Suriname’s beautiful and dense rainforest, which allows it to have an almost negative carbon footprint, can be seen easily from almost anywhere, even from the outskirts of the capital, Paramaribo, which itself is dotted with markets. entertainment and cultural centers.
On Saturday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres saw firsthand the commitment of the Surinamese people to protecting their natural treasures and ancestral knowledge.
“Tropical forests are a precious gift to humanity. That’s why from here in Suriname, I want to send a message to the world: We must honor and preserve the gift of rainforests because it is not a gift that will continue to be given,” Guterres told reporters during a joint press conference with President Chan Santokhi at the end of his first day in the country.
The UN chief also issued a stern warning: “If we continue to see the [current] the extent of the destruction of the world’s rainforests, we are not just biting the hand that feeds us, we are tearing it to shreds”.
Mr Guterreshighlighted that rampant deforestation and worsening climate impacts are increasing forest fires and droughts.
“It’s outrageous and shameful. It’s global suicide in slow motion,” he said, adding that such destruction should be a global wake-up call to save our planet’s lungs.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
A call from the indigenous peoples of Suriname
Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General visited the indigenous village of Pierre Kondre – Redi Doti, some 67 kilometers south of the capital, surrounded by 9,000 hectares of forest and home to around 100 inhabitants.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) July 2, 2022
After crossing an iron-rich countryside, characterized by its reddish soil, Mr. Guterres was received by Captain Lloyd Read of the Kaliña people, accompanied by women and men members of the community singing and dressed in their traditional clothes with dominant red. .
“The challenge [we face] protecting Mother Earth and the Amazon rainforest is unappreciated and threatens our lives,” Mr. Lloyd lamented, adding that his people – through no fault of his own – are currently threatened by the exploitation of natural resources and the consequences of the climate. changes such as heavy and sustained rains and flooding.
He said mercury contamination – mainly caused by illegal extractive activities – also threatens the lives and livelihoods of indigenous people.
“In the South, life is ruined by Mercury. There is no fish, no meat and no potable water to drink. Even extremely high levels of this metal have been found in the hair of our natives,” he said.
The Secretary-General, noting the concerns and asking Mr. Lloyd for clarification, promised to be the “spokesperson” of the community during his subsequent meeting with the government.
“This is a solidarity visit with indigenous communities in Suriname and around the world. When we see that we are still losing the battle of climate change, when you see biodiversity increasingly threatened everywhere, when you see pollution in the world, it is very important to recognize that indigenous communities are showing wisdom, resilience and willingness to be at peace with nature,” he told those gathered in the village.
Pineapple for sustainability
The village of Redi Doti, partly nestled in the savannah belt of Suriname, an area of generally infertile white silicate sand, manages to cultivate pineapples, passion fruits and cassava, which represent the main source of subsistence for the community.
Mr. Guterres was able to see the work of two cooperatives supported by the UN and its agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (CAM), as well as the European Union.
One of these cooperatives, run by local women, creates products derived from organic pineapple, such as jam, juices and fruit cups. The other cooperative deals with the cultivation process, which tries to turn the pineapple harvest into a year-round production, instead of a seasonal production.
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the inclusion of indigenous and tribal communities in economic prosperity is essential. While they constitute only 4% of the total population, their land rights cover more than 80% of the territory of Suriname, but they are not officially recognized by national legislation.
Before leaving the community, Captain Lloyd Read told the Secretary-General that he would ask Tamushi the Almighty [the great spirit God], to give it the strength and power to go further, in a world threatened by climate change and war.
Singing a beautiful prayer in his native language Kaliña, he said goodbye and told her he hoped he would remember them.
“Indigenous peoples have not contributed to climate change, but they are among the most affected. At the same time, they have solutions that the world can learn a lot from. They are proud stewards of some of the planet’s much-needed biological diversity, and they need support to do so,” the UN chief later stressed at a press conference.
UNDP Suriname/Pelu Vidal
Sowing hope with the mangroves
From the forest, the Secretary-General traveled to the beach, where he could see the devastating effects of climate change that fuel coastal erosion, flooding and rising sea levels.
Weg Naar Zee, an easily accessible coastal area of approximately 10,000 acres located northwest of Paramaribo and part of Suriname’s 386 km mostly muddy coastal zone, has suffered from extreme erosion which has resulted in an absence of soft sling mud, a prime foraging habitat for shorebirds.
Since 2016, the UN has supported the country’s efforts, led by academics and students, to increase the conservation, natural restoration and rehabilitation of mangroves. One such project, led by Anton de Kom University of Suriname, is installing sediment trapping structures along the coast and plants to repair the damage.
Walking along the muddy shore with Suriname’s Foreign Minister Albert Ramchand Ramdin, Mr. Guterres planted a young mangrove tree.
“Nature-based solutions – such as preserving mangroves, rainforests and other essential ecosystems – are vital. The world needs more initiatives like this“, he told the press.
Earlier, the Secretary-General said that mangroves had a special meaning for him, as the first book he read as a child was about these hardy and uniquely beneficial trees and shrubs.
Mangroves play a vital role in the fight against climate change because they can capture and store huge amounts of carbon in the roots and even in the soils in which they grow.
They are also extremely important to our coastal environments and our habitats and refuges for a wide range of species. They are called “coastal kidneys” because of the role they play in nutrient cycling in the coastal environment.
UNDP Suriname/Pelu Vidal
An exceptional example
“What I have seen here in Suriname gives me hope and inspiration. But what we are seeing around the world is cause for deep shock and anger,” Mr. Guterres further told his late-day presser.
The UN chief stressed that unfortunately, Suriname is an exception in a world that is going in the wrong direction.
“Around the world, we are witnessing the failure of climate leadership and the proliferation of disastrous climate disruptions… To meet the goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, global emissions must decrease by 45 % by 2030.Yet current national climate commitments would lead to a 14% increase in emissions by 2030“, he warned.
Emphasizing that large emitters have a special responsibility, Guterres stressed that Caribbean nations are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and have always shown unwavering leadership.
“As I saw today, we have the tools and the know-how. Our world needs the political will and solidarity to make the difference that is needed. Suriname and the Caribbean region are leading the way. We must walk this path – for people, for posterity and for our planet,” he concluded.
The Secretary General will be in Suriname until Sunday, when he will attend the opening of the 43rd regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).