Climate-Driven Poverty in Central America 
Hurricane Bonnie is the latest of many natural disasters to hit the coasts of Central America. Along with it came heavy rains and flooding that led to widespread damage and deaths in Nicaragua and El Salvador in July 2022. However, this is not an unfamiliar situation. In 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota led to $2 billion worth of damage in Honduras while leaving millions of people in Guatemala and Nicaragua facing food insecurity and internal displacement. In 2021, Hurricane Grace caused landslides and fatalities in Mexico alongside millions of dollars in damage. More concerning is the fact that this pattern has only become more frequent. In the past 20 years, climate-related disasters cost Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries a combined “equivalent of 1.7% of a year’s GDP.” By 2030, extreme weather patterns could thrust as many as 5.8 million people into conditions of extreme impoverishment in the LAC region. As such, climate-driven poverty in Central America is a significant concern.

Millions of people in Central America already live in what is known as the “Dry Corridor,” an area that faces alternating bouts of drought and extreme weather events such as hurricanes. These circumstances leave the largely rural population susceptible to climate-driven poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Agricultural Impact and Food Security

According to the World Bank, in 2019, the agricultural sector accounted for 14% of total employment in the LAC region. However, around 70% of adults enduring extreme poverty in the LAC region work in the agricultural industry, a vulnerable population that faces disproportionate impacts from extreme weather events.

Job reliance on agriculture also varies by country. For instance, close to 40% of Honduras’ population engages in employment in agriculture, says the Global Agriculture & Food Security Program. Severe weather conditions have had a significant effect on agriculture in terms of employment and food output.

Hurricanes Iota and Eta ruined crops from Central America’s second growing season, affecting both small and large-scale farm operations. In the north of Honduras, the hurricanes caused a large spike in unemployment from the losses sustained in the area’s banana plantations. Coffee production, which makes up a large part of Central American exports and sustains low-income households, also saw damage to crops and irrigation systems from the heavy rains.

Beyond employment, agricultural impacts from these weather events also affect food production. The 2020 hurricanes caused an increase in food prices due to crop damage and raised costs of transportation.

The World Meteorological Organization estimates that as many as 7.7 million individuals in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua faced “high levels of food insecurity in 2021” because of the hurricanes and the exacerbating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

Infrastructural Damage

July 2022’s Hurricane Bonnie left thousands of people in Nicaragua without power and water while roads in El Salvador flooded or collapsed.

Two years ago, Hurricane Eta and Iota destroyed government buildings, hospitals and thousands of homes in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. In total, ReliefWeb reports that Eta and Iota caused damages equating to $1.86 billion in Honduras, $742 million in Nicaragua and $775 million in Guatemala. Rural areas faced the harshest impacts as floods, heavy rains and landslides hit homes, streets and community centers. The hurricanes also caused water contamination after damaging the sewage systems, threatening the clean water supply.

Migration and Displacement

Both in 2020 and 2022, many families suffered major losses after the destruction of their homes by the hurricanes,  pushing them into extreme poverty. Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020 displaced 1.5 million people in Central America, as the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated.

Alongside food insecurity, poverty and violence, extreme weather events are a major factor in migration in Central America, driving thousands to the United States every year. According to the Brookings Institution, migration from countries like Guatemala to the United States connects to rural impoverishment and “agricultural stress linked to climate change.” Internally, migration from rural areas to urban centers across Central America is also becoming more common due to employment instability in agriculture.

Globally, the 2022 World Migration Report states that extreme weather events and disasters lead to the displacement of more individuals than conflict and violence, and the number will only grow without prompt intervention.

Policy Implications

The World Food Programme and U.N. Environment Programme-backed initiatives are encouraging climate resilience policies to eliminate climate-driven poverty in Central America. For example, the WFP introduced climate risk management practices, including insurance initiatives meant to protect people living in regions susceptible to extreme weather events. The WFP also introduced “forecast-based finance” techniques in countries such as the Dominican Republic, which will provide aid to 10,000 people in the event of the country anticipating a climate disaster such as floods. As of 2021, the WFP estimates that its “climate risk management solutions” assisted around 441,000 people in the LAC region.

CityAdapt, an organization working with the U.N. Environment Programme and funded by the Global Environment Facility, implements “nature-based solutions” in cities and peri-urban regions in Mexico and El Salvador. It uses natural ecosystems to fight the effects of extreme weather changes, promoting “green and blue infrastructure such as urban parks, green roofs and facades, tree planting, river conservation,” and more, according to its website. CityAdapt also launched an online course in 2020 for 40 cities within 14 Latin American countries to educate people on nature-based solutions to address extreme weather conditions.

While the end goal is to prevent the occurrence of extreme weather events, these innovative and resilient approaches have the power to reduce the impact of climate-driven poverty in Central America and other vulnerable regions.

Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Flickr

Coffee Industry in Central America
Coffee production plays a significant role in Central America’s economy and continues to be a major export crop in an industry that impacts more than 1.2 million employed workers across the region. An ongoing coffee crisis caused by falling world prices, shifting climates and natural disasters has left many smallholder farmers struggling to turn a profit on their crops, driving many out of Central America for a better chance in the United States. Texas A&M University’s Norman Borlaug Institute is addressing the threats that the coffee industry in Central America faces through the education and training programs of its Center for Coffee Research and Education (CCRE).

An Ongoing Coffee Crisis

CCRE, established in 2016, is a branch of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University that works to refine global coffee quality and supply through research and capacity building. The Borlaug Institute first got involved in the coffee industry in the 2000s after organizing a project alongside USAID to support women coffee farmers in Rwanda, according to CCRE assistant director Eric Brenner. The Borlaug Institute also assisted in Central America following a 2012 outbreak of a coffee leaf rust disease stemming from the fungus Hemileia vastatrix or “La Roya.”

Resilient Coffee in Central America

Preventing coffee leaf rust formed a fundamental goal of CCRE’s Resilient Coffee in Central America project, which lasted from 2018 to 2020. This USAID-sponsored project emerged to research and promote newer crop management methods and train smallholder farmers with climate-resilient agricultural practices. The project took place in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, reaching an estimated 745,000 hectares of land used for coffee production. The leaf rust outbreak most harshly impacted these three countries, affecting about 50% of coffee crop acreage and resulting in more than $1 billion in damages in 2013 alone.

The Resilient Coffee in Central America project directly benefited more than 22,000 smallholder farmers by establishing 104 demonstration plots on farms across the three countries, each showing the capabilities of rust-resistant coffee hybrids and varieties. The demonstration plots also promote better management and processing practices while advocating market diversity by growing different varieties of coffee plants. According to USAID, the project also “promotes new economic opportunities, particularly for women and youth, including plant nursery management, coffee milling, energy generation, marketing, cupping and retail occupations, such as baristas,” thus reducing the need to migrate due to a lack of employment opportunities.

Rust Outbreak Returns Amid Pandemic

CCRE’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in Central America, but climate-related setbacks are still affecting crop production on coffee farms. In November 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota wracked Central America, affecting more than 7.5 million people in the region. The two hurricanes left a wave of intense humidity in their wake, spurring a revival of the leaf rust disease.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, coffee exports in Central America have drastically decreased. For example, the 2019/2020 harvest season, which starts in October and ends in September, had a 17% reduction in exports. The region’s coffee recession has significant links to the lasting effects of the hurricanes, the lockdowns caused by COVID-19 and the cyclical nature of the leaf rust breakouts.

Honduran Coffee Academy

In 2020, Honduras, “the region’s largest producer,” stood as one of the worst-affected coffee exporters of Central America. In the first four months of the 2019/2020 harvest season, coffee exports from Honduras reduced by 40%.

CCRE’s latest project, the Honduran Coffee Academy, serves to improve working conditions with employee training programs and coffee research. Located at the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) in the capital city Tegucigalpa, the facility offers training and education on topics ranging from coffee genetics, crop management, nursery management, water management and more. Roger Norton, regional director of the Borlaug Institute, believes the project “will contribute to strengthening the livelihoods of coffee farming families and the international competitiveness” of the coffee sector.

The CCRE at the Borlaug Institute continues to support the labor force in the coffee sector by training people on sustainable practices to prevent the disastrous effects of leaf rust diseases. Projects like Resilient Coffee in Central America and the Honduran Coffee Academy help workers in the coffee industry in Central America prepare for the many uncertainties the industry faces.

– Evan Lemole
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Sea turtle poaching in Central America
Sea turtle poaching in Central America remains a major practice despite increased regulations outlawing this act. Sea turtle eggs are illegally sold as delicacies in urban centers and hawksbill turtles are sold in the international tortoiseshell trade. Because of this, the hawksbill population along the Atlantic coast of Panama decreased by approximately 98% in the 20th century. Now, amid a returning sea turtle population due to increased conservation efforts, illegal harvesting is again resurfacing. A 2019 article by People Not Poaching states that, in Nicaragua, “At unprotected beaches, poachers destroy more than 90% of sea turtle nests to sell the eggs into the illegal wildlife trade.” Costa Rica remains a focal point for this trade as Tortuguero maintains the largest population of green turtles in the Western Hemisphere. Economic instability exacerbates this issue in part, with poaching providing a means for a fast revenue.

The Poaching Problem

A look into sea turtle poaching in Central America shows that mainly has support from supply-side dynamics. In Costa Rica, few households actually depend on the trade for nutrition or other needs. In Tortuguero, consumers mostly obtain turtle eggs directly from poachers as opposed to poaching themselves. Therefore, anti-poaching efforts must focus on poaching perpetrators rather than the consumers.

A research article by Pheasey et al. stated that “Conversely, supply-side dynamics may focus on alternative livelihoods for poachers, increased enforcement or poverty alleviation interventions that move away from a reliance on the species in question.” In addition, sea turtles can provide opportunities for residents of coastal communities to engage in ecotourism, providing an important source of income. Sea turtle ecotourism can return up to three times more money than sea turtle poaching, making living turtles more valuable. Therefore, poaching can threaten these ecotourism-based livelihoods.

Poachers are mostly from rural communities that experience high rates of poverty. In Latin America, which includes Central America, only 18% of the population resides in rural communities, but they account for 29% of the region’s impoverished, according to a United Nations analysis from 2018. Mass involuntary migrations from these rural areas are on the rise as their regional security and economic opportunities decline.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2018 report, a “historical reversal” occurred for the first time in 10 years when rural poverty levels increased by 2 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Driven in part by these circumstances, poaching provides an extra source of income, as in Nicaragua, where it supplements small cash earnings from artisanal fishing and subsistence farming. However, one must note that although it remains an influencing factor, poverty does not cause poaching and other factors also drive poaching.

TECHO Provides a Solution

Part of the solution to the persistent issue of sea turtle poaching in Central America includes expanding poverty-reducing programs to minimize the influence of poverty in this act. By providing other avenues for income and economic development, especially in rural communities, governments can reduce the number of people who poach for quick cash rewards.

TECHO is an international organization established in 1997 that is active in 19 countries across the Caribbean and Latin America. Its goal is to overcome the need for settlements where families in poverty without access to adequate housing group together. The need for settlements arises from the rampant inequality that exists in the region. Oftentimes, these settlements do not have access to essential services and resources.

  • Only one out of four settlements has a sewage system connection.
  • About 50% of settlements do not have access to clean drinking water.
  • About 37% of settlements do not have reliable electricity.

To address this, TECHO is mobilizing a community of volunteers to support advocacy efforts and construct water and sanitation systems as well as housing. TECHO also adds to community infrastructure to improve the quality of life for those in need. Thus far, TECHO has provided more than 657,000 people with decent housing while almost 11,000 people have gained access to clean water.

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) Steps in

The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is an organization established in 1959 that aims to reduce the effects of sea turtle poaching in Central America. STC is working in coordination with law enforcement to reduce poaching, including renesting illegally obtained eggs intercepted by officers and reporting poaching activity on local beaches. STC is also supporting training programs for park guards responsible for the protection of the beaches and their wildlife. The combined efforts of TECHO and STC can help increase the conservation of endangered sea turtle species.

Rising rates of sea turtle poaching in Central America represent a deeper issue in the region. With sea turtle populations climbing and increased accessibility, poaching is becoming a more convenient way to supplement income and provide greater economic opportunities. Poverty is not the cause of poaching, but it can be a driver. Thus, by working to reduce poverty in the region, poaching rates can begin to decline.

– Kimberly Calugaru
Photo: Flickr

Central American Women and Children Protection ActOn June 10, 2021, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2021 in the Senate. On June 17, Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA) introduced the act in the House of Representatives. Although the bill was originally introduced in 2019, it was later integrated into another bill, the US-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. The act passed the House of Representatives but was not able to move past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Representative Torres stated in a press release that the reintroduced Act would “help […] prevent the domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect that plague the region.”

The Context Behind the Act

The act focuses on Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; as it explains, the three countries have some of the “highest rates of femicide” within “the Latin America and Caribbean region.” El Salvador and Honduras also have some of the highest child murder rates in the world. In April 2021, a Deutsche Welle article reported that there had been 161 femicides in Guatemala since the year began. In March 2021, women gathered to protest in Guatemala City, carrying signs with messages ranging from “I’m marching because I’m alive and I don’t know until when” to “This isn’t a country, it’s a cemetery.” 

Lubia Sasvin Pérez, who spoke with the New York Times in 2019 about her experiences in Guatemala, left her abusive boyfriend to stay with her parents. The boyfriend, Gehovany Ramirez, tracked her down and murdered her mother in front of her. His brother said that Ramirez was “right to go back and try to claim [Pérez].” Ramirez was sentenced to an unusually short term of “only four years in prison,” the New York Times explained, and was entitled to visitation with his and Pérez’s son “upon release.” Meanwhile, Pérez has faced “blame” and “stigma” from the people around her. “There’s no justice here,” she stated.

The Act’s Goals

If passed, the Central American Women and Children Protection Act would allow the U.S. to form “compacts,” or agreements, with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to fight violence against women and children. More specifically, the compacts’ goals would include expanding supportive resources for survivors, establishing safe environments in schools and communities and improving the justice system’s responses to these crimes. Each compact would set out a “3- to 6-year […] strategy” to accomplish the goals and would list actions the government of the country concerned would take, along with methods for “[measuring] progress.” 

In addition, the House version of the Central American Women and Children Protection Act allocates $25 million each year for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The Senate version allocates $15 million each year for those two years and the money would be given to support the prevention of violence against women and children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. However, the U.S. would retain the right to stop the funding if the countries failed to make “sufficient progress” or went against U.S. “national security interests.” 

Supporting Women for Many Reasons

Correcting injustices and promoting equality for women has economic benefits as well. According to an Atlantic Council article, Latin America has been hit hard by the pandemic economically, but “reducing gender inequalities will ignite productivity, boost economic growth, and reduce poverty” in the region. According to a World Bank report, women’s increasing presence in the labor force helped reduce poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2000 and 2010. The report also found that women’s earnings were “crucial to reducing the pressures on the poorest of the poor” by helping families stay afloat in the “2009 crisis.” 

Over the past several years, the U.S. has been criticized for deserting Central American women and children in violent situations. The U.S. has slashed aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador while excluding survivors of domestic violence from asylum. The Central American Women and Children Protection Act, if passed, would mark a turn toward aiding rather than abandoning survivors of violence.

– Victoria Albert

Photo: Flickr

Reduce Poverty in Central AmericaIn an effort to stem migration, the Biden administration has unveiled a plan to reduce poverty in Central America. The administration hopes that improving the quality of life in places where people are likely to emigrate from will cause fewer people to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border. In May 2021, Vice President Harris called on the private sector to increase investment in the Northern Triangle to bolster the United States’ efforts to develop the region and address the root causes of migration to the U.S.

Plans to Improve the Economy

In a public statement, the White House referred to the economic development initiative for the Northern Triangle as a call to action. The U.S. government hopes to bolster economic growth in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. Northern Triangle countries consist of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The aim of this directive is to implement sustainable action that will stem the mass migration of asylum seekers and ease the ensuing border crises between the U.S. and Mexico. The call to action involves six key areas.

6 Focal Areas of Development in the Northern Triangle

  1. Reform: Increased transparency and predictability by implementing “international best practices in licensing, permitting, procurement, regulation and taxation.”
  2. Digital and Financial Inclusivity: Ensuring affordable internet is more accessible to support digital inclusion and prioritizing financial inclusion of marginalized populations.
  3. Food Security and Agriculture: Developing initiatives to reduce food insecurity by improving agricultural outcomes and prioritizing resilient crops.
  4. Renewable Energy and Climate Change: Taking actions to achieve climate resilience and transitioning to renewable, clean energy.
  5. Education and Employment: “Expand job-training programs, support greater access to technical and secondary education and create higher-paying formal sector jobs,” with females and rural people as priorities.
  6. Healthcare: Develop strategies to strengthen healthcare systems in order to be better prepared for future health crises and to “ensure inclusive access to healthcare.”

Companies Aiding Poverty Reduction Efforts

The aim of the initiative is to reduce the need to emigrate by equalizing living standards between neighboring nations of varying economic status. This supports the broader goal of creating international stability with efforts to reduce poverty in Central America. The U.S. government believes partnering with the private sector will make the plan of action a reality. So far, 12 companies and organizations have committed to the goal of developing the Northern Triangle.

Technology companies such as Microsoft will provide broader internet and digital communication systems to the Northern Triangle and teach people the digital skills needed to thrive in a digital world. Furthermore, the language learning app, Duolingo, hopes to bolster literacy rates, help people learn English and provide wider access to quality education. Beyond this, international financial institutions such as Mastercard will allow for financial inclusion by giving people the financial and digital skills and services needed to reduce the digital divide and combat poverty.

The Focus on Security

A major obstacle to the plan is how to allocate such loans and funds. Part of this wider initiative of economic recovery includes cracking down on political corruption and increasing transparency and international regulation. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in early June 2021 as a gesture of the beginning of a diplomatic response to the migration crisis. Her discussions mainly focused on issues regarding food security, border security and economic security. Harris emphasizes that women and the youth are priorities in the action plan as they are most vulnerable.

Along with economic rejuvenation efforts, the U.S. hopes to bring its own border security expertise to other nations. This will create an extended security buffer between migrants and the U.S. border. Additionally, the Biden administration wishes to broaden legal pathways toward migration and asylum to offer alternative options to illegal migration.

The Allocation of Funds

In April 2021, the U.S. pledged more than $300 million worth of aid to Central America in order to stem the migration crisis. Almost half of the funds have been allocated toward food security and COVID-19 recovery efforts. The rest of the financial assistance will help in the areas of “health, education and disaster relief services” and aid refugees and asylum seekers.

The division of funds reflects the priorities of the strategy in order to reduce poverty and increase security in the Northern Triangle. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing food insecurity in the Northern Triangle increased to 7.8 million in 2021. The cause of this increase correlates directly to hurricanes and the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Therefore, the development of Northern Triangle economies will reduce poverty in Central America and decrease migration to the U.S.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Impacted by HurricanesOn November 2, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. As a Category 4 hurricane, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the Central American region in many years. Shortly after, Hurricane Iota hit. Thousands have died and many have experienced displacement. Since Central America is one of the poorest areas of Latin America, the U.S. is in a position to help alleviate the crisis by providing foreign aid to those impacted by hurricanes.

Poverty in Central America

Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, Nicaragua’s poverty rate sits around 15.1%. Geographically, the poorest area of Nicaragua is the Atlantic Coast of the country. Similarly, Honduras is an impoverished nation located north of Nicaragua. Honduras is also one of the poorest countries in Central America. Furthermore, Honduras’ geographical location leaves it exposed to extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and droughts. The most vulnerable, oftentimes rural and coastal populations, are susceptible to these intense weather changes. Neighboring countries of El Salvador and Guatemala are also impoverished nations with vulnerable populations. The increased climate disasters leave these populations at risk of death, poverty and becoming climate refugees.

Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

On the eve of Hurricane Eta’s landfall, the Nicaraguan government evacuated around 3,000 families living in the coastal area. According to UNICEF, more than a million Nicaraguans, which also includes half a million children, were endangered by the hurricane. El Salvador evacuated people as a precaution and many of Guatemala’s departments declared a state of emergency.

Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm destroyed houses, hospitals and businesses. Widespread flooding and mudslides were responsible for the casualties across the region. Unfortunately, Hurricane Eta was not the only storm blasting through Central America.

Weather forecasters predicted another strong storm, Hurricane Iota. Also a Category 4 hurricane, Iota made landfall 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta did just days prior. The hurricane further stalled the rescue efforts of the region. In Honduras, the hurricanes impacted around 4 million people with more than 2 million losing access to health care. Moreover, Guatemala had more than 200,000 people seeking shelter after the two hurricanes.

Foreign Aid to Central America

The Central American region is impoverished and vulnerable to natural disasters. Furthermore, many Central American nations depend on foreign aid from the United States. The countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle) rely on foreign aid from the U.S. to manage rural poverty, violence, food insecurity and natural disasters. Moreover, that aid has been reduced under the Trump administration. Since Donald Trump took office, the aid for these countries has reduced from $750 million to $530 million. In April 2019, Trump froze $450 million of foreign aid to the Northern Triangle, further diminishing the lives of many. Foreign aid keeps Central Americans from plummeting to extreme poverty and also curtails migration to the United States.

Congress Pleads for Foreign Aid

As Hurricane Eta ravaged through Central America, Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35) wrote a letter urging Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to increase foreign aid to Central America. Torres (CA-35) wrote, “Hurricane Eta was an unavoidable natural disaster, but its aftermath is a preventable humanitarian crisis in the making.” In addition, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Eliot Engel (NY-16), also showed his support for increased aid to those Hurricane Eta impacted. Engel wrote, “a large-scale U.S. effort is needed to provide much-needed relief to those affected by Eta so that they are not forced to leave their countries and make the perilous journey north.”

USAID Provides Disaster Relief

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to increase aid by $17 million to the countries impacted by Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Studies have shown that foreign aid is a successful policy to reduce global poverty. Any aid given to these countries benefits the lives of those impacted by hurricanes in several significant ways.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

Hurricanes in HondurasIn November 2020, Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota made landfall just two weeks apart in northeastern Nicaragua. The hurricanes spread across Central America. Honduras was one of the countries hit with severe destruction. In the wake of these storms, homelessness in Honduras reached all-time highs and an active humanitarian crisis unfolded as humanitarian organizations and policymakers struggled to contend with flooding, displacement and the spread of COVID-19. The aftermath of hurricanes in Honduras requires urgent humanitarian aid.

Poverty in Honduras

Nearly half of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. The poverty rate is higher in rural parts of the country than it is in urban centers. Whereas half of all Hondurans who live in the countryside subsist in varying states of poverty, less than half of all Hondurans who live in urban areas lead lives plagued by poverty,

The disparity between rich Hondurans and poor Hondurans is overwhelmingly large. A robust middle-class has yet to take shape in Honduras so Hondurans filter into one of two polarized class groups. A high rate of violence makes life treacherous for the poor.

Seasonal flooding has a detrimental effect on economic growth. Flooding from Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota combined with seasonal flooding make 2020 one of the worst years in Honduras’ history. Livestock and farmlands were swept away and Hondurans have had to search desperately for other means to feed themselves.

Homelessness and Hurricanes in Honduras

In 1998, three million Hondurans were made homeless by Hurricane Mitch and tens of thousands were forced to flee to the United States. The devastation that was unleashed by Hurricane Mitch is the closest analog to the combined effects of Eta and Iota. Reports on the rate of homelessness in Honduras after Eta and Iota remain incomplete, but it is undoubtedly high, similar in scope to the rate of homelessness in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch.

7 Responses to Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

  1. Public Investment in Infrastructure and Social Programs. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez plans to engage “four times the nation’s annual budget in infrastructure and social programs to help Hondurans recover from devastating storms.” His plan will put thousands of Hondurans to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, so it works on two important levels. First, his plan creates jobs for Hondurans whose livelihoods were lost as a result of the hurricanes. Second, it will lead to necessary rebuilding projects.

  2. USAID Funding. By the beginning of December 2020, USAID had committed close to $50 million for humanitarian aid to meet the needs of Honduras’ relief efforts. Funding goes to securing “emergency food, shelter, urgent medical care, clean water, sanitation and hygiene.”

  3. USAID’s Honduras Emergency WASH and Shelter (HEWS) Program. In mid-December 2020, USAID announced that it will send packs of materials to “select families” through its HEWS program, which families can use to rebuild damaged or destroyed homes. Experts will also be sent to teach families how to use the material that has been sent and to work alongside families during the initial stages of the rebuilding process.

  4. Project HOPE Emergency Medical Teams. In remote villages, where poverty rates tend to be highest, villagers have scarce access to medical services. Project HOPE medical teams focus on these locations because unsanitary water supplies have been identified there. Also, cases of COVID-19 have been reported.

  5. Project HOPE WASH Program. Potable water is provided to 3,000 families through Project HOPE’s WASH program. Additionally, resources for sanitizing water, including chlorine and training materials, are provided to families so that water purification practices can be carried out indefinitely.

  6. AMDA Emergency Relief. Relief supplies, including food, coverings and hygienic supplies, were distributed to several dozen families through a partnership between AMDA and AMDA-Honduras. The rate of homelessness in Honduras is so high that many people have taken shelter in nursing homes. Hondurans who lost their homes as a result of Eta and Iota live side by side with Honduras’ elderly. Similar AMDA relief packs were distributed throughout such facilities.

  7. Distribution of KN95 and Surgical Masks. Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have accompanied the disastrous effects of Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Project HOPE distributed hundreds of thousands of KN95 and surgical masks to activists, doctors and frontline workers throughout Honduras to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Hope on the Horizon for Honduras

Hurricanes in Honduras coupled with COVID-19 created severe consequences for people living there. Long-term concerns include the effect that lack of adequate health services will have on mothers, pregnant women, newborns and young children. Many humanitarian organizations are prioritizing aid to remote parts of the country to mitigate the effects of isolation. The spread of disease is an additional concern. A comprehensive solution to the crisis at hand will involve combined efforts.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

help Nicaraguan RefugeesThe massive protests in Nicaragua, which began in April of 2018, has led to a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Nicaraguans have left the country, the majority fleeing to neighboring Costa Rica. Civil unrest, poverty and COVID-19 have contributed to several issues Nicaraguan refugees are facing. Organizations have dedicated efforts to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Central America and help Nicaraguan refugees.

The Ortega Regime

In April 2018, Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, announced pension cuts for his citizens. Following the announcement, protesters filled the streets of multiple Nicaraguan cities. The protesters demanded that pension cuts be canceled and requested an end to the years of corruption committed by the Ortega regime. The protesters were met with violence, with more than 300 dead and thousands injured or missing. Journalists covering the anti-government protests were harassed and attacked by authorities, ultimately silencing the free press. The government has been accused of using ‘weapons of war’ on its citizens and committing human rights violations. Consequently, the political unrest has created a push factor for migration out of the country.

Two-thirds of Nicaraguan refugees have fled to neighboring Costa Rica. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), 81,000 Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Costa Rica. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees. The UNCHR found that since the pandemic, 14% of refugees eat once a day or less and 63% of Nicaraguan refugees eat only two meals a day. Moreover, many Nicaraguans have lost steady income, increasing the chances of falling deeper into poverty.

Humanitarian Aid: UNCHR

To handle the influx of refugees into Costa Rica, the country needed assistance from NGOs. In February 2020, the UNCHR granted Costa Rica $4.1 million to reduce poverty for Nicaraguan refugees. Furthermore, the UNCHR grant pays for legal assistance and civil organizations that help migrants. As much as 53% of Nicaraguan refugees had no health insurance, but with the help of the UNCHR, around 6,000 now have medical insurance through the Costa Rican Social Security System.

The IFRC Helps Nicaraguan Refugees

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is also actively partaking in addressing the humanitarian crisis for Nicaraguan refugees. The IFRC’s mission is to “meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people.” Moreover, the IFRC is the largest humanitarian organization in the world,  assisting displaced people around the world with resources and relief. Francesco Rocca, president of the IFRC, called the migration crisis during a pandemic a “catastrophe.” Furthermore, Rocca has called the attention of government officials to take care of the most vulnerable, asylum seekers because they are most severely impacted by COVID-19.

Corner of Love Helps Migrants

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border restrictive, making it harder for migrants to cross. Additionally, the pandemic has created more uncertainty for the futures of Nicaraguan refugees. Despite these struggles, NGOs are not giving up on this vulnerable population. The NGO, Corner of Love, is assisting migrants at the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Corner of Love ensures migrants have access to food and hygiene products, thus contributing to the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees.

The efforts of organizations stepping in to help Nicaraguan refugees with the humanitarian crisis give struggling people hope for a brighter tomorrow.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

Covid-19 in Central America
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have left no region of the world unscathed. Central America and Mexico have certainly felt the wrath of this virus. Recent outbreaks in the region threaten to compound upon other humanitarian struggles. The U.S. has recognized this challenge and taken action to provide aid, despite facing its own issues fighting the coronavirus — the difficulties of COVID-19 in Central America and Mexico are vast.

An Issue in Central America & Mexico Before COVID-19

COVID-19 poses a health and economic challenge to Central America and Mexico. Yet, before the pandemic, the region was already suffering from poverty. As such, the pandemic has hit this area particularly hard. Our World in Data projected that the extreme poverty rate was about 8.12% in Guatemala, 14.24% in Honduras, 2.79% in El Salvador and 1.96% in Mexico in 2019. The full economic impacts of COVID-19 are not yet known.

Apart from facing extreme poverty — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico also suffer from high crime rates. In 2017, Guatemala had an intentional homicide rate of about 26.1 per 100,000, Honduras had 41.7, El Salvador had 61.8 and Mexico had 24.8.

Providing sustainable assistance to Central America is particularly important for the national security in the U.S. As of July 2019, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition explained that there is a correlation between children seeking refuge in the U.S. and murders in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Aid to these three countries could reduce poverty and crime. Consequently, the number of people searching for safety in the U.S. may potentially decrease.

The US Steps Up

The U.S. has committed to providing more than $22 million for Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The aid focuses on key areas of need. For example, the U.S. committed $850,000 in Migration and Refugee Assistance funding in Mexico. This includes funding for the dissemination of hygiene products and assistance creating a remote program to register asylum seekers and hold interviews.

The U.S. also committed to providing almost $6.6 million in aid to El Salvador, more than $8.4 million to Guatemala and more than $5.4 million to Honduras. Notably, these aid packages contain International Disaster Assistance for each country. The assistance also focuses on immediate and long-term health needs.

In recent months, the U.S. has also provided other forms of support to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Notable aid includes investments in critical infrastructures, such as energy programs. This is an important step in reducing poverty in the region. However, continued aid and investment are necessary to fight COVID-19 in Central America, save lives, reduce poverty and protect U.S. national security.

Global Help

This aid is a substantial sum targeted in areas that most need money to help fight COVID-19. However, there is more than the U.S. could do to protect global health. Global health spending has remained mostly constant for the past 10 years. Now, the future of U.S. global health aid is at-risk. The federal government’s spending on global health could reduce to its lowest point in 13 years if the proposed budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year receives approval. This could exacerbate outbreaks of other diseases that the U.S. has historically fought against. Without aid from the U.S., other nations such as China will have to step in as a global leader during this crisis.

Kayleigh Crabb
Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in BelizeGovernment efforts have begun to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in Belize. However, a lack of focus on the wellbeing of the nation’s poor has rendered this aid ineffective. Thus, widespread poverty and poor nutrition remain pressing issues in a country whose GDP has grown steadily for nearly two decades. Since the year 2000, the government of Belize has participated in working toward eight Millennium Development Goals concerned with improving the quality of life and bolstering economic stability throughout the world. While Belize is making headway in numerous other categories, such as in providing universal education and promoting gender equality, a lack of attention given to the needs of vulnerable groups hurts this progress. In particular, hunger in Belize continues to be an issue for many marginalized groups.

The Impact of Gender Inequality on Hunger in Belize

Gendered differences in economic opportunity contribute directly to poor nutrition and hunger in Belize. Though the country has made efforts to improve equal participation of men and women in the economy, the women of Belize continue to suffer from employment discrimination. This makes many statistics concerning the nation’s economic condition somewhat inaccurate.

While Belize’s economy may seem to be flourishing based on statistics like GDP, the nation suffers from a high national unemployment rate of about 8%. Gender inequality exacerbates this for the women of Belize, whose unemployment rate is nearly three times higher than the national average.

Women in Belize participate in the labor force at a rate of only 62.5% to that of their male counterparts. As a result, gender inequality has deprived mothers of the resources necessary for raising healthy children. On top of the disproportionate difficulty of finding work as a woman in Belize, women also lack education about proper diet and exercise. Perhaps more importantly, they lack access to healthy food options, which tend to be more expensive than foods high in sugar and salt. Thus, women’s inequality exacerbates hunger in Belize.

Children’s Hunger in Belize

Belize’s economy depends directly on seasonal agricultural exports, such as rum, to support the economy. This means that fruits, vegetables and other natural products are among the most expensive in the nation’s domestic marketplace. The result of this limited access to healthy food has been a high rate of stunted growth and poor nutrition among children. This is particularly important as this demographic has grown the last two decades.

A Selective Humanitarian Response

The government of Belize has helped some of its more vulnerable demographics. The Belize Social Security Board, for example, has helped many elderly people avoid poverty. Additionally, programs like the Conditional Cash Transfer Program provide vulnerable communities in Belize with monetary security.

A reduction in the poverty rate amongst elderly Belizeans indicates that these programs have achieved some success. However, the government of Belize issues this aid on a selective basis. It therefore leaves women, children and members of the LGBT population without relief. This makes hunger in Belize a serious issue among these populations, lacking the financial means to secure access to nutritious food.

Though the Belizean government has helped some groups overcome hunger, discrimination has left some of the most vulnerable groups of Belizeans poor and hungry. Marginalized groups in Belize continue to suffer from the weakness of their nation’s economy. However, they are often those most excluded from relief. If hunger in Belize is to be eradicated, the government must first address social inequality in the population.

Anthony Lyon
Photo: Pixabay