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Two extreme effects of climate change, intense droughts, and powerful hurricanes converge in Central America to create, along with the devastating impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, a severe food shortage crisis.
In Eastern Guatemala, near the border with Honduras, lies the small town of Jocotan, which sits in a region known as the Dry Corridor, stretching from southern Mexico down to Panama, crossing parts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua along the way. This region includes some of the most vulnerable areas to food shortages in the Western Hemisphere, pounded by year-after-year crop-destroying droughts.
In November, Hurricanes Eta and Iota brought weeks of heavy rains, destroying bridges, toppling power lines, and wrecking crops in Jocotan and across a wide Central America area. The two extremes, scientists say, are signs of climate change exacerbating regular weather cycles.
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the problems. While measures to contain the coronavirus have cut off supplementary income for many, the number of people suffering from severe food shortages has sharply increased across Guatemala and Honduras' rural areas.
In Guatemala, the problem is particularly severe. Even before the storms hit, some 3.7 million people - (more than a fifth of the population) were already suffering high levels of acute food insecurity, according to a report prepared for a United Nations agency tracking hunger data. The U.N. defines acute food insecurity as food shortages that put people's lives or livelihoods in immediate danger. Nearly half a million of those people were considered to be in a situation of emergency, the report said.
The droughts were a contributing factor to the mass migrations north in the past few years. As the hurricanes bore-down on the region during November, Guatemala's president Alejandro Giammattei reminded wealthy nations that if they do not increase aid to help Central America's economies recover from the storms, they will face "hordes" of new migrants.
Giammattei, overwhelmed by the damage scale, urged Washington to exempt Guatemalans arriving in the United States from deportation in November.
But for most in Jocotan, moving to the United States is not an option: the journey's typical cost of up to $14,000 is simply too expensive. Instead, they are trapped in cut-off villages, with little government aid and diminishing supplies of food.
The combined effects of droughts, storms, and the Covid-19 pandemic are also felt in other countries through which the Dry Corridor runs, such as Honduras, which had 1.65 million people suffering high levels of acute food insecurity, or food shortages, according to a report prepared by the Honduran government using the same U.N. classification of hunger.
With large parts of Central America reeling from storm damage, coronavirus outbreaks, and the fallout of years of drought, aid agencies seemed daunted by the scale of the task to keep people from tipping into extreme poverty.
"The combination of emergencies makes the emergency quadruple," said Felipe Del Cid, operations manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, based in Panama. "The recovery could take years."
The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) forecasts that the fallout from coronavirus could push the number of people going hungry globally to 270 million by the end of the year - up 82% from before the pandemic. Latin America is the hardest-hit region, the WFP said, reporting an almost three-fold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance.