El Niño drought causing food crisis in vulnerable Central America
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El Niño drought causing food crisis in vulnerable Central America

The Pacific weather phenomenon has saddled hundreds of thousands of families in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua with severe crop losses and could create a second wave of migration out of the troubled region.

Two reports from international non-profits appeared this past week, highlighting the food crisis in the northern countries of Central America. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization released a report on Monday with alarming statistics.

Crop losses and food insecurity

For example, in Honduras, 80 percent of its bean crop area and 60 percent of its corn crop area were lost during the May to September farming season. This affected approximately 161,000 families with half suffering total crop loss.

El Salvador also had the same loss of corn and bean crop areas, according to the report. In Guatemala, the report said that 80 percent of its corn crop and an expected 5 percent reduction in bean production. Approximately 154,000 families were affected and 110,000 are receiving food assistance. The report was less detailed on Nicaragua, saying it had lost 50 percent of its planted area so far this year.

A second report, released on Thursday by the U.N.’s World Food Program and the International Organization of Migration explored the link between food insecurity, violence and migration out of the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The report estimated that 1.5 million people in the three countries now suffer from severe or moderate food insecurity. This represented 25 percent of households in Guatemala, 36 percent in Honduras and 13 percent in El Salvador. From 2011 to 2013, 30.5 of Guatemalans were considered undernourished, 11.9 percent of El Salvadorans and 8.7 percent of Hondurans.

Additionally the three countries all rank in the top five for homicide rates in the world, with Honduras the highest. Poverty rates are high as well, with the report declaring 70.5 percent of Hondurans, 70.3 percent of Guatemalans and 53 percent of El Salvadorans living in poverty.

These factors have all spurred migration, which reached a high point in the summer of 2014 where tens of thousands of Central American children attempted to enter the U.S. The report said that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras ranked second, third and fourth as countries of origin for unauthorized immigrants and that the Northern Triangle countries constituted a combined 76 percent of children apprehended trying to enter the U.S. in 2014.

On the cusp of famine

Media outlets in Honduras, such as the daily La Prensa, have reported that for some farmers, it has been the worst drought in 50 years.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said that his government has provided aid to 90,000 affected families and plans on considering 50,000 more in an interview with La Prensa earlier this month.

“The damaged from the drought is serious and will have an unprecedented impact in many communities of the country, but we will not come to a famine,” Hernández told La Prensa.

Hernández also blamed climate change for the suffering, saying that Honduras was between the second and fifth most affected country.

In Guatemala, the El Niño drought is the worst since 1997, according to a report by Guatemala’s Prensa Libre. That country’s government has been forced to provide food assistance to 236,000 families, dating back to August 2014,  Guatemala’s El Periodico reports.

See also:

Peru and Ecuador prepare for El Niño devastation

Too late, rain returns to drought-stricken Guatemala