La Guajira is Colombia’s coastal desert community, and has experienced severe climate change patterns the past years.
Reina Epiayu (84 years old) belongs to the Mapashirra community, one of the Wayuu indigenous desert communities of La Guajira in northern Colombia. The Colombian Caribbean coast is particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events associated with climate change, and experienced torrential rain and flooding in 2022. This contaminated the water reservoirs, creating a lack of safe drinking water, and severely damaged the crops resulting in high food insecurity for the Wayuu community.
HelpAge worked with local partners Secretariado de Pastoral Social Riohacha and Cadena Colombia to set up a humanitarian response to the crisis. The Wayuu are matriarchal societies, where older women hold primary power positions and are decision-makers with traditional and ancestral wisdom. The response therefore focused on setting up a dialogue with the older people of the indigenous communities in order to learn from their deep understanding of local climate patterns and the best measures for adaptation. Older people were nominated as leaders of water committees to manage the water systems and ensure knowledge would be transferred to younger generations.
Abandoned or damaged water systems were repaired, operational and technical capacities were strengthened, and robust intergenerational water committees now ensure constant maintenance and smooth functioning of the water systems.
200 people from the Wayuu communities now actively manage the water systems, which provide water to approximately 1,000 people living in indigenous communities nearby.