Sun. Apr 5th, 2020

Poverty continues to make Central America vulnerable 20 years after Mitch

Poverty continues to make Central America vulnerable 20 years after Mitch



Twenty years after Hurricane Mitch, which left around 10,000 dead and millions of dollars in losses, poverty continues to make Central America one of the most vulnerable areas to natural events, although it struggles to advance in the reduction and mitigation of disaster risk. .

The passage of Mitch between the end of October and the beginning of November 1998 "contributed to accelerate processes" to prevent and improve the response to events in the region, said Efe the specialist in Disaster Risk Reduction of the United Nations Program for the Development (UNDP), Panama Regional Office, Rubén Vargas.

But this area, where more than 45 million people live, the vast majority in poverty, "remains, in concrete terms, vulnerable", understanding that disasters "are not the earthquake, the hurricane, but the conditions of development that we have been creating, "explained the expert.

It is precisely the social dynamics of Central America that makes it more vulnerable: belts of poverty located in flood zones, on mountain slopes or volcanoes, in high risk areas that are a constant scenario of great tragedies.

Five months ago a violent eruption of the Volcán de Fuego, one of the 32 active in Guatemala, left at least 190 dead, more than 200 missing and losses to family farming, which is what holds most of the inhabitants of the isthmus.

The rainy season leaves hundreds of dead every year, many of them inhabitants of rural areas who crossed rivers grown in what seem like acts of imprudence, but also entire families die buried in their homes.

In Central America "social conditions are complicated", with problems of poverty and inequality "that affect and increase the risk situation", as well as an inefficiency in development planning because "we build where we should not", acknowledged the expert of the world body .

But Vargas also assures that in the last 20 years there have been "significant achievements" in the region in areas such as "countries' resilience" through national frameworks such as those in Guatemala and Panama, "which help to respond to most appropriate way "to natural events.

Progress has also been made in institutional frameworks that deal with the issue of disaster management and in others for adaptation and mitigation in the face of climate change, and there it is now necessary to "continue to adjust, to have a better coordination between these two agendas".

Faced with this progress in institutional aspects, the challenge is to concretize the plans in the field, "because sometimes you have the regulations, you have the instruments but in the implementation there is the difficulty, due to many conditions and social dynamics of the region," he said. expert.

This situation is clearly reflected, for example, by lands that are unfit for habitation: although the warning exists and the authority forbids it, people who require a place to live, end up there, one of the great dramas of the region.

And there he goes to play an action that Vargas qualifies as key and that is "knowing the risk, that people, all of us, are well informed of where we are, what we should do and how we should make decisions and manage risk".

Mitch, one of the most destructive storm in modern history, arrived in Central America 20 years ago with winds of over 250 kilometers per hour and torrential rains that caused rivers to overflow and bridges and roads to be destroyed.

It hit Honduras and Nicaragua hard: around 6,000 and 4,000 deaths and economic losses of 4,000 and 12,000 million dollars in each country, respectively, according to the available data.

In El Salvador, Mitch left 175 dead, while in Guatemala it was 268 and the economic losses reached 748 million dollars, according to UN data.

The then Honduran president, Carlos Flores, said days after the tragedy that for Honduras the twentieth century had ended with Hurricane Mitch.

"We were left as if it were a puzzle, disseminated in hundreds of pieces, and the victims reached 1.4 million people, almost 25 percent of the population," Flores recalled last week in an interview with local television.

In the wake of the hurricane, the United States authorized a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran and Nicaraguan citizens, which had been renewed during all this time but which the country's current president, Donald Trump, ordered to eliminate.

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