My time in Nicaragua is off to a phenomenal (and frenetic) start. Today, we oriented ourselves to Nicaragua and the ways in which climate change is already impacting the people of this small (and vulnerable!) country. Our first meeting of the day was with Daniel Ortega’s liaison to churches in Nicaragua. I must confess that his presentation felt a bit like political propaganda, and later on when I spoke with our hosts, they offered a more realistic perspective.
Our second meeting was with the leading climate change expert in Nicaragua, Dr. Incer Barquero. In addition to reviewing the usual facts and figures of climate change (yes, the earth is getting warmer, we are already seeing the impacts in fiercer and more frequent storms, increased droughts and floods, and so on), Dr. Incer Barquero also gave us a picture of what this looks like on the ground here in Nicaragua. Two phenomena stuck out—first, Nicaragua lies to south of the typical hurricane routes. Yet in the last ten or so years, two very strong hurricanes have pummeled Nicaragua, Mitch and Felix, both of which caused unprecedented damage. Global warming is likely key to these new hurricane paths. A second way in which Nicaragua is feeling the impact of climate change is in the unpredictability of weather. It is growing increasingly difficult to predict when and where rain will fall. Some places are uncharacteristically dry, others are unseasonably drenched. This all leads to an upsetting of agricultural practices and disruption in food production.
What was perhaps most encouraging to me about Dr. Incer Barquero’s presentation was his suggestions for moving forward. He thinks that the most effective aid will be distributed on the ground within communities (such as churches) rather than top down (e.g., from the government). He also suggests that the people, especially the indigenous Miskitos on the North Atlantic coast, return to their traditions and heritage in food production (what we call accompaniment at the ELCA). Finally, he recommends that aid be long term and sustainable, “teaching the people how to fish rather than simply giving them a fish.” Each of these strategies matches well with the approach taken by ELCA World Hunger.
Our last session of the day was with the founder of our host organization, CIEETS (an acronym in Spanish for The Inter-church Center for Theological and Social Studies). I was very much encouraged by his vision and hope. I will have more to say about his presentation in a future post.
I will conclude today’s note with a word about Obama’s inauguration. The people we’ve spoken with down here are very excited about our new president. Each person who spoke with us commented on how thrilled they were for us and for the possibilities of renewed relationships between the US and those in the region. Today is, in their estimation, a momentous day filled with hope for a brighter future. As we watched the inauguration over lunch, I must confess that I was proud of my nation.