Battered by Climate Shocks and Bruised by Economic Crisis Millions More in Central America Face Hunger
ROME – Hunger in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua has increased almost fourfold over the past two years – from 2.2 million people in 2018 to close to 8 million people in 2021 – a result of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and years of extreme climate events. Of this figure, 1.7 million people are in the ‘Emergency’ category of food insecurity and require urgent food assistance.
“Considering the level of destruction and setbacks faced by those affected, we expect this to be a long and slow recovery,” said Miguel Barreto, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “2020 was a year to forget across the world, and even more so for communities in Central America that were dealt a series of blows.”
With homes and farms destroyed, food stocks running low and job opportunities shrinking, nearly 15 percent of people surveyed by the U.N. World Food Programme in January 2021 said that they were making concrete plans to migrate. In a 2018 post-drought assessment only eight percent of respondents indicated they were planning to migrate.
The record 2020 Atlantic hurricane season dealt a severe blow to millions who were previously relatively untouched by hunger, among them people dependent on the service economy, tourism and informal jobs. Hurricanes Eta and Iota that struck Central America in November 2020 upended the lives of 6.8 million people who lost their homes and livelihoods.
The hurricanes destroyed about 500,000 acres of staple food and cash crops in the four countries and around 25,000 acres of coffee farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua. The hurricanes struck as these communities were already dealing with job losses and a shrinking economy, a fallout of COVID-19.
The U.N. World Food Programme surveys estimate that food security in Central America nosedived as a result of COVID-19. The number of households that did not have enough to eat during COVID-19 nearly doubled in Guatemala compared to pre-pandemic numbers. In Honduras, it increased by more than 50 percent. An overwhelming majority of households in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador reported income losses or unemployment during the pandemic.
“Urban and rural communities in Central America have hit rock bottom. The COVID-19-induced economic crisis had already put food on the market shelves out of reach for the most vulnerable people when the twin hurricanes Eta and Iota battered them further,” said Barreto. “Many now have nowhere to live and are staying in temporary shelters, surviving on next to nothing.”
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 staples like maize and beans, which depend heavily on regular rainfall.
The U.N. World Food Programme calls on the international community to support its efforts in Central America to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and to invest in long-term development projects and national social protection programs that help vulnerable communities withstand recurrent weather extremes and economic shocks.
The U.N. World Food Programme plans to assist 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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