Odelia’s Story – Weathering Change

Consequences of climate change—floods, droughts, extreme weather, declining agricultural production—affect everyone. But in many developing countries, shifting temperature and precipitation patterns are making life especially hard for women and families. A new documentary, Weathering Changetells the stories of women around the world who are shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change. Here are their stories.

Manchay, Peru (outskirts of Lima) 

Odelia Escalante Zuniga hears the rumble of the water truck and bolts out her front door. Buckets in hand, baby bouncing on her hip, she races down the dusty hill, past countless wooden shacks similar to her own.

Sometimes, she cajoles the truck driver to come up the hill to her home to fill the blue plastic barrels that hold her family’s water supply. Other times, she has to leave her baby and haul bucket after heavy bucket up and down the hill to get what she needs.

“I had to lie to get him up here, saying there were more barrels to fill,” she says. “If there are more, like five, he didn’t have a problem coming up here. But we only had two. I had to lie to get water. If not, we wouldn’t have any.”

For the last four years, since her family moved from rural Ayacucho to the outskirts of Lima, this is how Odelia has lived — forever in pursuit of water.

“I needed water to cook with,” she says. “And I would bathe my children with just a little.”

Odelia and her husband came to the city after changes in weather patterns caused crop failures in their rural village.  While Odelia loved her agricultural lifestyle, she realized that it would not continue with the unpredictable climate. There wasn’t enough to eat, there wasn’t any work, and there were no other options.

“Before there was corn – enough to eat, too,” Odelia says. “Not anymore. The grass is drying up and dying. That’s why we’re here.”

At first, Odelia was excited about the move . In Lima, she hoped for a brick home, the chance to earn an income and buy a bed, and to have a real kitchen. Instead, her family, like many migrants, live on the margins of the city, on dusty, previously undeveloped hills. Most homes in the area have no running water or electricity.

In Lima, close to 1 million people live without access to running water. And Peru’s glaciers, which serve as a critical source of water for millions in the country’s coastal cities, have lost more than a quarter of their surface area since 1970. By 2035, around 3.6 billion people worldwide are projected to live in countries where water scarcity threatens public health and constrains food production and economic development.

“Sometimes people will say, why don’t you install electricity or water?,” Odelia says. “But the poor sometimes can’t afford it. I didn’t imagine suffering like this.”
With four young children, Odelia cannot work outside the home, and her husband earns little as a day laborer. Odelia says her husband used to want more children, but has changed his mind after seeing the harsh reality the family faces. “We can’t afford schooling, we always need more money,” she says. “Some months, we don’t have any money. We have to be careful.”

Odelia protects herself by getting contraceptive injections every three months. Though she wishes contraceptives were free, so she could spend money on other needs, the expense is worth it. She says she is happy when she is on birth control, because she no longer has to fear another pregnancy. Instead, she can concentrate on providing for her four existing boys, which is no easy task.

“If I had more children, what would I do?” she asks. “What would they eat?”

For now, Odelia remains vigilant for the water truck, and is doing all she can to support her family. In her spare time, she shells peas and peels vegetables to earn a little extra money. She bargains with neighbors to get essentials, like an additional water barrel, and is working with them to run a cable to provide electricity.  But as she watches more and more houses being built on the hills around her, she wonders whether there is enough water — enough of anything — to support everyone in the growing community. Lima has almost 9 million residents, and that number is rising rapidly.

“More people are coming,” Odelia explains. “Houses are filling up what used to be empty. They’re going to take over the hills. And they’re going to need water and electricity.”

Odelia’s story was cross-posted on AllVoices.