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Climate and poverty combine to plague Central America – International News News – Report by AFR

Every time it rains, Blanca Arias in El Salvador and Sandra Ramos in Honduras fear floods will destroy their vulnerable homes and leave their families destitute. Again.

A fate that hits parts of Central America all too often and, according to experts, more frequently and violently due to climate change.

Corruption, crumbling infrastructure, uncontrolled urbanization and poverty, which affects 60 percent of Central America’s 50 million people, all combine to increase people’s exposure to natural disasters.

And the region has many: from volcanic eruptions, droughts, and heat waves to regular flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes.

In July of this year, Tropical Storm Bonnie unleashed a downpour over San Salvador, inundating Arias’s modest home and many others built in a canyon southeast of the capital.

Her home was left “in ruins,” Arias told AFP, and she lost everything she needed to run her artisanal ice cream business.

“We have nowhere to go,” said the 58-year-old.

In neighboring Honduras, 22-year-old Ramos lives on the banks of the Ulua River in constant nervousness.

“Some time ago, two weeks ago, we were scared because they announced a very strong hurricane. We went to look at the river, the river was filling up…part of it flowed into the valley.

“All of this worries us because we are in a risk zone and we cannot be comfortable,” she said.

– vicious circle –

When both Hurricanes Eta and Iota struck in October 2020, Ramos said her entire settlement was flooded.

“All houses were lost, we lost everything.”

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates that the hurricane duo caused over $2 billion in damage in Honduras alone.

In 2021, more than 8.4 million people in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua were facing a food crisis due to conflicts, economic shocks resulting from the coronavirus epidemic and extreme weather events, according to a World Food Program report.

“Poverty makes those same people look for the cheapest areas to live, and those are usually the most vulnerable areas,” Ricardo Navarro, president of environmental NGO CESTA, told AFP.

The areas of Central America most prone to tropical cyclones are on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, both of which stretch nearly 3,000 kilometers (about 1,800 miles) in length and are densely populated.

Experts regularly warn of the danger of dense settlement in risk areas.

In some areas of Nicaragua, for example, “there was a time when rivers were shrinking and people were building (houses) in their beds or very close to the rivers, which naturally reverted to their normal flow,” said Janett Castillo of the Nicaraguan National Risk Management Council (MNGR).

“Nature is reclaiming the space that humans are invading,” added Magdalena Cortez of the Salvadoran risk management NGO MPGR, who said we must respect nature to minimize risk.

Despite the many disasters plaguing the region, “disaster management systems have been weakened by government neglect,” said Guido Calderon of the Cociger risk management NGO in Guatemala.

Every time an event occurs, the systems mobilize for a rapid response, “then abandon those affected,” he said.

– “Uncontrolled exploitation” –

Back in Honduras, Jose Ramon Avila of the NGO coalition ASONOG said that vulnerability to 1998’s Hurricane Mitch – which was the country’s worst natural disaster, killing more than 5,000 – was only made worse by “uncontrolled exploitation of the forests”. be. since.

Flooding has worsened due to a changing climate, Avila said, with “copious rainfall over shorter periods of time, which in turn saturates the soil” that would normally absorb the excess water.

According to a 2021 Inter-American Development Bank report, a total of 81 weather disasters killed 26,887 people in Honduras between 1970 and 2019.

In some areas, the country has attempted to counter the threat by building stone and earth dikes.

But when Hurricane Eta struck, even those barriers were overwhelmed, Ramos recalled.

After the waters receded, she and her neighbors returned and settled in makeshift shacks to slowly rebuild their lives, but with no faith in the levees.

Now, whenever a storm is forecast, they get ready to leave.

“We can lose what little we have collected – the animals, even our lives,” Ramos said.


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