Last year's devastating summer drought
affected 141,000 families in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
causing partial, and in some cases, full crop loss. The effects of the
drought were so severe that disaster declarations were issued in three
of the four countries.
In response, Catholic Relief Services swung into action distributing food, seeds and tools to help families during the fall planting season. Unfortunately, low rainfall and crop infestation harmed fall harvests and this summer's planting season also looks bleak. Further complicating the situation are depressed international coffee prices, the principal agricultural export of the region. Lower coffee prices means job loss and lower wages for workers in Central America.
In late May, the situation changed suddenly as a bout of heavy rains fell in the region causing landslides and flooding in several countries. The rains are following a pattern predicted earlier by leading meteorologists, whose El Nino predictions foresee relatively heavy rains during the months of May and June, followed by a prolonged "canicula" or dry period in July and August. The appearance of an El Nino later this year might cause overall rain levels to fall significantly below average, thus contributing to even more drought conditions.
The recent flooding has caused several deaths and mudslides along major highways. Families were evacuated and CRS responded with food distributions in some areas. The agency and its partners continue to monitor the situation in the region and is developing emergency contingency plans in preparation for other potential problems during the upcoming planting season.
Catholic Relief Services Responds
CRS continues to work with local Caritas representatives and other partners, as well as with government emergency and agriculture authorities in each of the four countries to address food insecurity in the region. Emergency contingency plans for the summer include:
CRS/Guatemala-Short-term programs currently under development to mitigate the effects of job loss and potentially low crop production in the future include training in improved planting and post-harvest techniques and water purification and hygiene training. Several programs developed in response to the summer 2001 drought continue in Guatemala including the distribution of food commodities to 4,000 malnourished children and vitamin supplements for over 1,000 women and children in Zacapa and Chiquimula.
CRS/Nicaragua-CRS/Nicaragua is also developing programs in several areas including creating small-scale irrigation systems, implementing animal husbandry programs, and training in improved planting and post-harvest techniques. In addition, CRS/Nicaragua will also create a forum to develop future drought mitigation plans.
CRS/El Salvador-CRS/El Salvador is forming emergency committees to develop emergency plans in 50 communities, implementing microfinance programs to provide small loans for businesses in rural areas, and initiating trauma counseling and workshops on disease prevention in infants. CRS/El Salvador is also initiating two long-term drought mitigation projects for the northeastern and southeastern regions of the country.
In response to flooding and landslides at the end of May, CRS distributed food items to 175 people (35 families) in Concepción de Ataco. The families had been evacuated from their homes and were living in temporary shelters. Food distributions consisted of beans, rice, oil and bananas among other things. The agency is working with local partners to develop longer term projects in housing, community organization and health for those affected by the flooding.
CRS/Honduras-Some future project plans for Honduras include animal deworming, organizing communities to control dangerous forest fires, growth and disease monitoring among children and providing nutritional supplements. In addition, CRS/Honduras will also participate in the creation of forums to develop drought mitigation plans and community emergency plans.
Central America has been battered by multiple problems over the last few years, all of which have weakened the livelihood of the region's people. Hurricane Mitch wrought tremendous destruction on the region in 1998 and prior to the drought, many people already lived in food insecure environments due to the price decline in important agricultural exports like coffee, and a less than stellar planting season in 2000.
These obstacles have left many people without jobs or income meaning that these families are unable to purchase food even if it is available in local markets. Now, a second season of low crop production and the threat of El Nino are making food accessibility even more difficult.
CRS has been working in El Salvador since 1960; Guatemala since 1962; Honduras since 1959 and Nicaragua since 1964 and has provided relief during other regional emergencies. The agency's regular work in the countries continues uninterrupted.
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