Climate Crisis: Impact on Communities along the River Basins in Pastaza in 2024

The climate crisis is a reality for indigenous territories and for the world. In the last 10 years, this crisis has unleashed a significant number of problems that affect the central Amazon, where communities must face many difficulties due to severe climate change: one of them is my community Unión Base in the Puyo province, Ecuador. This is a crisis that, additionally, has variable patterns, climatologically, since each year it brings a more severe catastrophe.

For example, in 2024, our concern has been great when we noticed the main Puyo River, which feeds several communities, disappearing little by little; its flow has been lower than in 2023. Furthermore, we no longer have aquatic life, which is being killed by the city’s pollution, since they use the river as a garbage dump. The inhabitants mention that tourism is no longer possible, that every time they try to take a canoe trip, they find mattresses, clothes, zinc cans, etc.

Photo: Puyo River in the community of Union Base today.
Photo: Puyo River in the community of Unión Base today.

Nowadays, we ourselves are also responsible for the pollution, because river transportation is complicated. Since we need the ease of transportation, motorized canoes and “peque peque” outboard motors have been implemented, which are the biggest pollutants—they use a lot of gasoline. This has caused fish kills and changes in the rivers.

Photo: March in defense of rivers April 30, 2024.
Photo: March in defense of the rivers April 30, 2024.

Young people are also very concerned, and we have spoken out about how it is no longer possible to swim and enjoy the clean rivers, because there are skin diseases now due to so much contamination. People say that nowadays these are no longer rivers, they are polluted streams, and that mutant fish have been found, so they demand the authorities to take protective measures to protect this river, which is historic and very valuable for our people.

Photo: Flooding in the communities April 19, 2024.
Photo: Flooding in the communities April 19, 2024.

Likewise, there are problems such as the overflow of large rivers, such as the Bobonaza, Curaray, and Conambo rivers, which have left more than 400 families affected. Luis Santy, a young inhabitant of the Pakayaku community, says that the first overflow was five years ago, which caused severe erosion.

“This overflow not only happened in Pakayaku, but for more than five days the rains did not stop and as the flow was uncontrollable, it went down the river, sweeping away everything it found,” said Luis, who described how the river flow increased as rivers of different sizes joined, affecting more communities and “leaving some without their few belongings, provisions, animals.” There is much concern, since subsequent overflows have forced people to face several worrying factors such as skin diseases like rashes, fungus, and the loss of their main sources of food and their farms. They also create serious social issues, such as in education and health.

“During the first heavy overflow, two bridges and houses were swept away, but the authorities did not intervene logistically, they fixed one bridge and not the other, they did not provide a solution. That is why people only use canoes now to transport the children to school,” Luis complained.

In the analysis after the floods, we came to the conclusion that one of the reasons is because the people of the communities have their farms on the river banks and, due to economic needs, have opted to cut down the trees, which used to help deter the strong flows during the rainy season. We have seen that on the riverbanks there are not as many trees as there were 20 years ago.

Given the current government’s total neglect and lack of concern, and the worrisome situation as more and more rivers overflow their banks, the residents are looking for alternatives to deal with this destruction. 

The inhabitatns are greatly concerned because the local authorities have turned a deaf ear to the communities’ requests to take action, such as taking preventative measures to avoid further damage and to keep the hillsides firm. “The reality of our communities is quite difficult, they have left us completely abandoned,” said Luis. “The only thing they do is give away some food rations, of course there were no major deaths, but we are worried because the houses have fallen down [… which affects] elderly people, widows mostly, but who is helping them?”

Given the current government’s total neglect and lack of concern, and the worrisome situation as more and more rivers overflow their banks, the residents are looking for alternatives to deal with this destruction. 

Photo: Advance of the river’s overflow, April 20, 2024.

It is worth mentioning that after experiencing a flood of such considerable magnitude, the communities have taken small preventive measures, such as building their houses at a height of five meters, as well as no longer building them near the rivers. The role played by young people is very important because we are doing our best to change the current situation, which is very worrying, so we have been asked to work on environmental conservation issues, with our own initiatives. As a new generation we can look for conservation alternatives, recycling, giving a second use to garbage, thereby helping the environment to stay alive, helping our homes, and by making the majority of the Amazonian and Ecuadorian inhabitants aware of the situation.

Given the need to save the rivers, nature and human lives, people organized a march in 2012 called the March for Water, Life, and the Dignity of the People, led by indigenous people and low-income urban dwellers. As a result of this initiative, several activities were carried out, such as organizing a minga (community work) to clean the Puyo River, which resulted in the removal of as much garbage as possible from the riverbanks. The most recent activity was a march through the city with the slogan “Save the Rivers,” since both the people from the communities and the city are concerned and want to find a way out of these environmental problems. In my community we have these issues living in the rainforest, but it is worse in the city because many times during the rainy season the accumulation of garbage causes the sewers to stagnate, which results in unpleasant odors and street floods.

It is time to stop this human unconsciousness and heed the tireless cries of the planet. The problem is not only in the Amazon, it is a worldwide social problem.  

Ecuador has suffered several changes over time due to climate change, which is made evident with the increasing intense flooding, beach erosion, decreasing biodiversity in the Andean highlands, the retreat of glaciers, reduced agricultural productivity and food supplies. It is time to stop this human unconsciousness and heed the tireless cries of the planet. The problem is not only in the Amazon, it is a worldwide social problem.  

Maholy Gabriela Garcés Guatatuca

Maholy Gabriela Garcés Guatatuca

I am a young indigenous Kichwa Amazonian girl, I am 24 years old and I live in the community of Union Base, located in the province of Pastaza-Ecuador. My childhood in the community was beautiful for having grown up surrounded by aunts and uncles defenders of our territories, which has helped me to continue their legacies of community and collective coexistence. I studied elementary school in the community school, high school in the bilingual educational unit of Amauta Ñampi located in the center of the city of Puyo, both spaces with a community vision and mission, which allowed me to stay connected to my roots, ancestral knowledge and social organizations that have fought for the rights of nature and our lands, which are vulnerable spaces to not having a voice. I attended university at the State University of Bolivar located in the city of Guaranda where I studied social communication until the 4th semester. Due to various factors, I had to pause the career and study agroecology, which allows me to be closer to my home. But I have a base knowledge and passion for the communicational work, which I have continued with the activities as a community communicator and to bring the voices to other spaces and in multiple ways where the complicated realities are not known. I am not a communicator by profession, but I have a lot of love for all the work I have been able to do.

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