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UN Warns Climate Change Will Harm Indigenous People

A U.N. panel on biological diversity says indigenous people are especially vulnerable to climate change. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York bureau that the panel is appealing for international attention to help indigenous populations, saying they are suffering because of global warming.

The issue of global warming and its negative affects on the planet have been widely debated. The U.N. intergovernmental panel on climate change has called the reality of global warming "unequivocal." The panel says as global temperatures rise, there is likely to be less rainfall near the equator, more rainfall in other parts of the globe, and more rapid melting of Arctic ice. Sea level could rise by as nearly one meter in the coming century.

But, John Scott, the head of the U.N. convention on biodiversity, says most scientific studies fail to put a "human face" on the dangers of climate change. Scott says indigenous people in the Arctic, on small islands and at high altitudes face the most severe threat from environmental changes. "Indigenous and local communities, often amongst the world's most marginalized and impoverished peoples, will bear the brunt of this catastrophe because of their close association with their traditional lands and waters, and the animals contained within," he said.

Scott appealed for both global and local attention to how climate change affects indigenous life. He said there are options for diversifying food and farming to combat the effects of global warming. He cited a program in Peru, where indigenous people in mountainous areas are now growing potatoes that withstand extreme conditions and also the temperature swings linked to global warming.

Lakshan Bebe, an indigenous representative of the Kalash people in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, says climate change has resulted in a loss of sustainable resources in their mountainous region. "Due to global warming, the indigenous way of life has suffered because of flooding and avalanches. The condition never existed before," he said.

The panel also says environmentalists could benefit from working with the traditional knowledge of indigenous people to help combat the negative affects of global warming.

The biodiversity panel is part of a wider, U.N.-sponsored event on indigenous people under way at U.N. headquarters in New York this month.