Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua
To view a photo diary of the destruction caused by hurricane Felix, click here.
All photos by Maia Campbell.
On September 4th, 2007, Hurricane Felix hit land on the Northeast Coast of Nicaragua as a level 5 hurricane. Initial reports have told the story of the eye of the hurricane passing directly over Awas Tingni, resulting in complete devastation of all the homes in the community, as well as destruction of all nearby crops and transport routes. Rains have continued since the hurricane hit, causing floods and ongoing dangerous conditions in the entire region.
Awas Tingni is a Mayangna (Sumo) indigenous community located on the Atlantic Coast in Nicaragua. The community is best known internationally for the landmark case decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Mayagna (Sumo) Community of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, where after a long legal battle, the community successfully gained legal recognition of its customary land tenure.
The Awas Tingni community is located in what was prior to the hurricane a densely forested area. Previously, homes in the village were primarily single rooms covered in thatch or tin, transport was primarily by canoe, and many of the family members were sustained by food grown on their family and community owned and maintained plots.
IPLP Research Fellow Visits Disaster Zone
IPLP research fellow Maia Campbell traveled to the disaster zone to assess the damage to the community and its traditional lands and resources. The following is an account of the current state of Awas Tingni following the hurricane.
Within the community, almost all of the houses are destroyed in one way or another; many are totally fallen to the ground. Most latrines have fallen down. The roof of the primary school is gone and all the windows are broken. There is rotting fruit and plant debris on the ground everywhere. There is an infestation of vampire bats, rats, and mosquitoes. Potable water is unavailable at this point. Although the rivers are running clearer than right after the hurricane, so many rotting plants and animals have fallen into the river that it is undrinkable. Many domesticated animals have died and many fish in the river are dead. All crops are destroyed.
Perhaps the most significant destruction has occurred to within the Awas Tingni ancestral forest. One Awas Tingni community member who was working in the mountainous areas of the territory when the hurricane struck reported that within 20 minutes, the entire forest was destroyed. The hurricane passed though like a bullet. Where previously, community members hunted and animals were abundant, now “there are no trees to be seen, just trunks; the animals do not exist anymore.” It took this community member eight days to walk back to the village from the place where he camped during the hurricane—a walk which normally would take 3-4 hours—because of the fallen trees and brush, intense heat, and total lack of shade.
Those few wild animals that survived the hurricane, including monkeys, parrots, and toucans, are wandering into the village in search of food, unafraid of humans. One community member witnessed an armadillo, a turkey, and 3 other types of birds sharing a fallen bunch of bananas, without fighting. Community members previously relied upon hunting wild animals and selling the meat to purchase items that could not be grown or gathered, such as salt and soap.
According to the estimation of community members, one-hundred percent of the Awas Tingni traditional territory (a total of 73,000 hectares) was destroyed by the hurricane; all that remains are tree trunks and sticks. However, community members have yet to make a systematic inventory of the magnitude of the destruction of the forest. In sum, the Awas Tingni community has for the time being lost the natural environment upon which its physical and cultural survival depend. The community is currently developing resource management strategies to rebuild its community and rehabilitate the flora and fauna of its ancestral forest.
How You Can Help
For some time, IPLP Program personnel and affiliates have worked with the people of Awas Tingni.
As members of the legal team that has worked and lived alongside this community for over 12 years to facilitate their struggle to maintain control of their land rights, we are now faced with a call to help our friends in Awas Tingni to survive this natural disaster.
Funds to Rebuild
We are working with the Awas Tingni community to collect financial contributions that will be used to rebuild the community. We are working with the community leaders and local relief organizations to assess whether the funds would be best distributed immediately or saved for future rebuilding efforts. Immediate needs will include basic food, shelter, and medical needs. Later, in addition to reconstructing their homes and crops, the community will need to rebuild its school, health center, and other communal gathering places. Any amount of financial contribution will be appreciated, and used solely for rebuilding efforts in Awas Tingni. Your contributions will be tax deductible, and you will receive a written receipt for your contribution. Donations may be made through the Rainforest Foundation-U.S., which is a partner of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program and has been supporting the Awas Tingni community directly in its effort to protect its lands and environment.
Please make checks payable to the Rainforest Foundation, earmarked for Awas Tingni and send by mail to:
Rainforest Foundation US
32 Broadway, #1614
New York, NY 10004
Or make a contribution securely online through PayPal at the Rainforest Foundation US website: www.rainforestfoundation.org or click here to make a secure online donation through Paypal:
Please contact Marina Waters with any questions about your financial contribution.
Thank you for your support during this difficult time. The sad irony of this story is that these men, women, and children who have struggled so long to maintain their homeland against the actions of the government of Nicaragua, foreign corporations, and outside encroachers, are now displaced by forces of nature. We are confident that our friends in Awas Tingni have the strength and determination to rebuild their homes and land, but also know they will need outside support. Thank you for any contributions you make.