Oct 11, 2017

Guatemala’s changing climate is forcing families to leave their homes, livelihoods

Deepa Fernandes
Photo: UCANR
Photo: UCANR

Shuffling through the acres of robust green bushes, plucking off the ripe red coffee beans and filling bucket after bucket was what Miguel Pol Suy did best. He didn't earn much in his rural Guatemalan town, but it was enough to buy maize and oil. He could feed his growing family.

"Before, where we lived we could work and support our families," says Pol Suy.

Then the weather began to change. Too much rain one year and then no rain the next. The coffee plantation owners told Pol Suy and other workers not to come back.

"The harvests turned bad. The farm owners couldn’t grow coffee anymore and they started selling their land."

There was no work in Santa Lucía for a farmhand. "We had no jobs so we had to leave," says Pol Suy.

This father of seven is one example of a global phenomenon — people being displaced by the effects of climate change.

Most commonly, people are fleeing in the wake of big storms or floods or droughts, or just ahead of the lapping waters of rising seas. For the most part, these are difficult stories of damaged homes, lost livelihoods and ravaged communities.

What Pol Suy was facing was a future without a job — no way to feed the many mouths that depended on him.

"When it rains a lot all the crops are affected and we can’t do anything," he says. "We can’t harvest or pick anything."

His family's life was upended by the changing weather, made more extreme by what the country’s experts on the environment say may be linked to climate change. In the past few years, unusual rains in some parts of the country have made it impossible to grow crops. Farms have become unproductive and owners have had to close them down.