Covid-19 and climate change make hurricanes more devastating for Latin America


This month, after two Category 4 hurricanes, communities in these Central American countries have witnessed rivers overflowing with rains, crops were destroyed, cattle were blurred, schools were flooded, and roads were plunged into landslides. Death, disease, and poverty are likely to ensue.
While rural poor people were often hit hardest by Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota, the consequences of these storms are already being felt in the halls of power. In Guatemala, rage raged through the streets over the weekend as protesters set fire to the congressional building and forced lawmakers to reverse budget cuts to the country’s already crippled health and education systems.

The coronavirus epidemic exacerbates these climate catastrophes, which are spreading further. And eventually, it can even reach distant countries as Central Americans, desperate and vulnerable to storms flee abroad.

Three million people were affected by Eta and Iota, the Red Cross estimates, and hundreds of thousands were evacuated and displaced. Dozens are dead and missing. Add Covid-19 to the trunk of crowded escape shelters, and it’s another perfect storm recipe.

“The risk of Covid-19 spreading is only increasing as more people seek refuge in shelters where more than 17,500 Guatemalan people are already crowded with the recent storm,” said Miriam Aguilar, a Guatemalan spokesman for the humanitarian agency Mercat Corps.

From Honduras, Dr. Maria Angélica Milla, who specializes in nutrition, a colleague from CNN presented an impromptu evacuation shelter at a San Pedro Sula elementary school where they could see people not wearing masks and keeping a safe distance. Cardboard boxes lay on the floor – makeshift mattresses for many families who lost everything.

About 180 displaced people have been granted asylum, Milla added, and often the coronavirus is the least worrying. Hunger strikes, he said. Kids who depended on school meals don’t even get that because schools were closed because of the epidemic, and even more so because of the hurricanes, he said.

Basic needs such as shelter and clean drinking water are the most urgent need for many, UNICEF Representative Mark Honduras Mark Connolly also told CNN.

Full-time mother Mirza Yolany Valdez lost everything during Hurricane Eta. He has since been in primary school with his two sons, aged 3 and 11, in San Pedro Sula.

“I’m just praying that God will give me strength because it’s very sad to go home and I have nothing,” CNN said in a video call.

Her voice cracked and she began to cry. “I couldn’t save anything with the first hurricane, and now with the second, even less so.”

‘Famine is coming’

Violence, insecurity, poverty and lack of opportunities have long motivated people to migrate north, where they hope to find better chances for life. For months, experts have predicted that Covid-19 could create a new wave of migration trying to reach the U.S. border. But the lasting damage caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota is a reminder that climate change is also a growing driver of migration.

“People don’t know where to go now,” says Leonardo Pineda, director of the local Honduran NGO, Asociación Juventud Siglo Veintiuno (JUSIVE) in San Pedro Sula.

He told CNN he had heard many young people about the migration.

“There’s no job, so what are people going to work on? They’re looking for exactly something that would help them grow, and it’s hard in Honduras,” Pineda said.

Ambulances are on a flooded road in a boat after Hurricane Iota passed in La Lima, Honduras on Wednesday, November 18, 2020.

During the interview, torrential downpours were visible and audible in the background – the rains that make recovery efforts even more difficult.

Steve McAndrew, the regional director of the Red Cross for Americans, called the extent and breadth of the damage caused by the hurricane “really overwhelming” for CNN.

“We know from history, from Hurricane Mitch and other major disasters like this, that it only increases people’s despair to look for better opportunities elsewhere,” he said, referring to the 1998 storm that was so deadly that it was the U.S. became the basis of its special immigration status. for the people of Honduras and Nicaragua.

“It can definitely increase all the pressures that cause people to move.”

At last week’s meeting, Alejandro Giammattei and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, the Guatemalan president, called on the world’s richest nations, which are directly contributing to climate change, to provide financial assistance to help their countries recover from hurricanes. And that would help reduce large migratory flows to the north, Giammattei said.

“Whenever a natural disaster occurs as a result of climate change, we get into debt,” Giammattei added. “It has brought a vicious circle where we become indebted, reconstructed, destroyed, indebted, rebuilt and destroyed again.”

“Central America and Honduras are among the regions most affected by climate change in the world,” said Hernurez, president of Honduras.

Dr. Milla has no doubt that storms will trigger new waves of migration – the only chance for some to survive the “apocalyptic” devastation on earth, he says.

“Famine is coming,” she told CNN. “So much famine is coming because the last harvest is lost, there is no capacity to store anything, prices have already skyrocketed.”

“I don’t want to think about what’s going on in the minds of those who lost everything,” Milla added. – Prepare for the waves.