GENEVA (AN) — The World Food Program announced plans on Friday to almost quadruple the number of people it aids in four drought-affected nations of Central America, hoping to ease migration pressures among hungry inhabitants.
Five years of drought in Central America have wreaked havoc on farm staples like corn and beans, affecting more than 2 million people in the region and increasing food insecurity among subsistence farmers and their families.
Many families and entire villages are left without food reserves. Few options remain for many of them, prompting some to consider the risks of joining migrant caravans to the tense U.S.-Mexico border. Some 8% of families have indicated they would migrate, according to the WFP and Food and Agriculture Organization, both United Nations agencies headquartered in Rome.
In response, WFP plans to offer food assistance to 700,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, up from the 160,000 that it has already helped this year, said Hervé Verhoosel, a spokesperson in Geneva for the Rome-based WFP.
Verhoosel said that for the fifth consecutive year, erratic weather patterns, including prolonged dry spells and excessive rains, have decimated maize and bean crops in the dry corridor of Central America.
"This has affected the food security of subsistence farmers, meaning that many struggle on a daily basis to feed their families," he told reporters. "More than 2 million people in the dry corridor — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua — have been affected, and 1.4 million of them need urgent food assistance."
The latest figures come from an emergency assessment by the WFP, FAO and governments in the so-called "Dry Corridor," a tropical dry forest from Southern Mexico to Panama that is vulnerable to the El Niño phenomenon and erratic weather patterns that delay rains and extend the dry spell.
Families there grow their own food, making them heavily reliant on two seasonal crop cycles each year. The first begins with planting between April and June, followed by harvesting in August to cover food needs until December. The second begins with planting between September and November, followed by harvesting in January to cover food needs until June. That makes for a lean season from June to August.
"Subsistence farmers and their families in the Dry Corridor are highly vulnerable to food insecurity. If crops fail, they will not have food to eat, or even food reserves until the next crop cycle," said Verhoosel.
Since it takes years to economically recover when one person migrates, he said, a better solution is to work together on longer term food security systems that enable these farmers to be resilient and remain engaged in their local markets.
"When they lose their crops, farmers try to find jobs in local plantations and often have no income to buy food. Other farmers migrate to cities, neighboring countries, or further afield," Verhoosel said. "Migration, though, is not a solution. When a person migrates, those who are left behind continue to suffer the cause of the migration."