Although Central America finally saw the sun this weekend after nearly two weeks of rain, hurricanes in Mexico and Panama are threatening more rain on the already soaked region. The most severe storm of the rainy season to date, these recent rains have taken a huge toll on Central America leaving 105 people dead, 1 million people affected, thousands of houses destroyed and extensive crop damage. The worst hit is Guatemala where half a million people have been affected and $9.8 million lost in the agricultural sector alone. In El Salvador, 5 feet of rain fell affecting 70% of the country. In Honduras 42 bridges were destroyed. In Costa Rica, 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
Here in Nicaragua, there are 13 dead, and 136,000 people affected by the storms. 12,000 families have lost their homes. 185 miles of paved highways are washed out, 465 miles of rural roads are washed out and initial estimates say Nicaragua will lose 3-5% of its most important crop this year: coffee.
At the El Porvenir coffee cooperative, René reports that everyone is fine. While the nearby community of Las Casitas on the slopes of the volcano was evacuated to avoid another tragedy like that community experienced during Hurricane Mitch, once again El Porvenir’s care of its natural forest has protected it. There is no damage to houses and they don’t expect their coffee harvest to be affected. In the community, individuals plant food crops – mostly corn and beans – for their own families’ consumption and also for sale in the local market. Of the corn and beans planted, they have lost about 30%, which means that while co-op members at El Porvenir will have enough food to eat this year, they won’t have the income they were counting on from the sale of the beans and corn, and their families will be in a tough spot. Additionally, 6 horses died during the storms, meaning folks will be left without transport.
What does the damage from this storm mean for the folks we work with in Ciudad Sandino and beyond? In the immediate term, damage from the storm will drive food prices up yet again this year. Costs of other necessary items, most importantly medicines, will likely shoot up as well. Already the cost of the basic basket of goods in Nicaragua for a family of 4 is around $450 per month in a country where unemployment is at 53% and those who do have jobs on average don’t even make 30% of that cost. On a regional level, all this has a cost as well: experts say that over the next several years, 10-20% of Central America’s GDP will go to pay for damage wrought by climate change.
In short, Nicaragua and her battered people can’t afford more natural disasters.
But they’re likely to keep coming. The United Nations recently declared Central America one of the regions most affected by climate change – according to the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD), from 1960-1970, there would be 1 event like this per decade; in the 1980s 2 events; in the 1990s 4; and from 2000-2010 there were 7.
In an interview on the Telesur program Agenda Abierta last week, environmental adviser Halim Jordan noted that 80% of the population of Central America is responsible for only a negligible amount of CO2 emissions, yet this region is suffering disproportionately from storms brought about by climate change, can do nothing to control them, and finds it so hard to recover from them. Consumption in the United States (which emits more CO2 than Europe and China combined) is having a very direct and very negative impact on Central America, and here in Nicaragua people realize it…do those in the U.S. make the connection? – Becca