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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: When Extreme Weather Meets Extreme Politics Calamities are Bound to Happen

By Beatrice E. Rangel

2015 saw the light under the sign of peril. World watchers indicated back in January that this year would be one marked by enhanced human tragedies triggered by extreme weather and extreme violence.

The list of tragedies included diseases like Ebola; catastrophic natural events like tsunamis; floods, droughts and earthquakes; and conflicts like that tearing the Central African Republic.

The list of conflicts expanded to cover those threatening entire ethnic groups with annihilation like the Roma nation in Kosovo or Muslins in Myanmar, and those triggering uncontainable flows of human beings escaping political brutality and death such as those fleeing from Syria and ISIS controlled Iraq.

Few however fine-tuned their telescopes to see the makings of a major tragedy in the Americas.

And we are now at its doorstep with little understanding of its imminence or tools to successfully confront its consequences.

Three independent developments are building this perfect storm.

The oldest and less visible is the fate of 4.9 million Colombians who are displaced from their homeland and dispossessed from their meager assets by internal violence.

These people are the poorest and the forgotten class of Colombia with 94% of them living in poverty and 77% in extreme poverty. They are prey to illegal groups like FARC, ELN and drug traffickers. As El Nino aggravates rainfall in some territories while creating drought in others, the displaced population is about to face certain death arising from famine; drowning and exhaustion.

International crisis groups estimate that there could be as many as 10,000 casualties this year -- and this assuming that no other extraordinary event takes place in Colombia.

Displaced Colombians now crowd the nation's borders with Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. Should any catastrophic incident take place in any of these countries, displaced Colombians could experience enhanced death tolls.

And to continue with man-made tragedies, the second building block for Armageddon is the obstinate persistence of the Government of Venezuela to test the pressure cooker created by its Cheshire Cat policies.

By means of defying the laws of civility while denying those of economic demeanor, Venezuela could enter a phase of famine cum political chaos.

As the regime continues to persecute dissenters by legal and illegal means -- sending them to jail with fake trials such as that performed upon Mr Leopoldo Lopez -- people begin to realize that violence is the sole path left to achieve freedom.

Chronic tampering with demand and supply, on the other hand, is bound to bring about forced starvation very similar to those hunger-ridden times in North Korea during the unending Kim dynasty.

As prices per oil barrel continue to move closer to the $20 level, with external debt representing a whopping 1 1/2 of its GDP and imports of food representing 90% of consumption, Venezuela will find it difficult to access credit.

And as credit evaporates, so will food staples in grocery stores.

Faced with potential starvation, many Venezuelans are likely to resolve the matter violently by attacking and/or looting affluent homes and any kind of business.

Anarchy would ensue, as most Venezuelans bear arms today, given that rampant crime leaves no other way to protect their lives and belongings. As anarchy takes over, terrified civilians will attempt to flee the country.

Colombia, Trinidad, and Guyana could experience similar human inflows as those showering Italy, Greece and the Balkan countries.

Some law enforcement agencies estimate that pandemonium in Venezuela could cause a population displacement affecting 1.8 million people.

These same sources also estimated that 1% of these people could die from exhaustion, hunger, violence or disease.

As desperate Venezuelans seek refuge in the island countries of the Caribbean and Colombia, unemployment, disease, poverty and ultimately violence will take hold in the shores of one of the most important trade basins.

The third element in this tragic chain is the ongoing Central American drought.

Hundreds of thousands of families in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have seen their economic gains evaporate over the past six months. The U.N. humanitarian agency (OCHA) estimates 2.5 million people are food insecure in those countries.

In large areas 80% of farming families have reported loss of their entire crop. In Honduras and Guatemala, three-quarters of the corn and bean production has already been lost. In El Salvador authorities have reported this to be the worst drought since 1977.

With U.N. agencies cash-strapped and overwhelmed with mounting crises, there is little hope that aid can come any time soon.

As el Nino covers Central America with its cloak of atmospheric pressure the Pacific coast will remain dry while the Atlantic coast runs the risk of drowning (see chart).

Confronted with death by exhaustion or water, people will tend to seek refuge in Mexico thereby adding to the already significant migrant inflows that aim at the US border. Some estimate that current death tolls in the Arizona desert alone could more than double from 445 to over 1000.

This cataclysmic trilogy could open the locks to a river of desperation that forces people to search for safety or face death.

According to reliable sources, the combined impact of these three events could raise the death toll to about 29,000 people.

Also given the magnitude of the human flows, a spout of violence and destruction could erupt similar to that endured by Latin American nations in the 19th century when local caudillos rebelled and marched with slave armies on capital cities.

Today a combination of absence of rule of law with weather induced catastrophes could bring back past destruction. This time however the fallout will not be contained to Latin America -- it will probably affect many other regions including China, the U.S. and Europe by means of suspending trade and endangering investment.

Nepal Earthquake

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, toppling buildings and triggering avalanches in the Himalayas. Some 8 million people are affected by the quake and the aftermath. More than 7,000 lives were lost. Top needs include water, food, household supplies, temporary shelter, and protection for children.

Syrian refugee crisis

The 4-year-old war in Syria has caused more than 3.9 million people — including nearly 2 million children — to flee the country as refugees. Within the country, the violence has displaced 11.4 million people. Education, family, and community life are disrupted. Children are particularly vulnerable, while living in insecure conditions such as a refugee camp or host neighborhood with little infrastructure, or within the country, where fighting continues. There appears to be no end in sight. The U.N. and governments in the region are asking for $5 billion — the largest humanitarian appeal for a single response in history — to meet the immediate needs of displaced families and their hosts.

Iraq displacement

Fighting has spilled over from Syria and flared up internally, displacing more than 2 million people since January 2014. Northern Iraq already hosted more than 228,000 Syrian refugees. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates about 5.2 million people now need humanitarian assistance, including food, shelter, clean water, sanitation services, and education support. As many as 600,000 people seeking shelter in mountainous areas of northern Iraq need help to weather the cold, snowy winter months.

West Africa Ebola outbreak

The 2014 Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa is the worst since the disease was discovered in 1975. The World Health Organization’s official death toll topped 6,388 on December 10 as governments and international aid agencies worked to control the spread of the virus. It’s especially bad in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which have seen 87 percent of the cases and 77 percent of the deaths. Aid agencies and governments have ramped up their coordination to contain the outbreak through efforts such as providing community awareness training and equipping medical teams to conduct safe and dignified burials.

South Sudan conflict

Since conflict broke out a year ago in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, 1.91 million people have fled their homes because of fighting. Many set up camp under the U.N.’s protection, dependent on aid from relief agencies. Their lives and prospects are limited.Thousands of farming families missed the planting season or lost their livestock and now have no crops or income to hold them over until the next harvest. Hunger, malnutrition, and disease threaten their children’s lives. Schools are occupied by armed forces and displaced families, not students. Humanitarian agencies responding to the crisis believe as many as 2.5 million people will face severe food shortages in early 2015.

Somalia drought

Despite a slight increase in cereal crop production in 2014 in East Africa, more than 1 million people in Somalia’s central and southern areas still need emergency food assistance, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says. Aid agencies there expect the food security situation to improve by March for some. But they are wary of the impact late seasonal floods could have on struggling families near the Shabelle and Juba Rivers. Ongoing armed conflict and political insecurity have hindered efforts to help hungry families become more resilient to food shortages. However, some communities ravaged by the 2012 drought continue to make progress toward having enough to eat during lean times.

Central African Republic violence

The situation in CAR remains volatile as clashing groups continue violent attacks throughout the country of 4.6 million people. Conflict has displaced 430,000 people from their homes in the past year. Schools have closed, making children vulnerable to abuse and violence, including recruitment into the warring factions.Now, 2.5 million people need immediate help such as protection, food, and access to health services.

You can see more at Worldvision by clicking here

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.

Also by Beatrice Rangel in her Latin America from 35,000 Feet series

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