Four Colombian students seek to highlight the human impacts of climate change


Earth Journalism Network, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

In the midst of one of the most severe droughts in Colombian history, four social communications students are thinking of new ways to communicate the impacts of climate change. Members of the environmental research group Yuca Pelá at the Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), these four young journalists are working to address major gaps in environmental communication through the Earth Journalism Network's climate change mentorship program.

Picture: exploring the mangroves, Credits: María Clara Valencia.

Exploring the mangroves to report on Climate Change Credits: María Clara Valencia.

Every week the group meets to discuss new story ideas, talk about progress made and the difficulties they face during the reporting process. Cartagena, a city located along Colombia's Caribbean coast, is considered one of the country's most vulnerable cities to climate change due to its coastal location, but also because of severe income disparities between residents. La Heroica, as the city is known, houses the richest and poorest communities in the country, which presents major challenges when dealing with issues such as sea level rise and reduced fish stocks that threaten the historic patrimony of the city.

Because of these unique conditions, Cartagena and the surrounding region are ripe with stories that these students hope to tell.

One of the students, Samuel López, has already published a piece that was featured in local, national and international media on the importance of the yucca shrub, one of the most popular plants in the Caribbean that is known for its resistance to droughts. When rainfall becomes scarce, the yucca drops its leaves and survives with only its roots. When the rain comes back, the leaves also return.

Buoyed by the excitement of their first attempt to explore climate change from a human perspective, the students named their new research group Yuca Pelá, or "yucca without leaves," as a tribute to this major component of the Caribbean diet that might one day save millions of people from starving. But with nearly two years of drought, even the yucca plantations have been affected. 

The group has also worked on issues related to the mangroves that help protect the city from sea level rise and reduced fish populations. This ecosystem has also been threatened by the increase in construction projects that have contaminated the surrounding waters.

In trying to explore original ways to talk about climate change, the team published a third story on the impact of droughts on the city's beloved football fields. This story, written by Ruth Zabaleta and group's mentor ,María Clara Valencia, was an attempt to combine Ruth’s passion for sports and the need talk about the environmental conservation.

Mentee Lina Cano also recently published a beatiful story about the impacts of climate change on migrant birds and the importance of taking care of the mangroves that host them.

Jessica González, a recent addition to the group, is also working on projects that will soon to be released.

Students facing a great challenge

With a topic as vast and consequential as climate change, there are many stories left to tell.

EJN's Climate Mentors Program is an opportunity to teach these students how to explore the present and future impacts of climate change through a human lens. It is a chance to learn from one another, explore important issues and to build important linkages between young journalists from all around the world. But it is also a big challenge because it's a complex subject that often gets little attention in many developing countries.

The students are up to the challenge. Mentee Samuel López says reporting on the environment "is such a part of me now that it's like taking a shower every day. I won't stop."