Trump and Fox News make much of the migrants the US southern border yet they say little of the wider problem of cliamate change and Central American migrations.
Rural and indigenous populations in countries like Guatemala and Honduras are increasingly on the move – either migrating internally or to neighbouring countries. According to the UNHCR, more than 55,500 people have left Nicaragua for neighboring Costa Rica in the last year. Political upheaval may be the most immediate cause, but climate change is increasingly recognized by organizations like the United Nations as a factor driving Central American migration.
The disappearance of farmlands and unreliability of crops due to climate change have led families to experience increased food and economic insecurity—that have forced many to migrate.
Elizabeth Kennedy, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW) based in Honduras, told IPS, “When we talk about climate change, we have to think about historical and social factors that leave certain groups more impacted than others…many of the people who farm and fish on the lands most vulnerable to climate change have been historically mistreated. Realizing that those most impacted are indigenous is critical, because it hasn’t been part of the main stream conversation, and it needs to be,” Kennedy added.
“In general, we can say that the majority of rural migrants are poor people, but often not the poorest, because the latter cannot afford the significant costs of these journeys,” Ricardo Rapallo, Senior Food Security Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told IPS. Many climate migrants are also left out of the public eye because they only migrate within their own country. “It is important to stress that, even if the international migration is the one gathering public attention, and motivating political reactions, internal migration is by far larger,” said Rapallo who continued, “If we want to give people options and make an impact on migration movements, we should work on the root causes of migration.”
A region known as the Dry Corridor extends along the Pacific coast of Central America, through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. When El Nino hit from 2014 to 2016, drought laid waste to food production in the Dry Corridor. According to local NGO, the Humboldt Center, 90% of maize and 60% of bean crops in Nicaragua were lost in 2016. Another NGO, Germanwatch, meanwhile, ranks Nicaragua — the poorest state in Central America — among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Rainfall there has become increasingly irregular.
"Because of climate change, the conditions for agricultural production in the Dry Corridor don’t exist anymore," Victor Campos, director of the Humboldt Center, told DW. "That creates a food crisis, and if there isn't another kind of income available for families, it leads to famine."
El Nino marked a low point for the Dry Corridor, but communities have continued to struggle. The Humboldt Center's latest research indicates that temperatures are rising, and are likely to hit extreme highs with increasing frequency. It now rains on only half the number of days each year that it did a decade ago, yet too much rain in too short a period is also a problem and the Dry Corridor is seeing more frequent floods. Uncertainty is one of the greatest challenges for farmers . They can't plan when to sow as the plants can't thrive in soil that is too arid or too wet.
Tania Guillen, a Nicaraguan researcher at the Climate Service Center Germany, told DW that with small farmers losing crops, food insecurity in Nicaragua "could be a decisive factor to migrate to other countries in the region."