Thursday, August 27, 2015

Famine threatens Central America's drought-hit "dry corridor"

Severe and prolonged drought is threatening Central America's so-called dry corridor with critical food shortages for the second year in a row.

The region, which is known for its lack of rain, has been particularly hard hit since last year by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which forecasts say could continue through next year.

Regional governments met in El Salvador on August 20 to coordinate efforts to ward off a large-scale humanitarian crisis. El Salvador has reportedly lost nearly 100 million US dollars' worth of corn and bean crops to drought. Some 1.6 million people throughout Central America have been affected.

The gathering came a little over a week after the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called on countries to take action.

"Recurrent droughts have converted into a cyclical characteristic of the changing climate in the region," the agencies said in a joint statement, and "an investment in structural measures to increase the resilience and reinforce the capacities of the countries affected" is needed.

"The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has warned that there is a high risk (90 percent) that El Niño ... will persist until March 2016," the statement said.

In El Salvador, the Central American Agricultural Council (CAC) declared an "agricultural alert" to activate disaster prevention policies and bring the crisis "to the attention of the international community to request cooperation."

The Nicaraguan Union of Agricultural Producers (UPANIC) issued a statement in support of the CAC declaration.

"We support these initiatives because there will be lots of regions, above all grain-producing ones, where nothing is going to be planted and the inhabitants depend solely on their own production," UPANIC's chief Manuel Alvarez said.

In Nicaragua, growers expect notably reduced peanut, sugar cane, corn and bean harvests. Residents in the country's northern Yaraje community, in the town of Mozonte, Nueva Segovia province, have replaced corn with sorghum to make tortillas, which they eat with just a sprinkling of salt. As in other nearby towns, subsistence corn and bean crops have been lost, and no relief is in sight.

UPANIC has urged President Daniel Ortega to declare a national food emergency because beans, along with rice, are staples of the Nicaraguan diet, as in much of the rest of Central America, UPANIC's Juan Alvaro Munguia said.

The government has yet to declare an emergency, but it has been sending food aids to affected families.

"We have to confront the emergency with actions, not with declarations that only lead people to believe they don't have to pay their banking commitments," the president's economic adviser Bayardo Arce said.

In Guatemala, June and July are usually the dry, hot months of the year, but that weather pattern has continued through August and could continue for several more months. Nine out of the country's 22 departments are suffering from drought.

More than 560,000 people in the dry corridor are at dire risk of starvation as the area's corn crop has been devastated, the Guatemalan non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger warned recently.

In Honduras, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calculated that a total of 81 municipalities are suffering from severe droughts, while another 65 are suffering from moderate ones.

  Xinhua -

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