All posts by ecazeault

Climate Change Destroying Patagonian Ice Fields

Climate change is hitting Patagonia, a region covering the southern portions of Argentina and Chile, hard. Although the Patagonian landscape contains a diverse range of forests, deserts, and grasslands,  the dense Patagonian ice fields atop the Andes Mountains are most endangered from global warming.

According to NOAA’s 2019 Global Climate Summary, the combined land and ocean temperatures have been increasing at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade since 1880. These temperatures have been rising at a greater rate in recent years, as the temperature has been increasing at an average rate of 0.32°F since 1980. The rapid rise in temperature has led to the rapid melting of the ice fields, and contributed to global sea level rise. Just in 2019, Chile’s 12,000 square kilometer Southern Patagonia Ice Field split in two, alarming scientists as more of the ice breaks away.

Glacier in Chile, lost 66% of ice mass since 1953

Outside of Antarctica, the Patagonian ice fields are the largest mass of ice in the southern hemisphere. Over 99% of all tropical glaciers are located in the Andes. At the current rate of melting, it is projected that between  78% and 97%  of glacial ice mass will be lost by the end of the century. This poses a larger problem to communities, specifically communities in the Andean highlands of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, who depend on glacial meltwater as a clean source of water both for drinking and for agriculture. Glacial meltwater has contributed to 61% of the water supply in La Paz, Bolivia and 67% of the water supply in Huaraz, Peru

Local residents also fear that the loss of glaciers will lead to a loss in tourism. Thousands of people travel to Patagonia and the Andes to hike and take in the beautiful scenery. One local resident and owner of an adventure tourism agency, Luciana Juarez, says, “the receding glaciers are causing ice fields to develop large crevasses that make mountaineering expeditions too dangerous.” But when asked what should be done to help prevent such a future, another local said somberly, “There is no return, I think, because the climate has already changed.”

Photographer Cristian Donoso is making it his mission to capture the devastating effects of climate change in Patagonia. Following in the footsteps of Alberto de Agostini, who left behind over 11,000 photos of the Patagonian landscape, Donoso is recreating de Agostini’s photographs over 100 years later. Donoso calls his project “Ice Postcards”. Donoso so far has found the exact locations of 10 of de Agostini’s images and recreated them at the same time of year in order to create the same seasonal conditions. The difference is startling. One photo in particular shows the Negri glacier that de Agostini took over a century ago. Donoso’s photo merely shows a small fraction of the same glacier. Donoso’s hope with “Ice Postcards” is that he can showcase the severity of this issue to those who can’t see it firsthand. Donoso believes that “No one will fight to protect things that they aren’t aware of”.

de Agostini’s photo of the Negri glacier in Patagonia (left) and Donoso’s photo of the Negri glacier in Patagonia (right)

So what can be done to save the Patagonian icefields? The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization recommends  increasing  support for science-based policy decisions. But following the current trends, the future of the Patagonian icefields is grim. Many of the recommendations are focused on adapting to a new normal. Local governments should create preventative measures and early warning systems for natural disasters as the glaciers melt away. Updated building regulations are essential to reducing devastation from future flooding and mudslides. An increased understanding of water demand and water use as well as good water governance is crucial in order to avoid carelessly running out of the limited water supply. Although the future for the Patagonian icefields are bleak, it should be used as a warning globally for what is to come if climate change is not controlled.

A New Wave of Discrimination in Myanmar

Myanmar has a long-standing anti-Muslim narrative, especially against the Rohingyas. In the 1980’s the Myanmar government began to deny Rohingyas citizenship.  In 2012, the Ministry of Immigration and Population adopted the motto of “The earth will not swallow a race to extinction but another race will”. Buddhist nationalists distributed pamphlets and spread the idea that the Rohingya, an ethnically Muslim minority, should be forced out of Myanmar, a Buddhist country. Later that year, violence ensued as Buddhist nationalists began to attack the Rohingya with machetes and spears alongside police. On August 25, 2017, tensions escalated once again as military troops and Buddhist mobs began to torch Rohingya villages and attacked, raped, and killed over 6,700 Rohingyas. Myanmar denies that the attacks were genocidal and instead claims that they were “fighting Rohingya militants”. In January 2020, the United Nations’ court ordered that Myanmar take action in protecting the Rohingyas from further genocide. However, now during the worldwide pandemic, the Myanmar government is using Covid-19 as an excuse to further discriminate against the Rohingyas. 

The Rohingya are being dehumanized by many Myanmar politicians through their rhetoric especially leading up to the Myanmar Presidential Election in November. The Rohingya are serving as a scapegoat for the most recent wave of coronavirus with propaganda declaring that they brought the disease over from Bangladesh. One Myanmar lawmaker posted on Facebook demanding for the segregation of the Rohingya from the Buddhists. Kyaw Win , the director of Burma Human Rights Network said that his team has been seeing a rise in discrimination and hate speech against the Rohingya online by Buddhist nationalists. Shops are refusing to sell their merchandise to the Rohingya.

The Myanmar government also uses Covid-19 as an excuse to extort money from the Rohingyas. There are fines in Myanmar for not following Covid-19 procedures or protocol, such as not wearing a mask or not social distancing. The police overlook most violations of these rules by Buddhists and disproportionately punish the Rohingyas. Also, there are higher fines in areas with a higher population of Rohingyas. For example, in predominantly Buddhist areas the fine for not wearing a mask is only 1,000 Kyat or $0.75 USD. In predominantly Rohingya areas the fine for not wearing a mask is 10,000 Kyat, or $7.75 USD. Some Rohingyas have had to forego food for the week in order to buy a mask to try and avoid the large fines. However, there have been reports that the police will still take the money out of people’s pockets as a ‘fine’ regardless if they are or aren’t wearing a mask.

Over 700,000 Rohingyas were displaced due to the genocide in 2017 and over 130,000 of them were sent to displacement camps in Myanmar. These camps give the Rohingya little access to food, medical resources, education, and general humanitarian services. Additionally these camps are overcrowded and serve as a breeding ground for diseases such as Covid-19. Some reports say that if infected with Covid-19, the Rohingya will not be allowed to go to the hospital. They must instead stay at one of the detention camps to receive treatment. These camps don’t have the capacity to handle such medical cases if an outbreak were to arise. These camps don’t even have the resources for adequate testing to see if there even is a coronavirus outbreak. More Rohingyas have been sent to the camps during the pandemic after they were arrested for travelling within the country. On January 6, 2021, the Myanmar police arrested 99 Rohingya for travelling without documentation and they will be held there for six to twelve months. They don’t have documentation because, although they have lived in Myanmar for all of their life, Myanmar denies all ethnic Rohingya citizenship. Instead these ethnic Rohingyas are seen as illegal aliens. This violates the current international human rights law which guarantees the right to freedom of movement within the country and or leave the country. If Myanmar continues to discriminate against the Rohingya throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there could be a new wave of nationalist-motivated genocide; this time biological genocide.