Why Refugees are Fleeing Central AmericaThe northern region of Central America is currently one of the most dangerous places on Earth. So, it’s no surprise that refugees are fleeing Central America. This circumstance has caused high levels of migration as many refugees are fleeing for their lives. In countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many people experience gang-related violence, human trafficking and extreme poverty. The brutality forcing refugees to leave their homes is constant and not improving.

Moreover, poverty in Central America is widespread. In some regions, half of the population lives below the poverty line. Consequently, the number of asylum-seekers is increasing in neighboring countries, such as Mexico and the U.S. In 2014, there were 2,000 asylum applications in Mexico. In 2017, applications escalated to more than 14,000. As this crisis continues, it is important to understand the reasons why refugees are fleeing Central America.

Gang Culture in Central America

In the 1980s, civil wars weakened countries in Central America, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile governments. Due to these civil wars and mass deportations from the U.S., organized crime groups flourished. These groups grew into the overwhelming gangs present today.

Over the last 15 years, gangs have taken over rural and urban areas within Central America. They target poor, and thus vulnerable, communities by imposing their own authority. They also recruit boys as young as 12 years old and living in poverty as they lack educational or economic opportunities. Because of gang violence, the Northern Triangle is considered one of the deadliest places in the world, outside a war zone. For example, between 2014 and 2017, almost 20,000 Salvadorans were killed due to gang-related violence.

Gang culture has deeply penetrated the social fabric of northern Central America. Their grip on society is so severe that many migrants fear that their deportation will result in death. For example, 82 percent of women reported they would most likely be tortured or killed if they were to return home. Despite decades of authorities trying to eliminate gang activity, these criminal groups remain defiant and seemingly unbreakable.

Extortion and Human Trafficking

Similarly, extortion-related crimes are common in this region. Gangs extort small businesses and local individuals by forcing them to pay protection payments. If these individuals cannot afford these amounts, the gangs will murder them. For example, it is estimated locals in Honduras pay $200 million in extortion fees every year. Extortion fees cost Salvadorans $756 million a year. This results in a significant financial loss for local businesses and endangers many lives.

Moreover, human trafficking is another common reason why refugees are fleeing Central America. Women and young girls are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Often, gangs target and traffick young children for the sex trade. In Guatemala alone, at least 15,000 children are victims of child sex trafficking networks.

Gangs also manipulate children. They subject children to forced labor, making them sell and transport drugs throughout El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though widespread, authorities prosecute an extremely low number of people accused of human trafficking. In Guatemala between 2009 and 2013, police detained 604 human traffickers. However, only 183 went to trial and only 33 were convicted.

Helping Central America

A huge reason why refugees are fleeing Central America is lack of opportunity. Of course, this is largely due to the rampant crime and violence in the region. While the reality is grim, there is a reason to be optimistic. Many organizations and volunteers help these migrants in any way they can. In particular, Doctors Without Borders has been providing medical relief and mental health care to refugees traveling along migration routes through Mexico since 2013. The organization reported they provided more than 33,000 consultations at mobile health clinics and other facilities. Many patients need mental health care, especially women who are victims of sexual abuse. In fact, 31 percent of women reported being sexually assaulted along their journey.

UNICEF also recognizes the humanitarian crisis happening in Central America. UNICEF has offices in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In these countries, UNICEF is working directly with people to prevent violence and alleviate poverty. They also help reintegrate deported children into their home countries and support children in asylum countries, protecting them from discrimination and xenophobia. UNICEF’s work in Central America is necessary as it is bettering the lives of many vulnerable people.

Often times, the only ways for migrants to escape the persecution and violence plaguing their hometowns is to seek asylum in another country. No matter how bleak these circumstances may be, hope can be found through the compassion and understanding of volunteers around the world. By understanding why refugees are fleeing Central America, people and organizations can begin working to change the conditions in these countries.

Marissa Pekular
Photo: Flickr

Education in Central AmericaMany Central Americans are attempting to migrate to the U.S., motivated by the prospect of finding a better life. An understanding of current conditions in Central America is key to understanding the reasons behind migration. Education is a vital component of any region. These 10 facts provide information about this vital component, giving readers a glimpse at education in Central America.

10 Facts about Education in Central America

  1. Many teens and young adults are not in school – Currently, Guatemala’s primary-school-aged population is almost fully enrolled in school. But secondary-school enrollment is not as common. About 2 million Guatemalans aged 15-24 are not in school. In 2017, 60,573 Salvadoran adolescents were not in school. In the same year, 192,262 Honduran adolescents were also not in school. Additionally, unemployment rates are high for this age group. Children in rural Guatemala are also significantly less likely to remain in school than their urban peers.
  2. There is low gender disparity – In 2017,  the number of Guatemalan adolescents enrolled in secondary school was 47.2 percent. Of these students, 47.1 percent of female adolescents were enrolled, while 47.2 percent of boys were enrolled. In 2016, 84.9 percent of girls were able to transition from primary school to secondary school. Additionally, 94.2 percent of boys were able to make the transition. Overall, the disparities between male and female enrollment were not large, indicating a positive trend in regard to education in Central America. Typically, gender disparities in education are higher in low-income countries.
  3. There are low completion and enrollment rates in secondary education – Only about half of Salvadoran children attend secondary school. Even fewer go on to graduate from secondary school. Roughly 300,000 Salvadorans between the ages of 15 to 24 are unemployed and not enrolled in school. High rates of poverty, food insecurity and violence prevent Salvadoran youth from accessing the education and vocational training that they need.
  4. Girls are more likely to complete primary school – On average, Salvadoran children spent about 11 and a half years in school. Girls were less likely to repeat grades and more likely to finish primary school. Boys were slightly more likely to transition from primary school to secondary school, with 91.72 percent of girls and 92.44 percent of boys making the transition.
  5. The Education Law seeks to improve the education system – In 2012, the Honduran government passed the Education Law as part of a major effort to reform its education system. The Education Law redefined “basic education” to extend to grades six through nine. It required preschool attendance and introduced a new system for hiring and monitoring teachers. The Education Law emphasized cooperation with rural populations in need of better schools.
  6. The average amount of schooling is ten years – On average, Honduran children spent about 10 years in school as of 2015. Girls spent an average of 10.66 years in school, while boys spent an average of 9.8 years in school.
  7. Enrollment rates are increasing – From 1999 to 2009, preschool enrollment increased in both Honduras and El Salvador. During the same period, primary school enrollment increased in Guatemala and El Salvador. The first decade of the 21st century saw a significant decrease in child labor, with more and more children in school instead of working.
  8. Literacy is high – As of 2015, 81.5 percent of Guatemalans were literate. As of 2016, 89 percent of Hondurans were literate. As of 2015, 81.5 percent of Salvadorans were literate.
  9. U.S. Congress is now involved – In 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation to address education in Central America. The legislation has an emphasis on the Northern Triangle region of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. 70 percent of migrants from the Northern Triangle claims to have received no education beyond primary school. This is a factor that contributes to their desire to migrate with their families. The U.S is currently providing data to the Northern Triangle countries about their educational systems in order to show them the areas that are most in need of attention.
  10. Central Americans are migrating for better education – Current migration rates from Central America to the U.S. are fueled in part by parents’ desires to access better education for their children. Central American public schools are underfunded, and the private schools in the region are too expensive for many families. In some cases, Honduran parents spend over half of their income to send their children to private schools, a practice that is not financially sustainable. They see more opportunity and safety in American public schools.

Improving Education in Central America

Overall, poverty greatly hinders educational progress in Central America. Many adolescents, especially in the Northern Triangle, are not in school and are unprepared to enter the workforce. Fortunately, there are many positive signs as well, such as nearly universal primary school enrollment and low gender disparities in secondary school enrollment. Education drives migration. As a result, aid programs prioritizing education initiatives could decrease migration and improve the lives of countless children. Improving the quality of education in Central America is vital to the future of the region and its people.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Central AmericaThe ability to consistently access nourishment is vital for all people. In regions affected by poverty, like Central America, many families lack this ability. These 10 facts will provide a glimpse at food insecurity in Central America, how it affects the lives of the people who live there and what has been done to address it.

10 Facts About Food Insecurity in Central America

  1. More than 10 percent of Guatemalan children are underweight. About 46.5 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from stunted growth caused by malnutrition. Indigenous children are more likely to suffer from stunted growth; 58 percent of Guatemalan indigenous children under 5 suffer from this condition. Indigenous children are also more likely to suffer from anemia and vitamin deficiencies.
  2. Food insecurity fuels migration to the U.S. Severe droughts, crops destroyed by fungus and persistent poverty all play a role in preventing families from thriving in their home country. USAID and U.N. reports find that poverty and food insecurity in Central America motivates migration more than other factors.
  3. From 2015 to 2018, food insecurity in Central America increased annually. Indigenous populations and women were the groups most impacted by chronic hunger. Poor and rural communities were also likely to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
  4. USAID’s response to food insecurity is focused on agriculture. USAID funds studies that create solutions to agricultural problems. USAID works with many groups, including governments, universities and American farmers, to bring agricultural solutions to regions affected by food insecurity. USAID also implements initiatives like Feed the Future that directly address food insecurity. Guatemala and Honduras are two of the 12 countries that receive specially targeted assistance through Feed the Future.
  5. Between 2013 and 2017, USAID’s initiative Feed the Future provided assistance to 215,000 Guatemalan children. During this period, Guatemalan agricultural production created $47.8 million worth of profits for the Guatemalan economy. Feed the Future worked to improve agriculture in Guatemala by providing resilient seedlings, higher-quality pesticides and training to prevent the spread of disease among crops. Guatemalan agriculture also became more diverse thanks to the introduction of new crops. In cooperation with USDA, Feed the Future helped Guatemalan farmers learn new methods of planting crops and tracking their growth electronically.
  6. In 2014, USAID implemented new programs in Honduras to fulfill the goals of the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy. In cooperation with the Honduran government, USAID works to decrease rates of stunted growth by 20 percent by 2020. USAID is also working to move 10,000 families out of extreme poverty by 2020. To combat food insecurity in Honduras, USAID is promoting crop diversity, improving infrastructure connecting rural areas to urban areas and improving child nutrition.
  7. The Dry Corridor is experiencing drought. The region referred to as the Central American “Dry Corridor” consists of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. During the summer of 2018, the Dry Corridor was hit by low levels of rainfall and above-average temperatures. The unusually severe drought of 2018 came after a previous two years of drought that lasted from 2014 to 2016, which required food relief for millions of people.
  8. Food insecurity in Central America has been worsened by severe droughts. For the past year, there has been a severe drought in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. 290,322 families in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were affected by the 2018 drought. $37 million worth of corn was destroyed in El Salvador alone due to lack of rain.
  9. The Central American drought was caused by the effects of the 2015-16 El Niño Event and by the results of global climate change. After the drought, about 3.6 million people required food-related aid. 50-90 percent of the region’s agricultural production was destroyed.
  10. After the 2014-15 droughts and the following spike in food insecurity, the Central American Dry Corridor received an influx of humanitarian aid. Efforts were made to conserve soil, more closely track data about nutrition and hunger and better prepare for future droughts. In the midst of the 2018 drought, data collection was prioritized in order to maintain stable food prices, combat food insecurity within particularly vulnerable populations and relocate rural families away from the regions most severely affected by the drought.

Central America, a region already affected by poverty, reached the brink of crisis after nearly 5 years of severe droughts. By 2018, food insecurity in Central America had spread throughout the countries of the Dry Corridor. But regional governments, with the assistance of relief agencies, implemented agriculture-based solutions to ensure that future droughts would not have the same disastrous consequences. These innovative solutions pave the way for a more secure future in Central America.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About U.S. Involvement in Central America
Central America consists of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. U.S. involvement in Central America has been consistent throughout history and into the present day. The U.S. provides aid to Central American countries and supports their development projects. Recently, the U.S. has placed special emphasis on providing aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. These are the 10 facts about U.S. involvement in Central America.

10 Facts About U.S. Involvement in Central America

  1. In 2018, Guatemala received $80.6 million in U.S. aid, while Honduras received $67.8 million and El Salvador $46.3 million. These countries used the received aid to reduce crime, corruption and poverty. Some of the specific U.S. goals behind the aid included improving development in Guatemala, increasing economic growth by training workers and increasing production in El Salvador and addressing the high rates of poverty and hunger in Honduras.
  2. In the past decade, USAID has provided Guatemalan farmers with greenhouses, new irrigation systems and the machinery needed to plant new types of crops. In the past, many Guatemalans could not farm the land in their home country and migrated out of necessity. Thanks to USAID, Guatemalans can now farm their land effectively.
  3. Between 2011 and 2014, USAID worked to combat violence and crime in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama. USAID implemented new programs within communities and emphasized employment opportunities and criminal justice reform. In 2014, data showed that individuals living in neighborhoods with USAID initiatives felt safer and were more optimistic about their communities and police forces. There was a 51 percent decrease in individuals who felt aware of murder and extortion in their neighborhoods, a 14 percent decrease in the perception of gang violence and a nine percent increase in respect for law enforcement in areas impacted by USAID anti-crime initiatives. USAID reports that its efforts reduced murder rates significantly in El Salvador.
  4. USAID collaborates with Central American governments to fund programs designed to improve Central America’s living conditions. USAID programs provide job training for young Guatemalans. USAID also works to rehabilitate ex-convicts in El Salvador, teach entrepreneurship skills to young people in Honduras and financially assist Guatemalan farmers.
  5. Fifty-seven percent of U.S. aid provided to El Salvador in 2017 was used to improve its criminal justice system. Much of the aid funded training for police officers and public defenders. U.S. aid also funded anti-corruption initiatives in the Salvadoran attorney general’s office.
  6. U.S. aid provides funding for anti-corruption investigations of the Honduran government. It also funds monitoring of the Honduran electoral system and combats poverty in rural Honduras.
  7. In 2017, Honduras used over 50 percent of its aid funding to help the poor. The U.S.-funded programs implemented addressed child malnourishment and treated HIV. Honduras also used U.S. aid to assist with sustainable agriculture practices.
  8. In 2014, the U.S. collaborated with the governments of the three Northern Triangle countries to increase economic development. The U.S. provided $750 million for this project in 2014. By 2017, conditions in the Northern Triangle had improved enough to reduce rates of illegal migration to the lowest levels seen since 1971.
  9. By 2017, the positive results mentioned in these 10 facts about U.S. involvement in Central America were visible. There was a decrease in homicide rates in all three Northern Triangle countries and 20,000 new agricultural jobs in rural Guatemala. Meanwhile, agricultural sales in Guatemala increased by 51 percent.
  10. Since 2016, U.S. aid to Central America has decreased by about 20 percent.The State Department claims that the aid provided to Central American countries in the past did not create positive results. To protect U.S. foreign aid to the Northern Triangle and continue the positive effects discussed in these 10 facts about U.S. involvement in Central America, U.S. voters can contact Congress here.

U.S. aid has played an important role in reducing violence and poverty in Central America. These 10 facts about U.S. involvement in Central America show the positive results of U.S. foreign aid and enhance the idea that reducing the amount of aid provided would be detrimental to the people of Central America.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

Latin American Drug Cartels Target Impoverished Children

Drug cartels are a rising problem everywhere, especially for those that are in poverty. Children, specifically children in poverty, are generally the most vulnerable population anywhere in the world. Latin American drug cartels target impoverished children specifically due to their innocence and willingness to obey. Although this situation seems unfixable, people are uniting together against Latin American drug cartels, providing much needed hope.

The Situation

In Latin America, 43 percent of children live in poverty. These children’s come from families with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Cartels know the struggles of these children, so they offer them work. Because many feel they have no choice but to accept work from Latin American drug cartels, 80 percent of children under 25 agree to work for them.

Young children in Mexico and other Latin American countries draw less suspicion than older individuals and are willing to work for little money. As a result, the cartels use them in every way possible. Cartels often send children unaccompanied to push drugs across borders. Subsequently, border security will help unaccompanied children, thus enabling drug traffickers to smuggle drugs across borders.

How Countries Combat Drug Cartels

Luckily for these children, countries are taking steps to eliminate cartels. Recently, Mexico initiated a joint investigative team with the U.S. to fight against drug cartels. The U.S. and Mexico have worked together to combat cartels since the 1970s. For instance, one program, the Merida Initiative, worked to stop the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into Mexico and, subsequently, Latin American cartels. Similarly, the U.S. and Mexico offer amnesty to drug dealers in exchange for information.

This new joint investigative team is based in Chicago and directly targets cartel finances. Cartels survive by distributing goods to suppliers and laundering money. Therefore, disrupting their finances and cracking down on money laundering will drastically slow their production. In doing so, the team intends to weaken and ultimately stop Latin American drug cartels.

How Nonprofit Organizations and KIND Help

Nonprofit organizations band together to help the children that drug smugglers employed previously. One organization in particular, KIND, is dedicated to offering such help. KIND protects children’s rights when unaccompanied children are detained by the U.S. and when they are on the move. KIND ensures detained children receive necessary legal aid, especially as these children are burdened with an immigration system they do not understand.

With the U.S. and Mexico targeting drug cartels’ financial assets and nonprofit organizations providing the necessary help, there is hope to eliminate drug cartels and keep vulnerable children safe. The U.S. and Mexico, along with nonprofit organizations, are executing solutions to keep drug cartels away from children and shut them down altogether.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Prison Reform
Prison reform is a global imperative. According to the World Prison Brief,
26,734 people are incarcerated in the Dominican Republic as of 2018, and 30 percent of the Dominican Republic’s population of 10.6 million are below the poverty line. The Centre of Excellence on Prison Reform and Drug Demand Reduction in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was created by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to strengthen criminal justice in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Prison Reform in Central America

This prison reformation focuses on training programs for previously incarcerated people and promotes effective policies regarding healthcare and prison conditions. Many incarcerated people suffer from poverty, which leads to homelessness, crime, drugs and violence.

Prison reform by the Centre includes social reintegration programs post-release, and job and educational resources as well. The Centre will also place more focus on women, juveniles, youth with incarcerated mothers, drug-dependent prisoners and mental health. Since many prisoners cannot afford the Centre’s reformation, the UNODC aims to make these resources within the current prison system affordable. In the Najayo prison, classrooms are built to reach goals of zero percent illiteracy and the provision of college-level courses. Prisoners here are treated more humanely with a bed, desk in classroom and medical attention.

The prison system had to be reformed in the Dominican Republic due to how: previous imprisonment disrupted families, overcrowding promoted the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prison time encouraged poverty rather than reduced it. The Centre has been so successful in prison reform in the Dominican Republic that inmates’ rate of returning has reduced from 50 percent prior to the Centre to less than 5 percent where facilities have adopted reformation programs.

UNODC’s Global Efforts

The UNODC has also reformed the prison system in Panama by focusing on the health and safety of prisoners in order to properly reintegrate inmates back into society. Panama has a high rate of incarceration, with 400 per 100,000 people as prisoners and a remand rate of 70 percent. Prison reform in Panama looks like IntegrArte, which is a fashion program that rehabilitates female prisoners in Panama by turning their crafts (hand-sewn bags, clothing, etc) into sellable profit.

Participants in the program are very appreciative of such efforts, and say that sewing and IntegreArte as a reformation program in prison helps greatly with the transition back into society. These programs open up micro-financing and housing opportunities and help people escape the confines of poverty.

Costa Rica also undergoes prison reform with WOLA, Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas. In 2013, Costa Rica had the third highest percentage of prisoners in Central American, and now the nation’s prison reform focuses on education, drug decriminalization and rehabilitation.

In 2016, the Ministry of Justice and Peace reduced prison terms for women who smuggled drugs into prisons to a minimum of three to eight years, if they met certain conditions. The result? One hundred and twenty female prisoners were released immediately in Costa Rica, and have since sought health services.

In fact, Costa Rica just passed a law in 2017 for eliminating criminal records for released people who have served sentences under certain conditions. It is still early to conduct studies of the results of this law, but one can assume that this action can reduce poverty of former inmates by providing jobs.

Mexico, El Salvador and Efforts at Rehabilitation

Mexico and El Salvador are also trying to adopt drug decriminalization and reduce gang crime and violence of poverty-ridden areas by using education and business development to build and strengthen communities. Prison reformation programs by the government  — such as drug rehabilitation and mandatory work trainings — have reduced the number of El Salvador’s homicides from 6,071 to 4,881 between 2015 and 2016.

In addition, rehabilitation and work trainings have reduced Mexico’s incarceration rate dramatically, with 37 percent fewer inmates in 2016 than 2015. A report by WOLF concluded that strict drug legislation and its aggressive implementation are key factors in rising incarceration rates and extreme prison overcrowding.

Prison reform is essential to reduce crime, violence, inhumane prison living conditions and poverty. UNODC prison reform programs such as the Centre are very important in Central America as it helps combat crime, drug trade and poverty for high-crime, low-income neighborhoods.

– Areina Ismail
Photo: Flickr

The Green Dream: Sustainability in Central America Eradicates Poverty
Despite being home to more than 40 million people, Central America harbors many cities yet to be touched by electrical grids. Currently, one in 10 Central Americans lives quite literally in the dark, with no access to electricity. But through the Regional Clean Energy Initiative (RCEI) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and regulated by Tetra Tech and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), more Central American areas will have power and sustainable means to produce it.

Why Sustainable Energy Is The Future

The Central American economy is developing and generates a growth rate of more than 3 percent annually. The biggest barrier to a further increase in this rate comes from the lack of productivity in most regions after sunset. Due to the absence of natural light and electricity, residents cannot do any manual labor; as a result, there is an abrupt halt in business outputs after a certain time of day.

Lack of power also prevents children from studying in the evenings, which makes it more difficult for their education to progress at a regular pace; the electricity absence often leads to incomplete homework and inadequate revision of material. Finally, the lack of electricity also introduces the risk of health hazards for those who work in the dark.

Creating Sustainability

Most might claim that the simple introduction of a power source can eradicate these problems, but it is actually more imperative to create sustainability in Central America. Currently, the estimated 7 million people who do not have access to electricity live far from the cities and their well-established grids.

To ensure that power reaches these members of the population, IRENA and the Central American governments are working towards moving away from fossil fuel dependence and towards the development of identified renewable energy sources. This works in their favor because these rural areas have larger spaces to channel energy from natural phenomena (such as sunlight and wind) and cultivate it for use.

Renewable sources of energy can also effectively satiate the high demand for electricity in these regions. Worldwatch Institute revealed that geothermal energy alone has the potential to meet twice the predicted regional electricity demand till 2020.

Currently, only 1 percent of the available resources are used to install windmills to produce energy, leaving enough for developing solar and biomass sources too. Improving sustainability in Central America is thus the most affordable and optimum way to equip deserving rural communities with electricity.

The Implementation

The RCEI is currently implemented in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Tetra Tech plays an important role in this by implementing a joint regulatory and trade policy to strengthen the regional electricity market and make it more accommodating to sustainable energy.

This is supported by the Central America Regional Regulator (CRIE) and the regional market operator (EOR), who are both in charge of proposing mechanisms for sustainable energy use and frameworks that entail the burden of implementation shared by local operators and other market stakeholders.

Tetra Tech has also been successful in developing standards and quality-checks for equipment and energy efficiency. These standards ensure that the renewable resources are optimally utilized for the best possible results.

Thanks to these equipment standards, the city of Zacatecoluca in El Salvador now has a five-mile stretch of streets powered by quality LED streetlights. Not only are they illuminating the city in the night, they are also making it a safer place for its 40,000 residents.

The Way Forward

The introduction of electricity to these regions mitigates the risk of health hazards and economic stagnation. As systems continue to power the countries even in the dark, people can work longer hours and accomplish more every day.

Inhabitants will also begin to feel safer at night and become motivated to work after the sun sets in order to earn more. More importantly, the setup of a regional framework of sustainable energy allows improved transport and communication links between the participating countries, which can lead to more trade and a higher national output.

As electricity is slowly introduced, people become healthier, safer and equipped with higher incomes to fight poverty. Sustainability in Central America is hence the affordable green dream its people need today.

– Sanjana Subramanian
Photo: Flickr

causes of poverty in Central America
Central America links North and South America and includes countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama. Tropical and evergreen rainforests bring a wealth of biodiversity and beauty to the region; however, these countries face high infant mortality, low life expectancies and especially devastating poverty. Here is an analysis of the main causes of poverty in Central America.

 

Oppressive Histories

The Central American countries have histories which involve changes in power to those who wish to conquer them. This began with Columbus and the Spanish conquest of the region, where oppression was the norm as the years went on and the region was ruled by different European elites who put down the indigenous people.

This treatment and “status quo” continued until independence reached the region in the 19th Century. By this point, though, a classist system had already been put in place, and the effects of which can still be seen in modern times. Many attribute Costa Rica’s relative success to the fact that there was only a small indigenous population when the Spaniards conquered the region, the numbers allowing them to avoid the tiered class system that developed in neighboring countries.

 

Unequal Distribution of Wealth

Of the main causes of poverty in Central America, unequal distribution of wealth is by far the most consistent. The region has seen periods of boom and bust since the end of World War II, yet the vast difference in wealth distribution remained unchanged for decades. If wealth inequality remains the same, the only way to reduce poverty is by raising incomes.

In this region, industry remains limited due to a lack of mineral and energy resources making factory jobs scarce while agriculture still dominates. These factors make it increasingly difficult for citizens to gain increased incomes; however, an adjustment to wealth inequality may not increase incomes, but it does reduce poverty.

From 2008 to 2014, there was a period of decreasing wealth inequality due to a rise in minimum wage. This change led to an almost doubling of the middle class, and with formal employment, millions were able to ascend classes and overall statistics improved, including a 65 percent decrease in infant mortality. Yet, despite these promising changes, the region remains the most unequal region in the world for prohibiting the decline of poverty.

 

Gangs and Drug Violence

One of the largest setbacks faced by Central America is the success of gangs and the drug trade. Many of the Central American countries are referred to as “transit countries” as they transport cocaine and other drugs from South to North America. With the increase of drug trafficking, there has also been an increase in organized crime brought about by competition between trafficking groups as well as the governments of the countries they operate within.

Instead of putting money into social programs which could alleviate poverty, the government must use resources to fight against these illegal activities and violence. The effects of the drug trade and organized violence can be seen in the number of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador found in Mexico attempting to flee their home countries. This number reached 16,000 in the first few months of 2016.

These main causes of poverty in Central America are certainly problematic, but all hope is not lost. These countries have made significant improvements in different areas in recent years and will continue to do so in the address of the most pressing problems. With foreign aid and government cooperation, these countries can move past these issues and put the lives of their citizens first.

– Megan Burtis

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Panama
To understand poverty in Panama, the economic dichotomy between the country’s urban and rural regions must be brought to attention. Many residents of Panama’s larger cities currently experience the monetary benefits of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. This is largely due to international trade being introduced through the newly expanded Panama Canal. However, many Panamanians living away from these cities experience a vastly different economic reality. Poor infrastructure and little opportunity for agricultural growth constitute the primary reasons for the causes of poverty in Panama.

The country’s poor infrastructure is one of its main causes of poverty. Per a New York University report, roads “remain poor in rural parts of the country.” The report goes on to state that, “in total, only about 34 percent of the roads are paved”.

Roads that are unpaved and dangerous to use make it difficult for rural farmers to transport their goods to market. In turn, this means that many of these families have a much more difficult time selling goods and services to a broader market than people who have access to proper infrastructure. This has led to a crisis in Panamanian agricultural output, which is now a little over two percent of the country’s GDP, a low number for a country that has heavily relied on this form of trade in the past. This is one of the causes of poverty in Panama and is found mainly in the country’s rural areas in which agriculture is the primary source of livelihood.

Drought is another one of the main causes of poverty in Panama. Much of the time, growing food in rural Panama is a matter of life or death and a necessity to feed one’s family. Rural Panamanians not only sell agricultural goods, they often sustain themselves from what they grow. This is a practice called subsistence farming — feeding oneself entirely from the food one produces personally. Unfortunately, much of Central America has been experiencing a drought since 2014, leading to a decrease in food production.

“The lack of rain since the middle of 2014 has resulted in the loss of staple grain crops and death of thousands of cattle in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and, to a lesser extent, in areas of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama,” states a report by the U.N.‘s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The World Bank has cited that a proper educational system installed in rural Panama could diminish much of its poverty. The World Bank report states that families led by a member who has received some level of education are less likely to be poor than families that are not. Educational systems brought to rural Panama have the potential to increase social mobility for the uneducated. Perhaps programs such as this could not only decrease the financial gap between urban and rural Panama but also reduce poverty in Panama in general.

Michael Carmack

Hunger in Central AmericaCentral America is famous in many parts of the world for its coffee production, however, the region must also cultivate other crops and livestock to feed its population. As of 2014, the UN had declared much of Central America to be in a drought zone – one affecting over 2.8 million peoples’ food sources and financial security. Fortunately, ancient drought-resistant seeds could prevent impoverishment and hunger for many Central American farmers.

Drought instigates hunger in Central America and other places through a persistent lack of rainfall. The shortage of precipitation does not allow crops to grow, preventing farmers from eating or selling their yields. The National Drought Mitigation Center calls drought “a creeping phenomenon.” Many areas of the world go through shorter, less intense droughts; however, Central America’s has been dire.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has overviewed the situation by stating “The lack of rain since the middle of 2014 has resulted in the loss of staple grain crops and death of thousands of cattle in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and to a lesser extent in areas of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.”

Reversing the drought over an area as large as Central America seems to be an immense or even impossible undertaking, given that the drought has already affected millions of people. However, the answer to the area’s low food output and the growing hunger problem in Central America could lie within a specific type of seed – preserved ancient seeds.

The organization, Native Seeds/SEARCH, located in Tucson, Arizona, is a nonprofit dedicated to conserving local biodiversity. Many of the seeds protected and cultivated by the organization are anciently local to the dry and arid environment. This quality marks the seeds as well-suited to areas experiencing chronic drought, such as Central America. Moreover, the kernels that Native Seeds/SEARCH have protected have already been successfully used to provide the Tohono O’odham Nation of American Indians with a sustainable food source.

Because the seeds have been used for thousands of years in the dry environment of southwestern U.S., they have a natural propensity to thrive in drought-ridden areas. The seeds were not only cultivated in this region, but are also naturally native. This means that the seeds have a genetic predisposition to grow in nearly waterless environments.

Native Seeds/SEARCH calls their organization a “seed bank” and uses new freezing technologies to store their seeds. “What began as a humble operation with seeds stored in chest freezers has grown to a state-of-the art conservation facility,” states Native Seeds/SEARCH on their methodology.

Although no effort has been made directly by the organization to alleviate hunger in Central America specifically, Gary Nabhan, co-founder of the Native Seeds/SEARCH project, has expressed his enthusiasm for sowing his seeds on a grander scale. “We promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by distributing seeds to traditional communities and to gardeners worldwide.”

This endeavor could lead to a large reduction in hunger and poverty in drought-affected areas, which could possibly alleviate hunger in Central America as well, as it is most certainly affected by drought and in dire need of aid.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr