Honduras: Drought Emergency Appeal n° MDRHN008 Preliminary Final Report

Thanks to the support received from the American Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross, Finnish Red Cross, Japanese Red Cross, Norwegian Red Cross, and Monaco Red Cross and through Disaster Emergency Relief Fund (DREF) funds, the Honduran Red Cross Society was able to assist a total of 3,500 families with food parcels. These were distributed in the municipalities of Alauca, Oropolí, and Teupasenti in the department of El Paraíso, and in the municipalities of San Marcos de La Sierra and Camasca in the department of Intibucá. Food rations consisted of 105 pounds of food to cover the basic nutrition needs of a family of five for 30 days, respecting the dietary culture in the area. In addition, beneficiary families received two 10-litre jerrycans for water storage (a total of 7,000 jerrycans), and 250 families in the municipality of Camasca, Intibucá received agricultural packages (25 pounds of maize seed, 25 pounds of bean seed, 100 pounds of urea, and 100 pounds of 12-24-12 fertilizer), as well as technical assistance to restore their agricultural livelihoods.

It should be noted that the un-earmarked funding received for this emergency appeal was not sufficient to return the loan to the DREF fund. As a result, the remaining balance of the operation will be returned to DREF fund.

A. Situation Analysis

Description of the Disaster

As of June 2014, levels of accumulated rainfall in affected areas in Honduras and other Central American regions were reported to be 50 to 75 per cent below the average. The lack of rainfall caused water shortages in several areas, especially in Honduras, causing crop failures and affecting the food security of thousands of families living in the dry corridor. Crop losses during the first season (15 May to 15 August) were estimated to be between 17 per cent and 44 per cent; however, the most affected areas reported losses of over 70 per cent, making the food security of affected families even more precarious According to forecasts by experts from the Permanent Commission for Contingencies (COPECO for its acronym in Spanish) National Centre for Atmospheric, Oceanographic and Seismic Studies (CENAOS), that year’s 'dog days' (mid-summer dry spell) were to be exceptional, as they would last almost one month longer than average. Basic grain crops would be seriously affected and the people's livelihoods would be at risk, especially those of people living in the dry corridor. Based on the analyses conducted, the drought was expected to continue affecting 146 municipalities - a total of 161,403 families. The impact would be severe in 81 municipalities (83,229 families) and moderate in 65 municipalities (78,174 families).

The National Weather Service indicated that based on analyses of oceanic and atmospheric conditions, historic rainfall records, the results of climate forecast models, projections of dynamic atmospheric variables models and the climate conditions in May, a moderate to strong El Niño was expected to continue throughout 2015. This affected rainfall levels, translating into a considerable reduction during July and August 2014. The analogue years used for this study were 1982 and 1997.
This forecast presupposed that there would be reduced precipitation during the rainy season, which was evident from late June to late August 2014 and has continued to date. This had the greatest impact in the dry corridor: Choluteca, Valle, La Paz, El Paraíso, and Ocotepeque, also affecting south-western Intibucá, Lempira and Copán; municipalities in northern Francisco Morazán; south-central Comayagua; and north-central Olancho.

The government of Honduras declared a State of Emergency for the Honduran dry corridor on 28 July 2014 through its Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Interior, and Decentralization, which issued Executive Decree PCM 32-2014. A State of Emergency due to drought was once again declared on 28 June 2015 (Executive Decree PCM-36-2015) as El Niño exacerbated food security issues in the country.

The population in the dry corridor is characterized by having low income, limited access to land and to basic health and education services, and difficulty obtaining basic basket food items. It is made up of small subsistence basic grain producers, mostly day labourers, landless farmers and women heads of household - 25.5 per cent of households are led by women. The average income of small basic grain producers is USD$72 per month. If contributions from other family members (remittances and income from odd jobs such as washing clothes, ironing, cleaning) are taken into account, this figure might rise to USD$122 a month.

The impact generated by this phenomenon in 2014-2015 led to crop loss, especially among subsistence farmers; food insecurity, forcing many families to ration their daily food intake; and lack of access to safe water due to the hydrological drought. This situation caused many people to migrate in search of jobs, and many others began to resort to survival strategies such as the sale, bartering, and consumption of poultry and pigs.

Moreover, the drought reduced the availability of food and therefore caused staple prices to rise, which in turn caused a rapid deterioration in food security in extremely poor Honduran households. According to the Inter-agency Technical Risk Management Committee, 114,342 families in 64 municipalities in 10 departments across the country suffered severe damage to their agricultural production, especially maize, beans, and sorghum crops. This affected family incomes and deteriorated their livelihoods, especially their means of production.

Food insecurity conditions in Honduras were further exacerbated by the severe impact that an outbreak of leaf rust, a type of fungus which has been increasing in recent years, had had on coffee harvests and production. More than 70,000 hectares of coffee plantations have been damaged, accounting for 20 per cent of total coffee plantation areas and causing a direct and indirect impact on people's livelihoods; this is due to the fact that the coffee production represents approximately 5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and is of great social importance not only because it generates direct and indirect employment, but because 95 per cent of plantations are smallholder-owned. Given these circumstances, the IFRC can say that the problems caused by leaf rust further aggravated the food insecurity crisis. The situation was made worse by the El Niño phenomenon (increased temperatures and decreased precipitation) which prolonged drought conditions in the country, especially in the dry corridor which is found in southern, south-eastern and south-western Honduras.

Drought conditions lasted throughout 2015 and still continue to date, along with an extended heat wave and a very dry winter that has affected crops, especially in the Honduran dry corridor. Climate conditions are expected to improve after August 2016; however, it is also expected that drought conditions during the first half of this year will be just as critical as in previous years. Furthermore, the onset of rains will not bring a rapid improvement in food security. In this sense, conditions will improve gradually in late 2016 and early 2017, which means emergency actions and livelihoods recovery will be required in the second half of 2016.