Poverty isn’t the only factor driving migration from Latin-American countries. Environmental conditions that are being exacerbated by global warming are also pushing people to abandon their homes. Central America is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change.
The region’s many biodiverse ecosystems are facing degradation and a steep increase in temperatures. The average temperature in Central America has increased by 0.5C since 1950 and is projected to rise by at least another degree before 2050.
According to the global climate risk index created by non-profit organization German Watch, Honduras was the country most affected by climate change between 1994 and 2013 in the world. In 2018, at least 12,076 people experienced flooding when Hurricane Michael hit the region. Floods are predicted to increase in Honduras by at least 60 percent. Guatemala will also be likely to experience unpredictable rainfall patterns characterized by extreme rainfall or none at all. Climate change plays a part in these extreme weather events because it creates warmer sea surface temperatures, which intensifies tropical storm wind speeds.
What is it that makes countries in Central America so vulnerable to climate change? It presents several of the characteristics of vulnerability cited by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Some characteristics of vulnerability include impacts from rising sea levels, hurricanes, and even droughts. In Todd Miller’s book, “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security,” climate scientist Leandro Lenin Banegas Barahona points out that these countries are surrounded by bodies of water on both sides. As sea levels rise, even a small increase can have detrimental impacts on erosion, flooding, and even agricultural contamination–which accounts for the livelihood of many in Central America.
A large percentage of Central America’s economy comes from agriculture, about 33 percent to be exact in Honduras. According to NBC, global warming has “heated the air and driven away seasonal rains,” and it may have even had an impact on drastically increasing the spread of bark-eating beetles, leading to a decrease in pine forests. With the loss of forests, fresh water has been diminished because trees help capture and purify water. Deforestation in turn poses a major threat to the quality of available fresh water.
Almost half of the population in Central America lives in conditions of poverty. When a hurricane makes landfall, there is little funding for disaster relief. When there is a drought, people do not have access to clean water or food because the crops need water in order to grow. Todd Miller explains that on top of climate change, trade deals like NAFTA also hurt small farmers. The agreements place U.S. subsidized agribusinesses in the area, competing with local farmers who are already struggling to cope with climate change. This has affected and even displaced many small farmers in Southern Mexico. According to the World Food Programme, 2.2 million people in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, have experienced crop failure due to excessive rain and droughts.
The current U.S. administration has not exactly shown any sympathy towards the people of this region. Not only has a wall began to be built along the southern border of the United States to keep displaced people from being able to escape dire circumstances and start a new life, but at the same time the Trump administration has already cut the budget in the agricultural sector. This makes prosperity even more difficult for the Central American communities that don’t choose to migrate. Under the Obama administration, Congress doubled the funding support to Central America from $338 million in 2014 to $754 million in 2016 for climate and agricultural programs. However, the Trump administration has lowered the budget to $530 million. Central Americans already migrate due to gang violence, poverty, and government corruption.
We cannot solve climate crisis without addressing inequality around the globe. However, there are solutions to this ever-growing problem. For example, we can strengthen international agreements that tackle migration and climate change, such as the Paris Agreement and the Global Compact for Migration. We need climate solutions that also offer justice to the communities that have done little to create the problem. We have the knowledge, we have the answers, now it is time for action.