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2001: Food insecurity and disasters in Central America fact sheet

Situation Report
Originally published
World Food Programme
Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ODM)
Managua, Nicaragua
1. During 2001 Central America has suffered from the worst natural disasters since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. A combination of droughts, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes affected Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, devastating crops, destroying livelihoods and seriously damaging infrastructure, leaving hundreds of thousands of families in food insecurity. Most affected families were already under the poverty line and were pushed closer towards a permanent entrapment within the poverty circle. The poorest and most food insecure sectors of the population have been thrown back into an even more vulnerable state that will require years of assistance to recover their losses.

2. As a parallel development, the fall of international coffee prices are provoking the loss of thousands of jobs. Coffee harvests are a major source of income for thousands of impoverished families that every year depend on them as their main source of income between October and February. The present crisis hampers their capacity to purchase basic goods, particularly food items. This situation is being felt in all Central American coffee producing countries. Combined with the natural disasters as well as with a decrease in remittances linked to the September 11 events, the fall of coffee prices has had a catastrophic impact on the food security situation of thousands of Central American families.

Central America Emergencies operations during 2001

Food-insecure persons
WFP response: Total beneficiaries
Hurricane Iris
9,000 persons
4,000 persons
El Salvador
Earthquake first phase
Earthquake second phase
1,000,000 persons 500,000 persons 318,640 persons
500,000 persons
200,000 persons 150,000 persons
Drought and nutritional crisis
133,990 persons
104,560 persons
Tropical Storm Michelle
316,745 persons
150,960 persons
7,500 persons
Tropical Storm Michelle
Prinzapolka floods
105,000 persons
37,000 persons
7,680 persons
104,915 persons
20,700 persons
7,680 persons

3. With the active support of the international community, WFP was able to provide a quick and adequate response to families that were in most need of emergency food assistance. This was done in close collaboration with government counterparts, international partners and Non-Governmental Organizations. Despite that positive response and the close coordination with counterparts at the field level, many families in need did not receive adequate assistance because of the lack of sufficient resources.

4. The outlook for 2002 is bleak. Based on assessments conducted by WFP in close collaboration with its partners, it can be expected that food insecurity will affect large segments of the Central American population. Despite efforts aimed at enhancing the second yearly planting season after the partial failure of the first crop, the results of the second harvest in many cases were not encouraging. Many farmers did not plant because of the lack of seeds, doubts about having sufficient rain precipitation, or because of the practice of only planting once a year. Many of those who did plant lost their harvest because of insufficient water or because of plagues. The fall of the international coffee prices have further hampered the sources of income of many rural families and has further hindered their purchasing capacity.

5. As a result of that situation, it can be expected that many thousands of families will again become food insecure once their very limited food reserves have been exhausted or when they run out of cash. Although this situation varies from country to country, it is possible that the current food insecurity situation may reach emergency levels in early 2002. If so, it would last until next year's first harvest in August. In this manner, preliminary estimates indicate that around 700,000 people could be at food/nutritional risk in the four most affected countries. The situation could become even more critical in the event of another natural disaster, such as a new drought as predicted by some specialists.

6. Central America's situation during 2001 evidences the recurring nature of these events. These countries have been continuously affected by a cycle of droughts and floods that require structural and long-term solutions.

7. While WFP will be closely monitoring the situation and will be ready to intervene if necessary, it will also foster longer-term solutions that will require a more integral and sustainable approach.

Country situation:

El Salvador

8. Two powerful earthquakes (7.6 and 5.7 on the Richter scale) struck the country in 2001, causing 1,165 deaths; over one million homeless; and more than 275,000 partially or totally destroyed houses. Severe destruction occurred in 100 municipalities, with 10 municipalities suffering 80% destruction of its houses and infrastructure. Economic damages caused by both earthquakes are estimated at two billion US dollars.

9. WFP immediately assisted 500,000 persons after the earthquakes, and later - in close collaboration with the Government and NGOs - provided food assistance in 50 of the most affected municipalities where the greatest level of food insecurity was identified. 40,000 families (200,000 persons) implemented food-for-work activities contributing toward rehabilitation. Presently, due to the limited amount of available resources, only 10,000 families are being assisted.

10. Following the earthquakes, a severe drought affected four eastern provinces. Agricultural losses of up to 80% were reported in Usulutan, San Miguel, Morazan and La Union. Some 318,640 persons were affected and about 113,400 MT of beans and maize were lost.

11. WFP provided emergency food rations under two different modalities: a) under the Ministry of Agriculture's "Plan Sembrador" assisting 20,000 drought-affected producers in 31 municipalities; and b) food for work coordinated by NGOs (CARE, CRS, WLF and American Red Cross), assisting 10,000 families in 29 municipalities.

12. During 2002 WFP plans to assist from February to July, the 12,000 most food insecure families as a result of the drought, as well as approximately 5,000 families that will not yet have recovered from the 2001 earthquakes.


13. As a consequence of the drought, about 80% of maize crops were lost in the provinces of El Progreso and Zacapa, and 60% in Santa Rosa, Baja Verapaz, Suchitepéquez, Retalhuleu, Escuintla y Chiquimula. Meanwhile, the fall of international coffee prices have caused the elimination of about 50% of the 500,000 jobs that are usually available during the October-February period. But even those who are able to secure employment in the coffee plantations are not able to purchase all of their basic requirements as the salaries are lower than before.

14. Guatemala's economy has also been affected by a series of events such as the closure of Maquilas, a reduction of foreign investment and a fall in tourism and decrease in remittances sent by Guatemalans living in the USA. These are factors that further stress the food security of large segments of the population.

15. UNICEF together with the Ministry of Health/ MSPAS is presently conducting a nutritional assessment in 102 of the poorest districts. Preliminary information reveal a worrying situation that tends to worsen: 17% of children under 5 in the Chiquimula, Jutiapa and Zacapa provinces are suffering from acute malnutrition, ranging from 8,4%- 32,4%. Most of the districts surveyed are above 15%, which is considered by international levels and standards a nutritional crisis.

16. According to these preliminary estimates, up to 100,000 children under 5 may be in risk of dying due to malnutrition. Once all information is available, it is likely that this figure could significantly increase. One of the findings of the assessment is the presence of kwashiorkor symptom that is related to other illnesses.

17. WFP has responded by providing 2,850 MT of emergency food assistance to up to 101,560 persons, as well as to 3,000 children in nutritional centers. WFP Guatemala considers that in order to avoid more deaths among children, emergency actions are needed, requiring some 7,000 MT of food.


18. Honduras was the hardest hit country by the 2001 drought that affected most of Central America. Some 66,900 farmers were affected, leaving about 316,745 persons in food insecurity. The most affected provinces were Choluteca, Francisco Morazan, Intibuca, Valle, El Paraiso, Comayagua and El Paraiso.

19. WFP provided 4,735 MT of food assistance to 150,960 persons. Despite WFP's and other organizations efforts, estimates are that as a consequence of the drought, 60% of the population will consume only two-thirds of the required caloric intake.

20. In October, Tropical Storm Michelle wiped into the northern coast of Honduras affecting some 61,000 persons. Over 51,000 hectares were lost in the agricultural sector, mainly among subsistence farmers. The most badly hit districts were located in the Province of Yoro.

21. WFP provided 265 MT of food assistance to 1,500 families. World Vision is the implementing partner and used food for work rehabilitation schemes.

22. Honduras can expect to continue feeling the impact of the drought during 2002. This is translated into more food insecurity and extreme poverty. Consequently, an increase in malnutrition is expected, especially among children under 5, as well as an increase in internal and international migration.


23. This country suffered from a combination of natural disasters as well as from the fall of coffee prices. The drought severely affected 37,000 farming families, pushing some 105,000 persons into food insecurity when some 107,720 hectares of agriculture were lost.

24. WFP provided 1,974 MT of food for work assistance to 45,415 persons in 22 of the most affected districts of the country. Food assistance was expanded to 59,000 children that were at nutritional risk.

25. In the Atlantic Coast region, continuous rains in July provoked the flooding of surrounding areas adjacent to the Prinzapolka River. Over 6,192 persons and 59,294 hectares of agricultural land were affected. WFP responded with 293 MT of food during three months.

26. Tropical Storm Michelle also affected Nicaragua's Atlantic coast in October. Over 37,000 persons were affected and 5 died. WFP provided 120 MT of food to 20,700 persons in 79 communities.

27. Regarding 2002, the accumulated effect of continuous droughts since 1997 will be felt. Large amounts of families have completely depleted their assets and are likely to again become food insecure. The fall of the international price of coffee will have a very serious impact in large segments of the rural population. WFP will conduct together with USAID an assessment in January in order to determine future interventions.