PANAMA CITY – The Central American Dry Corridor, a strip of land running from Guatemala to Panama, is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change and is going through a food crisis that is “invisible” to the world at large, a United Nations official told EFE.
“The phenomenon of the drought in the Dry Corridor is practically invisible on the media level. It’s not known and doesn’t receive the attention that the migrant crisis in Venezuela commands or the migrant (caravans),” said the director of the World Food Program for Latin America and the Caribbean, Miguel Barreto.
The international organization calculates that in this area, where more than 10 million people live and which runs along Central America’s Pacific coast, there are currently 1.4 million people who need “urgent” food assistance because the weather extremes stemming from climate change have wiped out their harvests.
The prolonging of the dry season last year destroyed 70 percent of the first harvest, usually collected in August, while the torrential rains damaged 50 percent of the later harvest, collected in March, according to the WFP, whose headquarters for the region is located in Panama.
The majority of the people affected are small farmers who live far from urban centers in communities with few services and public infrastructure and who are focused on subsistence agriculture, meaning that they eat and live on what little they grow, mainly corn and beans.
Of the 1.4 million people affected, Guatemala and Honduras each have about half a million while the remaining 400,000 are shared between El Salvador and Nicaragua.
“If a harvest fails due to lack of water, what happens is that those people have to plant again and wait until the next harvest to be able to have food. When both (yearly harvests) fail, we get into a crisis situation,” Barreto said.
Some 82 percent of the families affected in recent months have sold the animals and work tools they had to be able to buy food, a situation that has left them almost “without reserves,” he added.
Although living in the Dry Corridor are 50 percent of the almost two million small producers of basic grains in Central America, their productivity is very low and they hardly have any weight in the region’s total production.
This, added to the existence of a long list of international conflicts – including Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and Somalia – could explain the “lack of interest” abroad over the situation in the Dry Corridos, Barreto said.
“We have to raise awareness because we need resources so that the situation doesn’t become more complicated,” said Barreto, whose agency is trying to gather together $72 million to provide food immediately to 700,000 people.
He said that climate change has come to stay and so the solution in the medium term is to make subsistence farmers “more resilient (in the face of) weather extremes,” something that can be achieved by diversifying their crops, improving their planting techniques and introducing the farmers into the market so that they can sell their excess production.
Climate change has also become a significant factor in motivating Central Americans to migrate within their own countries or even to the US.
The international organization estimates that over the past four years 18 percent of Guatemala’s population has left that country due to the adverse effects of climate change, and the figure stands at 14 percent in Honduras and 5 percent in El Salvador.
“Traditionally, poverty and lack of security have been considered to be the main causes (of migration) but in recent years there’s been an increase in people who are fleeing the effects of climate change. This is being recognized by authorities in the Americas at the time they arrive at the border,” he concluded.