Description of the disaster
Three weeks after the impact of Tropical Storm Eta (5 November 2020), Hurricane Iota (18 November 2020) hit northern Honduras heavily affecting the communities around the Sula Valley, including Copán, Choluteca, and Comayagua, and worsening the situation in the departments of Puerto Cortés, Yoro, Atlántida, Santa Barbara, Olancho, and Colón, that were previously hit by the first storm. On 6 November 2020, the Government of Honduras requested international support to address this disaster and requested access to "green funds" for reconstruction needs, given that these extreme weather events were the product of climate change.
These two hydrometeorological disasters aggravated the already precarious situation of thousands of Honduran families, who were already heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic consequences. The impact of Eta and Iota overlapped as well with the compounded effect of several periods of droughts in the Dry Corridor, food insecurity, the increase in violence and poverty levels, as well as a latent dengue and Zika epidemics.
The Sula Valley region being a major productive center for Honduras, and the most affected by the compounded effects of the aforementioned complexities, is also a departing point for many migrant caravans, some of which already started to form a few days after the Hurricanes.
According to official figures, approximately 4.7M people were affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. More than 368,901 people were isolated, and over a hundred people died because of the floods accumulated from the storms. Thousands of houses were flooded up to 2 meters, resulting in losses of all the households (HH) assets. The majority of those located along the river Chamelecón were totally destroyed, forcing affected families to relocate. A total of 927 roads were affected, and more than 72 bridges damaged, while 62 were destroyed. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock reported losses of up to 80% in the agricultural sector . According to a report by Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), the impact of the Hurricanes represented a loss of 45 billion Lempiras (approximately USD 1.86 billion).
The infrastructure damage has caused many communities to remain in isolation for several weeks after the impact of Eta and Iota. Seasonal cold fronts have caused rains to continue as well. As the floodwaters start receding, access is progressively being reestablished to provide critical assistance from local authorities and humanitarian partners8 .
Families are steadily leaving the collective centers, or using them only at nighttime, and returning to their homes and farming plots to start the cleaning and rebuilding processes. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs remain high as the distribution systems have been destroyed and waste has accumulated. Shelter assistance remains a high priority as the structures were significantly damaged. People are returning to their land and living in makeshift accommodations oftentimes alongside whatever remains of their homes. COVID-19 remains one of the main health threats to the population due to the lack of biosecurity in collective centers and in the early stages of the emergency. However, with the lack of safe water access by the population, lack of proper shelter to safeguard from the elements and the proliferation of stagnant water, there has been an increase in waterborne and vector borne diseases, as well as respiratory illnesses.
Livelihood recovery measures are urgent as well, as the impact of both Hurricanes worsened the already stressed situation around the Sula Valley, as the impact destroyed agricultural fields and with flood water receding slowly is impeding new sowing, especially affecting subsistence farmers and informal workers who depend on seasonal crops.
In urban areas, the loss of livelihoods caused by Eta and Iota is heavily impacting those who were already affected by the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, market contraction and job losses in commercial and agroindustrial sectors that received the compounded effects of both threats are already been reported. With the additional socioeconomic stressors, and increase in violence to vulnerable groups, an increase in the number of migrants is highly plausible, thus providing proper protection measures is a key priority to address as well. Access to education remains a key challenge for children and adolescents who were already severely impacted by school closures since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the effect of the Hurricanes, schools were used as collective centers or suffered damage to their infrastructure, further delaying the possibility of restarting the 2021 school year on time, increasing the likelihood of school desertion. As the effects of multiple hazards continue to overlap, the probability of new threats impacting an already vulnerable population in the nearby future remains high, the need for adequate preparedness and disaster risk reduction measures is critical to ensure the longer-term wellbeing of the communities in the Sula Valley.