Environmental racism also threatens people of African descent

Environmental racism also threatens people of African descent

Afro-Colombian workers load lumber for export in Turbo, Colombia, December 3, 2019.Afro-Colombian workers load lumber for export in Turbo, Colombia, December 3, 2019. Jan Sochor (Getty Images)

Around 200 million people of African descent live in America. A population suffering from racial discrimination embedded in social structures and rooted in the historical practices of a colonial and slave-owning past. Unequal treatment that violates human rights.

The historical forms of discrimination are exacerbated in the present by the differentiated effects of so-called natural disasters depending on membership of a specific ethnic group. An example of this would be the damage to the health of those communities living in places exposed to serious and persistent environmental pollution. Added vulnerabilities that lead to health emergencies and severe humanitarian crises.

The difficulties that Afro communities face in accessing human rights have been exacerbated by the impact of climate change and the resulting disasters on affected populations. We have seen their rights to health and basic necessities such as food, access to water and housing deteriorate at an alarming rate. The environmental impacts have a racial dimension in promoting displacement, inequalities and poverty among certain social groups. Racial discrimination in environmental policies leads to an environmental racism that is additional to the old historical and structural racism.

Among the factors limiting the rights of people of African descent, we must highlight the business activities that lead to the deforestation of large areas of jungle and the overexploitation of natural resources. Events affecting traditional resources and the food sovereignty of these communities.

On the International Day of People of African Descent, there is an urgent need to make visible the duty and responsibility of states in implementing environmental policies with an ethnic-racial approach. Actions that, without forgetting the historical needs of people of African descent, should aim to ensure food security and access to natural resources.

Given the projects that extractive industries are undertaking in ancestral lands, states must listen to Afro-descendant and tribal communities and guarantee the right to prior consultation. Ensure free and informed consent is given to all government actions and agreements made with the extractive natural resource industry.

As stated in IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) Resolution 3/2021, states must ensure the availability of economic and financial support – such as subsidies, loans and donations – when rural Afro-descended Communities lose their crops or homes due to floods or droughts and provide all technical and legal support to access these rights.

Eliminating racial inequality is the best way to achieve climate justice.

Margaret May Macaulay She is the IACHR Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro People and Against Racial Discrimination; Y Soledad García Munoz She is Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights.