Monday, December 03, 2018

Climate Change Refugees

The “caravan” of hopeful immigrants from Central America that was tear gassed by the US government on November 25 continues to be shamelessly exploited as political fodder. Trump depicts the immigrants as a security threat to the USA.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of Guatemalans trying to enter the US, starting in 2014. That was coincidentally the first year of a severe drought tied to an extreme El Niño that struck Central America’s “Dry Corridor,” which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, collectively known as the Northern Triangle. El Salvador’s rivers are drying up and Guatemala’s semiarid region is expanding. Temporary relief from the drought has only come from occasional, devastating flooding, which has only added to the destruction of crops. One-third of all employment in Central America comes from agriculture, and that is now failing across the entire region.

Guatemala is ranked as one of the top 10 of the world’s nations most vulnerable to the climate crisis — meaning an agricultural crisis that is now evolving into a human crisis. The current weather patterns wreaking havoc on Central American agriculture are consistent with what climate scientists have predicted, and climate models indicate it will only get worse.

 The United Nations interviewed families trying to leave Central America. The report revealed that the driving force for this exodus was not violence per se, but the drought and its downstream consequences — lack of food, no income and no work — all related to crop failures.

Eduardo Méndez López is a subsistence farmer in Guatemala and was interviewed by National Geographic. The multi-year drought completely wiped out his corn fields. His source of food is rapidly dwindling; he has no income; and he soon will have no way of feeding his six children. “This is the worst drought we’ve ever had. We’ve lost absolutely everything. If things don’t improve, we’ll be forced to migrate somewhere else. We can’t go on like this.” 

Cash crops like coffee have been decimated by the drought and another climate-related plague called “leaf rust,” a fungus that used to die with cool evenings, but no longer does because of warmer night time temperatures.

Robert Albro, researcher at American University, says, “The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat. This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.”

 Almost half of Guatemalan children under 5 years old suffer malnutrition. In rural areas of the country, it’s 90 percent. A World Food Program analysisfound that nearly half of migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala cited food insecurity as a reason for their leaving their home countries. Children and teenagers are dropping out of school because their families have no money for supplies. Entire villages are unraveling because there is no money to plant another crop and not enough government help. Even more people would abandon their homes but have no money for transportation.

Global temperatures have been above average for 406 straight months. At the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, by 2100, the world can expect 2 billion of its inhabitants to become climate refugees like the Central American caravan.

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