Indigenous groups bear witness to climate change damage

May 18, 2009

The Baka people in Eastern Cameroon are using video cameras provided by UNDP and the Global Environment Facility to document how climate change is damaging the forests where they live. It’s just one way the UNDP is helping indigenous people, whose representatives are meeting at UN headquarters in New York May 18 to May 29 to discuss how to further implement a groundbreaking 2007 accord on indigenous peoples’ rights.

The Baka, who live in the forests of Central Africa, formed an organization called Okani (“rise up”) to help train other communities in filming and storytelling techniques to talk about their lives. Their first film shows how they are coping with the impacts of climate change, and the swift transformations of their habitat.

“Trees are bearing less fruit; the soil has lost its moisture,” a Baka hunter-gatherer says in the film. “Baka women love to fish. It’s part of our traditions. But the stream is drying, and fish are dying: the Earth has changed.”

Okani is one of several global initiatives in which indigenous communities are using cameras to voice their concerns. The project is funded by the Global Environmental Facility - Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) with support from the UNDP Global Human Rights Strengthening Programme.

“Participatory videos, filmed by local and indigenous peoples, provide a voice to tell the world about their needs”, said UNDP biodiversity expert Terence Hay-Edie. “The process helps build bridges between communities and policy-makers, and enables the poor and vulnerable to assert greater control over their own development, human rights and the decisions affecting their lives.”

Indigenous people are also using videos to submit project proposals, to get grants – and to get results.

“The idea is to train indigenous peoples, who will then teach other members of the community how to film their initiatives,” Hay-Edie said. “Once the project is finished, the group will describe – in their own words – the successes and lessons learned”.
The Small Grants Programme has invested more than US$ 300 million in initiatives dealing mostly with biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and prevention of land degradation. About 15% of the funds controlled by indigenous peoples’ organizations and community-managed areas in more than 100 countries.

Using the Internet to Spread the Word

The Internet is essential for spreading the word. Films are uploaded to several websites, such as UNDP-YouTube, GEF-SGP and Conversations with the Earth, and shown at important indigenous conferences.

The participatory video made by the Baka People for example, was first screened during the Global Indigenous Summit on Climate Change in Alaska on April 24.

A Global Discussion at the UN

Some 2,000 representatives of indigenous communities from around the world are meeting at the Eighth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where representatives of various governments, civic organizations and UN agencies – including the UNDP – will discuss how to further implement the September 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The need to scale up corporate social responsibility practices is another topic on the agenda, since industry has a disproportionally negative impact on indigenous communities.

The world’s approximately 370 million indigenous peoples comprise nearly 5% of the world’s population, but make up 15% of the world’s poor and one third of the 900 million extremely poor people living in rural areas. Their access to adequate services, like health and education, is well below national averages.

Indigenous peoples are key partners in a special type of development: one that respects their social and economic systems and that works for the indigenous peoples without violating their cultures and traditions. The UNDP is partnering with governments and indigenous peoples’ organizations around the world to help put into the Indigenous Peoples Rights declaration into practice, often through participatory policymaking processes.


UNDP and Indigenous Peoples:
Eighth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:
“Poverty in Focus: Indigenising Development”:

UNDP Around the world