Human and economic losses caused by natural disasters have dramatically increased on a global level over the past century as a consequence of unplanned urbanization, overexploitation of natural resources, inequity and, according to most experts, the effects of climate change. Earthquakes, floods and storms caused USD34 billion in economic losses in the period 2000–2009, compared with losses of USD729 million in the 1940s.
In the last five years, changes in weather patterns are being reported consistently in the Americas. Recurrent droughts have increased people's vulnerability in many Latin American countries. Reduction of rainy days and lower volumes of rainfall result in increasing rain deficits and changing weather patterns have a devastating impact on human food security particularly for populations living in areas such as the Chaco (covering parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay), and in the "dry corridor" in Central America (covering parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). Most analysts identify a probable link between Climate Change and the alteration of hydro-meteorological patterns registered in the region.
In Bolivia and Paraguay, the Chaco area is facing an abnormally harsh situation linked primarily to the consequences of cumulative droughts over the last three years, manifesting itself most immediately as an acute livelihood crisis. Indigenous communities, generally dependent on subsistence farming and scarce water resources, struggle to survive.
In Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, the 2009-2010 drought affected 8.5 million people, especially in the area called the "dry-corridor". Previously existing high chronic malnutrition rates have increased even more, reaching levels of more than 50% of all children under 5 years, and more than 70% among indigenous children. Global acute malnutrition rates have also increased among children under 5 years old and in some pockets exceed the emergency threshold.
Besides natural factors, access to safe water for humans and livelihood losses is often related to the inappropriate use of natural resources and deficient local capacities to cope with the situation. The adoption of good practices to increase household resilience to drought and to allow recovery and protection of livelihoods is fundamental in order to reduce the existing vulnerabilities.
Whilst the European Commission's Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) engagement is motivated by a humanitarian entry-point (drought and abnormally acute food insecurity), considering the nature of the problem and the increasing predictability of drought in these areas, short-term emergency response operations need to be complemented by building local capacities for sustainable drought preparedness and management.
To complement that, in order to strengthen needs assessments, to facilitate the design of appropriate assistance frameworks, and to provide early warning that can trigger targeted mitigation actions, a significant effort needs to be made to improve food security information in the region. At the same time, existing knowledge about how local livelihoods react to drought is weak and needs to be strengthened.
An improved understanding of the context, a more reliable food security information system and a number of tested good practices would not only facilitate more effective drought-management strategies; it would also allow for a more effective, evidence-based advocacy approach through which local and national actors could be persuaded to engage, with a better sense of what is needed, what works, and what doesn't work. This should also help to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable populations, thus contributing to reducing the need for emergency response. This is even more necessary because the coping capacity of the most vulnerable populations in the area has been eroded by a series of natural disasters and the impact of the economic and financial crises. The outlook is not overly promising either, as both the number of natural disasters and food prices are expected to remain high, creating more vulnerability to external shocks.