As citizens battle to rebuild—again—after the destruction of this month’s back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes in Central America, aid workers and political leaders are pleading for help from wealthy nations. Forecasting ever-deepening poverty, despair-driven violence, and even famine, observers are warning of an exodus should help not come.
Some three million people across Guatemala and Honduras have been affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, with dozens dead or missing and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes, reports the Cable News Network. Now, many of those displaced people are living in close quarters with strangers in makeshift evacuation shelters, with no means of social distancing or otherwise shielding themselves from pandemic spread.
But with food, clean water, and sometimes even shelter in short supply, the coronavirus is not high on the weighty list of concerns of those affected by the hurricane, said nutrition specialist Maria Angélica Milla.
“Hunger looms,” she said. “Kids who depended on a meal at school aren’t even getting that, since schools have been closed due to the pandemic and even more so now with the hurricanes,” CNN writes.
Also looming, the TV network adds, is a despair-driven surge of people fleeing north in search of escape from the escalating political and environmental vises that are tightening around the area. It was a clear sign of such despair when anger recently boiled over against the government in Guatemala City, with protesters setting fire to the congress building and demanding—successfully—that officials restore monies recently removed from “already crippled” health and education budgets.
But such successes are unlikely to stem the exodus, said Steve McAndrew, deputy regional director of the Americas for the Red Cross. Describing the impacts of November’s two hurricanes as “really overwhelming,” McAndrew recalled how 1998’s Hurricane Mitch “became the basis for special U.S. immigration status for Hondurans and Nicaraguans.”
Drawing an emphatic—and increasingly undeniable—connection between the climate crisis and the serial devastation wrought by hurricanes across the region, Guatemalan and Honduran presidents Alejandro Giammattei and Juan Orlando Hernández have asked the wealthy nations of the world—namely, those most responsible for destabilizing the global climate—for financial aid to help their desperate citizens recover.
“Every time there is a natural disaster as a result of climate change, we acquire debt,” said Giammattei. “This has brought on a vicious cycle where we get in debt, we reconstruct, it gets destroyed, we get into debt, we rebuild, and it get destroyed again.”
The two Central American leaders also pointed out that stepping up to alleviate the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people could help stem the tide of migration north.
But with such aid not yet materializing and the spectre of famine growing by the day thanks to lost harvests, such migration may be “the only option for some to survive,” Milla said.
“Famine is coming,” and “I don’t want to think about what’s going on through the minds of those who lost everything,” she told CNN. “Prepare for the waves.”