OCTOBER IN NICARAGUA brings a creeping sense of anxiety. Over the last quarter century, it has become the country's wettest month, as intense late rainy season deluges have increased in tandem with the temperature. These storms often lack names, so they don't attract much media attention outside of Central America. But for a low-income family living next to a drainage ditch, or a person caught at the wrong time crossing an overflowing river, a low-pressure system magnified by the warming planet can be as catastrophic as a hurricane.
Twice in the past four years, October landslides have buried Nicaraguan families alive. Outbreaks of potentially deadly dengue fever and leptospirosis, likely associated with urban poverty, increasing temperatures, and these heavy rainfalls, are now almost annual events.
Flooding damages houses and roads in the capital city of Managua every year, and evacuees there regularly number in the thousands, as just happened this October. Beyond the sprawling capital, violent downpours also plague the countryside, where they threaten the livelihoods of the roughly 1.2 million Nicaraguans who work in agriculture. One quarter of them suffer chronic or temporary food insecurity. Small farmers rely on their crops not only for subsistence and income but for each year's seeds, as well.
When I visited Miguel Zuniga, a sixty-nine-year-old farmer, on his small, diversified farm in the department of Carazo in 2011, he told me climatic changes have resulted in year after year of failed crops. He was already suffering annual losses of red beans, a Nicaraguan staple. Since then, the trend of crop failures has continued. The strongest El Nino phenomenon ever recorded caused one of the most severe droughts in decades between 2014 and 2016. Then, 2017 brought repeated heavy rain and flooding events, including a deadly tropical storm.
"Before, we didn't have so many losses," Zuniga told me. "Now, always, on a regular basis. If there aren't floods, it's because of droughts. I always lose [something]."
Which is why Zuniga and other farmers--some of those hit hardest here at the epicenter for climate injustice--are doing something about it.
Increasingly frequent heavy rain events are combining with deforestation and urbanization to make all Nicaraguans more vulnerable to the loss of property and crops, displacement, disease, and death that flooding can provoke. This vulnerability compounds year after year, especially for those people without savings or insurance. As personal assets, health, livelihoods, and infrastructure are degraded, the resilience of families and...