The lost village of Gansé

Blog by Gwendolyn Parami

What do you see in
this picture? It looks like a peaceful lake surrounded by lush greenery,
doesn’t it?

I took this picture
last year when I was visiting the place my grandparents used to live. It is
actually the Brokopondo water reservoir in the jungle of Suriname. About 60
years ago, around 5000 people used to live in this area. One of those villages
was called Gansé, and according to the stories of my grandmother, it was
beautiful. However, the villages including Gansé, disappeared under water with
the construction of a dam and the creation of the water reservoir. The
communities did not have secured land rights and with promises of a better life
somewhere else, they were forced to abandon their homes.

Unfortunately the
promises were not realized. The only visible proof of the communities living
there, many years ago, are thousands of dead tree tops rising above the water’s
surface. In an effort to save money, the trees were not cut down before
flooding the area.  The reservoir is now
one of the largest reservoirs in the world and the dam provides electricity to industries
involved in the processing of bauxite into alumina.

Not only in
Suriname, but also in the rest of the world, indigenous and local communities
are vulnerable to pressures from more powerful actors as they don’t have
formally recognized land rights. Land is an essential part of their cultural
identity and a way to survive and develop. That is why I am supporting the Land
Rights Now Campaign at Oxfam Novib. This is a Global Call to Action and we aim to engage and
mobilize communities, organizations, governments, and individuals worldwide to
promote and secure Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ land rights.

How the rotten smell of the
earth can save your life

Working on the
campaign with an amazing team of passionate people has made me realize how
fundamental land rights are for indigenous peoples and local communities, but
also for all of us. Last week, I conducted an interview with an indigenous
woman living in the mountains of Taiwan. She explained that many indigenous
peoples in the country have suffered from the typhoons that are frequently
occurring because of climate change.

Her community started a project that includes the creation
of early disaster warning systems based on the documentation of traditional
knowledge from the indigenous peoples living in the high risk areas.  She
explained: “Just before a landslide, you can feel the ground changing, you can
smell a distinct rotten smell and you can see the color of the river changing.
You can hear the rocks running from the mountains and the different sizes of
the rocks tell you what stage the landslide is”. This knowledge is now used to
build an early disaster warning system in many areas of the country. Read more here.

Indigenous peoples are “living encyclopedias” with in-depth knowledge
of every aspect of the environment. They are finding innovative and practical
solutions for fighting climate change by drawing on their traditional knowledge.
They protect the forests and biodiversity, manage lands, sequester carbon, and
preserve our ecosystem. Recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and local
communities is therefore not only key to fighting climate change, but also to
ensure that communities, such as the one in Gansé, are
not forced to move from their ancestral lands.

Gwendolyn is interning at our land rights now campaign, writing down the stories of displaced people and fighting to make land rights a right! 

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