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Dr Anita F. Tzec, a Maya activist from Belize, who is Senior Programme Manager, Indigenous Peoples and Conservation at IUCN, addressing COP28 in Dubai Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Floods and hurricanes stemming from climate change has disrupted livelihoods in the indigenous Maya people in the Central American nation of Belize, a representative of the native community told the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

Anita F. Tzec, Senior Programme Manager, Indigenous Peoples and Conservation, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), called for immediate measures to tackle climate change.

In a speech, Tzec, explained why her community attends every Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

She expressed her concern about the situation of the indigenous people, providing an example of her hometown, Bullet Tree Falls, located along the Mopan River in Cayo District, Belize.

‘Unhealthy relationship’

During a session on the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Tzec said the need of the hour is transforming the “unhealthy relationship” between humanity and nature, which is “resulting in our own downfall, causing serious impact on our Earth”.

Tzec added: “Indigenous people are very connected with nature thanks to the guiding principles laid own by our ancestors... This is why the indigenous people are so tightly connected to the land and are therefore the best stewards of nature. Our core value is about living in harmony and balance with nature. And when this is disturbed, it disrupts us. We are very dependent to our local ecosystems.”

Impact of climate change

Citing her childhood days in Bullet Tree Falls, Tzec said: “When I was growing up in my community, the elders knew when we needed to start preparing the land to plant trees. This has all changed and it has been disrupted by climate change.”

She added: “Climate change has started to disrupt our livelihoods. The ecosystems that we depend on, the food sovereignty and security of indigenous people are all impacted. There is a huge dearth of resources in our community today.

“When I was a little girl, my community pictures showed a full river. I used to be afraid as a child to go to the river as it had massive waterfalls. It is not the case now.”

Tzec said climate change has disrupted agriculture, hunting and fishing, and threatening the indigenous people’s food sovereignty. “Our biodiversity has been threatened as well”.

‘Survival mode’

She added that her city faced one of the biggest floods in 2020 and before the people could recover, they faced another flood in 2021 and 2022.

“There has been no respite for them whatsoever. Communities are living in survival mode. Indigenous communities are on survival mode,” said Tzec.

“Climate change has negatively impacted the warning systems in our places. The hurricanes are coming stronger and stronger and our systems are unable to respond to changes in climate. This is why we are here [at COP28] – we are here to call for immediate actions.”

Tzec said high on the agenda for the community is integrating indigenous knowledge and the impact that climate change and loss of biodiversity has on the livelihood of people. “Communities also need to embed this knowledge into curricula so students are engaged.”