arnold Arupa, a representative from the department of Sustainable Indigenous Affairs of the Ministry of Regional Development, stated that there is ongoing communication with the Apetina and Kwamalasamoetoe communities, especially when it comes to the main resources. 

Due to certain illegal activities in the area, the Indigenous people will have to adapt to the new normal; meaning less agricultural production as well as decreased productivity of fisheries and hunting grounds. 

Arupa is aiming to increase climate and environmental awareness in these indigenous communities and help them understand how external activities are impacting their lives, to empower them, but he fears for the health of the communities. 

Mr. Sherlock Krenten, head of Public Relations of Apoera, noted that there has been a decrease in production of their main sources of sustenance –  cassava and pomtayer. The observation from the older generation has given him an overview of the situation. However, in his defense, the people of Apoera have moved their agriculture areas to higher grounds. As far as the communication goes, it is via the internet and social media which gives the community an idea on the state of certain subjects.

From this point of view this may even be the cause of deformation of children; in other words the health of these communities are at stake!

Photo credit: Mr. Roy Meliwa ( Wayana youngster) of the Kuluwayak foundation in Apetina

Awareness key to progress

Gold mining and deforestation is happening on a larger scale, contributing  to reduction of crops, loss of livelihoods, and increasing intensity and frequency of extreme climate and weather disasters.

In Apoera as well as Apetina, their main resource is cassava. In the past few years, a lot of these crops were lost due to heavy rains and drought. Not only did the extreme weather cause damage to crops, but also the movement of insect pests to their grounds. Deforestation leads to eutrophication and soil pollution where the soil cannot infiltrate the access water; extreme floods. At first it started with heavy rainfall where not all of the excess water found its way to the ocean, percolation, and infiltration. 

Photo credit: Mr. Roy Meliwa ( Wayana youngster) of the Kuluwayak foundation in Apetina

As the soil was saturated, areas around the river flooded. Representatives from the communities were notified immediately. Communities are well aware of the fast changing climate and especially the effects on their lifestyle. The older generation still have some difficulties adapting to the ‘new’ normal, however the younger generation is already seeking different opportunities in their ways of life. 

From awareness programmes to adaptation and mitigation in livelihoods, different organisations as well as government officials are trying to provide and train our general public.

Trends and effects

The effect on a global scale weather-wise has taken its toll on Suriname; from March to June of 2022, large areas north of the Afobaka dam were flooded, as stated in the Worley Report of 2022, where the effects of La Niña have caused many areas to be flooded. Locals weren’t prepared for what happened afterwards. 

‘Lock the stable door after the horse has bolted’ is a much used phrase to express the situation.

If certain trends continue to rise, as studies by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the World Meteorological Organization show, , cases of more intense weather hazards will increase. A rise in the temperature, intense rainfall, concentration of weather systems will be more frequent, these communities are being exposed. Particularly,sea surface temperatures should be carefully analysed, because all development of weather events start at sea. 

Photo credit: Mr. Roy Meliwa ( Wayana youngster) of the Kuluwayak foundation in Apetina

Communities are expected or even forced, to move to higher grounds. Different government organisations have put together work groups on bettering services, from early warnings to disaster risk management, and are pooling resources.. 

The impacts of the climate crisis will continue to worsen if humans don’t take precautions and develop more sustainably. 

Even though Suriname is known as a High Forest/Low Deforestation, HLDF country, the actions of other countries do have an impact on our climate on a global scale. For indigenous communities, where communication with government officials is limited, their representatives strive for effective communication. 

Will our future generation suffer the consequences of our current activities?



This story was published with the support of Climate Tracker and The Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Citizen Climate Journalism Fellowship


Picture of Lorenso Kasmani

Lorenso Kasmani

Lorenso is an Operational Weather Forecaster at the Meteorological Services of Suriname with almost 10 years of working experience. He is in his final at the Polytechnic College majoring in Meteorology. As a weather enthousiast, he is passionate about the dynamics as well as the composition of the atmosphere and the effect the weather and climate has on all livelihood.

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