Climate Refugees: Risking their lives to survive

Spring rains in Central America are crucial to the growth of the corn crop, which is crucial to the Central American diet. For the last few years, the rains have either arrived in the wrong season, or sometimes not at all. Photo credit André Schütte.

By Abiola Afolayan

Right here in the United States, 150 miles from the border with Mexico, 53 migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras died in a sealed, abandoned tractor-trailer. Their horrifying deaths last month illustrate the risks  people are forced to endure to flee their homes. 

Hunger is a reason that thousands of people in Central America have left home. Home has become unlivable, in part because climate change makes it difficult to grow enough food. Sometimes entire families leave together, while other young adults go alone or in small groups.

Extreme weather events in South and Central America are causing record high levels of displacement and mass migration, according to the World Food Programme. Nearly 8 million people  are affected in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua —a region also known as the “dry corridor.”

Because of conflict, climate impacts, and  effects on the global economy due to  the COVID-19 pandemic, hunger has quadrupled since 2018 in the dry corridor countries. There are now 1.7 million people in need of emergency food assistance. Of the people who responded to a 2022 UN survey, 15 percent expressed an intention to migrate — double the rate found in the same survey two years before.

Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua may face food shortages due to a projected reduction in crop harvests, according to a quarterly report on hunger hotspots by FAO and WFP. Climate conditions are driving food insecurity in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras, which is expected to worsen because of below-average rains that threaten crop conditions, compounded by the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These threaten the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and other producers.  

A key value of Bread for the World is upholding the inherent dignity and supporting the flourishing of every human being, all created in the image of God. We promote policies that safeguard the opportunity of each person to thrive and to access sufficient nutritious food.

One of these is the U.S. Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate, a new initiative aimed at increasing investments in climate action in the agriculture sector. As part of the “whole of government” plan to advance the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy, AIM for Climate should be scaled up. Honduras and Mexico were part of a coalition of 31 countries at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2021 (COP26) to launch AIM for Climate. AIM for Climate is now supported by 48 non-government partners,  including InterAction, and President Biden made a commitment to mobilize $1 billion of investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation during the period from 2021 to 2025.

AIM for Climate could engage additional Central American countries, particularly those in the dry corridor, in efforts to develop strategies to create stable livelihoods and provide other support that would give people a sustainable alternative to migration.

Abiola Afolayan is senior international policy advisor with Bread for the World.




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