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Drought signals famine warning in Central America

02 January 2015

by Sean Hawkey


Parched: Mikol Antonio Herná​ndez Garcia, a rancher, inspects dry carcasses of cattle that died in the drought in San Francisco Libre, Nicaragua 

Parched: Mikol Antonio Herná​ndez Garcia, a rancher, inspects dry carcasses of cattle that died in the drought in Sa...

THE continuing drought in Central America devastated corn and beans crops - the most important basic grains of the region - this year. A state of emergency was declared in El Salvador and Honduras, and in Nicaragua 100,000 families were affected. Food security and malnutrition are becoming a big problem after more frequent droughts in the region and unseasonal heavy precipitation caused floods and landslides.

In September, the World Bank reported that more than 500,000 families in the region had nothing to eat. The Famine Early Warning System reported in November that large parts of the region were still in difficulties.

Christian Aid is working on these climate-change emergencies directly and through the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 140 Churches and related organisations, providing humanitarian relief and early recovery programmes, and encouraging people across the region to adapt to climate change.

The Lutheran World Federation's regional representative in Central America, Elena Cedillo, says that people have eaten all of last year's basic grain-harvests, and the first harvest failed this year. The safety net is always a cash crop, and the people in this region depend on coffee for that, but coffee has also failed because of changes in the climate, and the spread of leaf rust.

"As well as humanitarian aid and early recovery," Ms Cedillo says, "we're looking ahead, and working on adapting to climate change - teaching people to diversify their crops, to plant crops like sorghum that is more resistant to drought, for example. And, in cash crops, to change coffee for cocoa because cocoa is more resistant to the new levels of humidity that are helping the spread of leaf rust. And we're working on micro-irrigation and improving water sources, like deepening wells."

Many people are being forced to leave because of the climate. Ms Cedillo says: "We're currently seeing a massive wave of migration out of the region to North America. Millions of people are taking the very high-risk and illegal journey to the US. . . . We struggle for this crisis to get the attention and support it deserves."

Families and churches are encouraged to divest from fossil fuels, taking their lead from the World Council of Churches, which recently announced the withdrawal of all its investments from funds related to fossil fuels.

For further information on the movement Fast for the Climate, visit www.christianaid.org.uk/ActNow/climate-justice/fast-for-the-climate.aspx

 Sean Hawkey's work on the Central American drought was sponsored by ACT Alliance.

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