Drought puts spotlight on Central American climate change woes

Central America’s years of neglect of agriculture, poor water management and lack of planning to help farmers cope with climate change are worsening food shortages caused by a widespread drought, aid agencies say.

At least 2.5 million people in four countries – Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – are struggling to feed themselves because a severe drought has shrunk harvests and raised food prices, weakening the fragile food supply, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says.

The worst affected area is the « dry corridor » running across the region, which is also its bread basket. “The dry corridor is an area very vulnerable to climate change, and is home to mainly subsistence farmers who largely depend on corn and bean crops and temporary labour in the coffee sector,” said Miguel Barreto, the WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Honduras has declared a state of emergency along its dry corridor where the government estimates 114,000 families need food aid in 97 of the country’s 298 municipalities. In neighbouring Guatemala, the government has declared a state of calamity in 16 provinces. Both countries have asked the international aid community for help, Barreto said.

Poor rainfall has led to a fall of up to 80 percent in food crop harvests in some parts of Central America.

Drought and subsequent food shortages are a recurring problem in Central America’s dry corridor. Though millions of poor farmers in rural areas depend on agriculture for their food and livelihood, successive governments have failed to invest in rural development, he said.

More needs to be done to implement a long-term agricultural policy that helps small farmers improve crop yields and access loans for seeds, fertilizer and equipment, and to help farming communities cope with the extreme and erratic weather brought by climate change.