Extreme weather and its effects on migration are becoming more difficult to ignore. This summer, agricultural communities in the Northern Triangle have been suffering from a prolonged drought. Farmers were prepared for August, as it is typically the driest month in the summer, but were unprepared to face the lack of rain that arrived two months early, in late June.
In the middle of August, the Red Cross and its local partners in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador released an informational fact sheet about the drought. The coalition, including the United Nations, has warned that 2 million people will be affected, with consequences resulting in loss of income, food insecurity, and for many — forced migration.
El Salvador declared a red alert regarding the drought in mid-July. Since then, our partners in El Salvador have shared stories of anxiety and frustration, feelings that come from an uncertainty about how they will be able to provide for their families. Just in El Salvador, it is estimated that over 77,000 families will be affected and will collectively face at least 37 million USD in losses. Climate experts also expect less than normal rainfall from now through October, and UN agencies warn that El Niño is very possible before the end of the year. If the region trades drought for floods, it might also replace hope with uncertainty about the region’s ability to make-up for the agricultural losses.
The Salvadoran government is stepping in to help mitigate the crisis by streamlining humanitarian assistance and importing staple crops. Farmers are concerned that importing staple crops like maize and beans, will deflate the prices of the crops that do survive, pricing local farmers out of the market.
The Red Cross reports that, “the cooling of the Atlantic Ocean and the warming of the Pacific Ocean” are the reasons behind the lack of rain. These conditions combined with an increase in temperatures could present the most devastated regions with a bigger threat — the possibility of forest fires. Faced with uncertainty about sources for food and income, many families feel obligated to sell their land and migrate to locations where they could lead more stable lives: the cities or the United States.
Historically, climatic factors, especially unpredictable ones, have influenced migration patterns around the globe. Long-term, unstable climates that result in drought throughout the Northern Triangle will result in increased migration. According to the World Food Programme:
- Over 50% of Central Americans apprehended in Mexico identify as agricultural workers
- A 2017 study found that nearly half of the migrants from Central America that were interviewed were food insecure
As changes in climate bring too little or too much rain to the agricultural regions of El Salvador, we will continue to see an increase in migration. We now require a deeper investment in grassroots solutions to climate resilience, like those being employed by our partners in the Bajo Lempa.
For centuries, migration has been the answer to environmental threats for the survival of humans, but what if community intervention and adaptation made space for more options?