Drought cripples Central America’s poorest people

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, Reuters

A severe drought is causing widespread hunger in Central American nations still recovering from two serious earthquakes this year and Hurricane Mitch’s 1998 rampage, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

“We are currently feeding one million vulnerable in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador,” said Abigail Spring of the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP).

“These people are just rebuilding their lives after being faced with the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch and the earthquakes.”

Persistent dry conditions have ravaged corn, bean and other crops, further pressing farmers and farm workers already devastated by plummeting world coffee prices that have left thousands out of work at Central American coffee plantations.

“Now with the combination of the past disasters, the current severe drought and the near collapse of the coffee market, daily life is extremely difficult for the poorest in Central America today,” Spring said. In Honduras alone, the drought has wiped out crops of some 317,000 small- and medium-sized producers of whom almost half are subsistence farmers, WFP said in a report.

The food shortage will become increasingly severe as the fall harvest season approaches, it said.

“In some cases the population is facing famine,” said Honduran lawmaker Guillermo Izaguirre.

El Salvador, which was rocked by two earthquakes in January and February that killed 1,150 people and caused US$1.6 billion in damage, has declared a state of emergency due to major crop losses from the drought.

Activists and lawmakers in Honduras and Nicaragua, the region’s poorest nations and the hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch, called for emergency measures due to the drought. Mitch left at least 9,000 people dead and caused billions of dollars in damage across Central America.

Guatemalan farmers also were being hurt by the drought, WFP said.