Climate change is a major factor forcing Central Americans, left with no other option, to flee their homes, as the dual threats of drought and extreme weather have destroyed crops and productive farmland, Bloomberg reports. Central America is responsible for less than 1% of global carbon pollution yet is one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet to the ravages of climate change. Nearly one-third of residents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the so-called Northern Triangle, suffer from crisis-level food insecurity.
“They’re not leaving because they want to,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in Guatemala on Monday. No legal framework for climate-driven migrants (they are not technically “refugees” under international law) exists but the Biden administration is exploring the issue with a report due in August.
Northern Triangle farmers have endured five drought years in the last 10, and Hurricanes Eta and Iota devastated the region, submerging Honduras’s agriculturally productive Sula Valley and turned Guatemalan farming communities into cemeteries. Climate change is also exacerbating coffee leaf rust, killing off one of the region’s top exports. The International Organization for Migration has found a relationship between hurricanes in Central America and increased migration to the U.S. from the region and a paper published in April found a link between the severe drought in El Salvador in 2014-’15 and migration to the U.S.
“Some degree of migration is going to be inevitable and some areas of Central America are going to become uninhabitable,” Pablo Escribano, IOM’s regional specialist on migration, told Bloomberg. Still, “the projections are for more intense and more frequent hurricanes, and some areas of Central America will see drought conditions increase. The situation is very challenging.”
“These consecutive years of extreme drought are really driving poverty and food insecurity in the region and pushing families to abandon agriculture and to migrate to survive,” Marie-Soleil Turmel, a scientist with Catholic Relief Services, which works with farmers in the area, told Bloomberg. “Whole communities are being wiped out.” (Bloomberg $; Climate migration legal issues: The Conversation)