Hurricanes Aggravate Economic Crisis In Central America; Migration Expected To Rise; Waterborne Disease Risk

11 Dec 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica

Back-to-back tropical storms in Honduras, Guatemela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica in recent weeks, have caused widespread destruction of crops and homes, precipitating the need for urgent humanitarian assistance.

Countries are already suffering from food insecurity, economic downturn and the loss of jobs and livelihoods due to COVID-19. and recovery will take years, if not decades, experts say, with an increase in migration expected.

“Children who survived both hurricanes are now at risk of dying from waterborne and other infectious diseases,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean said even before named storm Hurrican Iota's effects had manifested. “Cases of hepatitis and malaria have already been reported in some shelters. In addition, persistent rainfalls and COVID-19 movement limitations hinder our humanitarian access to some of the most affected areas.

In Honduras, well over 3 million people have been affected, with an estimated 450,000 displaced. Aid agency, CARE, reports that many communities are still isolated, that their 6 shelters are severely overcrowded, and that basic necessities like clean water and food are very limited. They have also expressed a concern for the safety of women and children.

WASH services are being prioritised in the country as sewer systems remain damaged by hurricanes Eta and Iota leaving entire departments, including Santa Barbara, without access to potable water and with compromised sewage systems, heightening the risk of the spread of disease from contaminated water sources.

The storms have wiped out essential crops of maize, plantain, and coffee beans. Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica together are the third leading producer of coffee globally.

CARE is appealing for $6.5 Million USD to offer support to farmers and small businesses in Honduras for emergency aid and longer-term recovery efforts to include multipurpose cash transfers, rural banking, agricultural support and equipment.

The United Nations Organisation for Migration (IOM) is offering emergency assistance in the form of food, hygiene kits, and cleaning supplies especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

The Regional Director, Michele Klein-Solomon, is calling for more support. She assesses the recovery to be protracted and that assistance must be sustainable and enduring.

IOM is also concerned about the sanitary conditions in shelters, citing overcrowding and the vulnerability to COVID-19. Part of their mission is to collect data and to prioritise distribution of assistance kits that include food, medicine and personal protective equipment. Further, IOM is coordinating actions focused on protecting displaced populations in the region.

Reportage from Mexico indicates that there is northward migration beginning to start.

As reported by NBC News (US): "Every day, about 20 new people arrive because they lost their land, their homes, and their crops in Honduras and Guatemala," according to Gabriel Romero, the director of a migrant shelter in the southern Mexican city of Tenosique.

Social media is carrying conversations about the departure of “caravans” going north. If these materialise, it will put enormous pressure on the new administration in the US.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised a $4 Billion USD plan to address underlying factors driving migration from Central America but it is unclear as to when such funding would be made available and if it will be fast enough.

The current storms have only exacerbated the economic crises of the Central American countries that had already precipitated a steady increase in northern migration.