Responding to drought in Central America

3rd August 2014
Climate change and the “El Niño” phenomenon of unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, saw Central America plagued by drought this year. The lack of water damaged the staple corn and bean crops across the region, reducing harvests by up to 90 per cent in some areas and pushing hundreds of thousands of families into food insecurity.
Central America is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. According to the 2014 Global Climate Risk Index, the countries of Central America are among the 10 most-affected countries, with Honduras holding the top spot globally. There, the government declared a state of emergency because of scarcity of food in the dry corridor in the southern region of the country, which affected around 400,000 people.
100,000 families affected by drought
In El Salvador, around 30 per cent of the annual corn harvest was lost in 2014 and 90 per cent of the annual bean crop. According to the World Food Programme, an estimated 100,000 families were affected, with 25,000 people facing critical conditions of food insecurity. In Nicaragua, nearly 75 per cent of the corn crop was lost in the northern areas of Estelí, Madríz and Nueva Segovia, affecting around 100,000 families. The result was that grain prices significantly increased across the region, restricting access to food for those affected families.
Guatemala also declared a state of emergency in 16 of its 22 provinces, as major losses were reported of the region’s staple foods, maize and beans, and emaciated cattle died from lack of food and water. More than 200,000 families who depended on subsistence farming were considered at high risk, and the eastern side of the country was the most affected, with crop losses of 85 per cent, leading to a 200 per cent rise in the price of corn.
ACT response
The ACT appeal for the region focused on food security, distribution of food kits, the provision of water, and early recovery and livelihood restoration. Thousands of families affected by the crisis were given access to food in the critical period of food shortage, and approximately 1,000 families received improved access to safe water for household use. Two thousand families were provided with the necessary inputs to improve their agricultural production for household consumption. Salvador Perez, a technician in Nicaragua working with communities in the badly-affected area of San Francisco Libre, said: “The Rio Grande has dried up; imagine that, it’s dried up.
There are a few remaining puddles of water, and for people nearby they can take their cattle to water there, but there’s no food, we’re shipping in rice husks for the cows to eat. At the end of this year, the last reserves that farmers have from the late harvest last year will be finished. Scarcity of food has pushed up the food prices so people can’t afford to buy much food. We’re going to need a lot of humanitarian aid to keep people alive.”
The drought is expected to continue and expand into other regions during 2015.