Climate change and displacement in the indigenous region of Gunayala, Panama


Tuesday October 21st, 2014, 5:00pm


Carlos Arenas, consultant, Displacement Solutions


1010 Medical Sciences Center

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Climate change is already displaceming families in the Autonomous Region of Gunayala, Panama, where indigenous communities call an archipelago on the eastern Caribbean coastline home. Finding equitable and just solutions for families who are losing their homes and livelihoods presents an urgent challenge for the national government, local authorities and the communities affected, says Carlos Arenas, a UW-Madison alumnus and consultant at Displacement Solutions, a human rights non-governmental organization that specializes in climate migration.

Sea levels are rising in Gunayala, Panama, driving indigenous families from their homes. (Photo by Kadir van Lohuizen)

Sea levels are rising in Gunayala, Panama, driving indigenous families from their homes. (Photo by Kadir van Lohuizen)

Immediate efforts are required to address this complex challenge, in particular to organize an orderly relocation process, Arenas says. If not, there is a serious risk that an extreme weather-related natural disaster will occur, forcing a sudden, chaotic, and permanent relocation of large numbers of people, for which no preparations have been made.

Arenas will discuss Displacement Solutions recent fact-finding mission in Gunayala to investigate the impact of rising sea levels and the planned relocation of indigenous communities from affected islands to the mainland.

Displacement Solutions used the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement as a guiding framework for assessing the situation and for making recommendations as to what action is required to ensure that the human rights of communities affected by or threatened with climate displacement are fully protected. Rights can be protected if the necessary financial resources and risk management systems are operationalized in Gunayala at the earliest possible opportunity, Arenas says.

Arenas studied law at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and has an MLI and LLM from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has worked on human right issues for more than 20 years. He has been researcher at the Instituto Latinoamericano por un Derecho y una Sociedad Alternativa (ILSA) in Colombia and executive Director of Working Capital for Community Needs in Madison, Wisconsin. Arenas has

Carlos Arenas

Carlos Arenas

worked on diverse  projects, including microfinance, impact investing, women’s empowerment, housing and land issues, indigenous rights, internally displaced populations and immigrant workers.

Displacement Solutions is a not-for-profit international initiative that carries out projects in support of refugees and displaced persons designed to secure for them sustainable livelihood options within the context of protecting their housing, land and property rights. The organization works works with and on behalf of people who have been displaced by conflict, forced migration or other human rights abuses, natural disasters, climate change or other circumstances beyond their control.

Displacement Solutions assists displaced persons and refugees to find alternative solutions such as just compensation or resettlement when return-based restitution is physically impossible or if this is their wish.


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