Climate and COVID-19 quadruple the number of Central Americans who go hungry

The number of hungry people in Central America has almost quadrupled in the last two years, warns the World Food Program which ensures that 1.7 million people urgently need help.

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and years of extreme weather events have made eight million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua go hungry, compared to 2.2 million in 2018.

The record 2020 Atlantic hurricane season dealt a severe blow to millions of people who previously were not hungry, but who relied on the service economy, tourism and informal jobs.

With their homes and farms destroyed, fewer and fewer food stocks and fewer opportunities to find employment, almost a 15% of those surveyed by the Program in January said they were making concrete plans to migrate.

“Considering the level of destruction and setbacks faced by affected people, we anticipate that this recovery will be long and slow. 2020 was a year for oblivion around the world, and even more so for the Central American communities that received a series of blows, said Miguel Barreto, regional director of the Program for Latin America and the Caribbean, in a statement.

PMA / David Fernandez

These Salvadoran girls were beneficiaries of school lunches. Now those food rations are prepared for the children to take home.

A serious situation

Marlene Rosales, a Honduran woman, decided to emigrate after she and her husband lost their jobs and after the hurricanes. They joined a caravan that was blocked in Guatemala and forced to return.

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“We children got sick and we were without a weight. That’s why we decided to leave, because we wanted to finish the house, buy something better for the children, buy beds for them, have a good job, a different life. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t get through, ”she says through tears.

The mother says that she has survived thanks to the food rations provided by the Program.

“Before I made cakes, now I have even had to sell firewood, do what I can for my children. I go to the mountains, I look for herbs and I cook them with that, or sometimes we have had to sleep only with a drink of coffee (…) I have never lost hope of having a good house, that my children study and get ahead “, he says .

The hurricanes destroyed more than 200,000 hectares of staple food and cash crops in four countries and more than 10,000 hectares of coffee farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua. Hurricanes struck when these communities were already grappling with job losses and a contracting economy, a consequence of COVID-19.

The Program’s surveys estimate that food security in Central America collapsed as a result of the pandemic. The number of households that did not have enough to eat nearly doubled in Guatemala compared to pre-COVID-19 numbers. In Honduras, it increased by more than 50%. An overwhelming majority of households in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador reported lost income or unemployment during the pandemic.

“Urban and rural communities in Central America have hit rock bottom. The economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 had already put food on store shelves out of reach of the most vulnerable people by the time Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit them. Many now have nowhere to live and are staying in temporary shelters, surviving on almost nothing, ”added Barreto.

Hit by the climate emergency

Communities in Central America have borne the brunt of a climate emergency, where consecutive years of drought and erratic weather have disrupted food production, especially corn and beans, which rely heavily on regular rains.

The World Food Program called on the international community to support its efforts in Central America to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and invest in long-term development projects and in national social protection programs that help vulnerable communities become resilient to extreme weather events and recurring economic crises.

The agency plans to help 2.6 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in 2021 and requires $ 47.3 million over the next six months.

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