By Eduardo Garcia
TRINIDAD, Bolivia, March 2 (Reuters) - As poor people from Bolivia’s Andes to its Amazon lowlands are battered by devastating floods, President Evo Morales is blaming pollution from wealthy nations, and some experts say he has a point.
The floods, droughts and hailstorms that have pounded South America’s poorest country for three months were triggered by El Nino, a weather phenomenon believed to be aggravated by global warming, climate experts say.
Bolivia’s worst flooding in 25 years has killed 35 people and affected 350,000, dissolving mud-brick homes and washing away the meager belongings of people who were already desperately poor.
Morales declared a national disaster this week after touring the hard-hit northeastern Beni region, in a drainage basin for rivers from all over the country.
He has blamed the floods on industrialized nations "that pollute the environment and change the weather."
Spencer Wear, author of The Discovery of Global Warming, said poor countries are more susceptible to the damage caused by climate change.
"Nobody can say (El Nino) is caused by global warming, but we can say for sure that global warming makes this kind of event more likely," Wear told Reuters.
POOR SUFFER THE MOST
Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the world’s poor, who are the least responsible for global warming, suffer the most from climate change.
Poor countries are the lowest emitters of the greenhouse gases blamed for extreme weather, but they have the most to lose under predicted changes in weather patterns, experts say.
The United States produces 25 percent of global greenhouse gases but has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, by which countries agreed to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
In Bolivia, the governor of Beni, Ernesto Suarez, says he is worried about food supplies after floods killed 22,000 heads of cattle and wiped out an estimated $115 million worth of livestock, crops and infrastructure.
Around Beni’s capital, Trinidad, 19,000 evacuees from flooded shantytowns are living in temporary shelters vulnerable to dengue and dysentery outbreaks.
In the highlands, El Nino weather destroyed staple crops of Aymara Indians and in the agricultural heartland of Santa Cruz, it annihilated huge swaths of soy, Bolivia’s main export crop.
Extreme weather has also caused chaos in poor countries like Mozambique and the Philippines in recent months.
Wear says some big corporations and industrialized nations have started taking steps against global warming because of the threat of legal action.
In a hearing on Thursday in Washington, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission heard a claim from Inuits of northern Canada that their way of life is in peril because global warming has reduced sea ice, killing off animals they hunt.
Lauren Baker, a scientist for the Center for International Environmental Law, which is advising the Inuit on their legal action, says the case could inspire other nations to sue against greenhouse gas emitters.
"Global warming is not only affecting the Inuit or Bolivia, it’s also affecting other countries across the Americas with hurricanes, sea level rising, shortage of drinking water, displacement of people," she said.