Today, we start with our interview of the series on Covid-19 and climate change in countries of the Global South. We start the first part of this series in the Caribbean with Rubén Herrera and Daniela Larios from Cuba and Honduras. They tell us how their countries are suffering from the climate crisis and how they have been affected by the closure of Europe’s borders.
Situation before Corona
Klimadelegation e.V.: What was the situation in your country/region in terms of climate change before the Corona pandemic?
Rubén Herrera: “I live on an island in the middle of the Caribbean, due to our geographic location we are regularly hit by hurricanes and heavy storms, especially in the season (from June to November), and since the average global temperatures have been rising in the last decade, hurricanes are stronger and more destructive every season. This affects our infrastructure and our economy as well as our agriculture.
The other important issue related to the climate crisis is rising sea levels. This has a direct impact on communities that live close to the shore, which makes them very vulnerable and they will eventually have to move far away from the coastline.
Since I live in the countryside, me and my family have always been impacted by the hurricanes. My grandparents are farmers and whenever we are hit by a strong hurricane our crops suffer the consequences and we and all the farmer families around lose all their crops.”
Daniela Larios: “Climate change is a relatively new issue in Honduras, we suffer from great periods of drought and as a result crops are lost and there is much rationalization of water.
We also suffer a lot from large forest fires and deforestation that are destroying our forests, all because of the conversion of forests into agricultural or residential areas.
Also the increase of the level of the oceans is causing displacement and poverty, without leaving aside the loss of biodiversity and the contamination by plastic that affects us greatly”.
Klimadelegation e.V: What about the political/societal situation?
Rubén Herrera: “Fortunately, the government has a national program called “Tarea Vida” (Project Life) which is focussed on implementing changes and regulations across Cuba to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, to do more investments in clean energies, sustainable agriculture…etc. However, we are still using a lot of fossil fuel energy due to our status as a developing country, which makes it really difficult to completely change our entire infrastructure.
Since I have lived all my short life in the countryside, I have always felt some sort of connection to the natural world and this has been impacting my perception of things. When I read the news or watch documentaries about global warming and how it’s impacting our planet, I get very overwhelmed and this affects my mental health, that’s why I always try to use my platform and my resources to create change and inspire other young people to create a positive impact.”
Daniela Larios: “Honduras is a beautiful country, with a great natural wealth and people of great heart. Unfortunately, because of corruption and impunity, Honduras has suffered great blows. The socio-economic situation is very unjust, with the majority of the population being poor. Our health and education system is destroyed, because of the great corruption that prevails in the country.”
Situation during Corona:
Klimadelegation e.V.: How did Corona affect you and your family?
Rubén Herrera: “During my travel back to Cuba from Bermuda where I was sailing with a group of environmentalists from Latin America and Europe, I got COVID19. I got tested and stayed in a hospital for almost a month. I was really overwhelmed emotionally because a few days back I was sailing to attend the United Nations Conference in Bonn and then I was laying on a hospital bed with the coronavirus, I was by myself and no one was able to visit me.”
Daniela Larios: “It’s been difficult for my family since we’re entrepreneurs. My mom has her business and I have mine, so we have struggled to keep them active in this health crisis. Fortunately, through digital media we have managed to keep the companies active, although not with the same income as before. In addition to my company I also work in marine conservation, and I have managed to continue my work from home.”
Klimadelegation e.V.: How did you deal with the situation emotionally?
Rubén Herrera: “When I got back home, I had to keep social distance like everyone else and this experience taught me to appreciate even more the natural world. I was emotionally overwhelmed but I tried to use this time to be more comfortable with myself, to meditate more and to acknowledge life more.”
Daniela Larios: “Personally, it has been difficult to keep my spirits up. My father died from health complications on the day they announced the quarantine in Honduras (he did not die from COVID-19), but keeping in touch with my friends at Sail For Climate ACtion, attending online workshops, courses, etc. has helped me a lot to cope with everything that is happening.
One positive thing about the situation is that my family has become more united, we all try to support each other in our work to get ahead and spending so much time together has helped us as a family.”
Lessons from Corona — Messages for the Future
Klimadelegation e.V: What lessons should we learn from the Corona Crisis for fighting the Climate Crisis (collectively and individually)?
Rubén Herrera: “This health crisis has impacted us differently but there is one single message that we have to learn from it: we have to unify to fight the climate crisis. We saw how governments and politicians around the world acknowledged the pandemic and prioritized solutions towards a better future and we need to do the same with the climate crisis.”
Daniela Larios: “A very important lesson we must learn is that human health and the health of the planet is one. We are not immortal to the climate crisis, it is real, it is happening now, and we are already living its effects. I hope that society will wake up, be more supportive, take action, and realize that as quickly as we react to COVID-19 we must react to the climate crisis.
I think that the future is very uncertain, and it is scary. Seeing ourselves as vulnerable as humanity really opens our eyes and incites the need for change, urgently.”