“We have to go”: Climate change is driving migration from Central America


As the earth continues to warm Climate disasters become more extreme. In 2020 the influence on the vivid representation was with Record shattering Forest fires in the western US and in historical Atlantic hurricane season.

These types of events, which destroy homes and livelihoods, often act as triggers, leaving people with no choice but to move, especially if they have already been socially or economically vulnerable. This phenomenon is called Climate migration and more and more often it is caused due to humans Climate change.

Last fall, we saw the beginning of one of the simplest examples of climate-induced migration in Central America. Around 10,000 people have already tried to migrate north after two devastating storms, with many more planning to leave soon.

In November, Hurricane Eta and Hurricane IotaBoth catastrophic Category 4 hurricanes landed near Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua two weeks and only 15 miles apart. They were two of the most intense storms of the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history.

With winds reaching 250 km / h and devastating flooding from torrential rain, the storms hit 6 million people, destroyed thousands of homes and displaced nearly 600,000 in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. With little or no government support, many of the displaced are living in shelters with little food. In early January, the Red Cross reported that 250,000 were still in emergency shelters across the region.

It is not just housing and food that are in short supply. Many people have also lost their livelihoods. The Honduras Department of Agriculture and Livestock estimates that up to 80% of the agricultural sector was decimated by the storms – an industry that provided a third of the country’s employment as of 2020.

With few options at home, mid-January through 9,000 people gathered to join a caravan in Honduras that was heading to Mexico and the US for opportunities. A CBS News crew caught up with some of the migrants in Honduras. We asked why they made the risky decision to leave their land and families behind.

Marlin Oviedo, father of three, said to us: “There is no employment, there is nothing. Because we work in agriculture and you saw the two hurricanes that damaged all crops, we have nothing. We have to go out and find out what we can offer our children because we have nothing. “

Marlin Oviedo, father of three, left his family in Honduras to look for a way to care for them.

CBS News

Oviedo held back tears and said he felt he had no choice. “I’m leaving three girls – a 4-year-old girl, a 12-year-old special needs girl, and a 16-year-old. And it hurts me to leave, but I think I have to.”

It is unclear whether Oviedo made it. As the caravan crossed into Guatemala, the group clashed with the Guatemalan military, which disbanded the caravan and sent many of the potential migrants back to Honduras.

Honduran migrants are being sent back by Guatemalan authorities
Honduran migrants who tried to enter the United States will be returned by Guatemalan authorities to a border crossing between Honduras and Guatemala on January 19, 2021.


“When people feel that their lives are in danger, nothing prevents them from escaping to safety,” said Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of State for Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, in an October interview with CBS News . He said massive upheavals caused by people’s inability to live in certain areas due to climate change and socio-economic factors are one of his biggest international security concerns.

In 2019, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) calculated that weather-related disasters, some of which are climate change-related, displaced nearly 24 million people around the world – about three times more than those displaced by conflict that year . These disasters included unprecedented back to back Cyclones in Mozambique, Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and the wildfires in California.

The record breaking Atlantic 2020 Hurricane season is just another example of how climate change is making weather events more extreme and causing people to migrate out of their homes. While hurricanes are common in the western Caribbean in the fall, Eta and Iota were remarkably strong this late in the season. The intensity of these storms has been fueled by some of the warmest waters in the northern hemisphere, compounded by man-made climate change.

As the picture below shows, water temperatures in the Caribbean have risen steadily since the 1980s. The Atlantic as a whole has warmed more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century.

Since 1985, sea surface temperatures in and around the Caribbean have warmed due to man-made climate change. The blue indicates cooler than normal and the yellow-red indicates warmer than normal. You can see how the yellow-red colors have been increasing lately.

NOAA / CBS news

In the following tweet from British climate researcher Richard Dixon, the map (in yellow) shows how water temperatures in the Caribbean are more likely to exceed 83 degrees Fahrenheit. This warmer water provides high-octane fuel to charge up storms, absorb common hurricanes, and turn them into monsters like Eta and Iota.

This is important because much of Central America’s infrastructure can potentially withstand the strength of typical hurricanes, but large hurricanes are often too much to endure.

In Honduras alone, more than 85,000 homes were damaged in the two storms. NOAA estimates that 85% of all hurricane damage comes from the strongest storms – the major Category 3, 4, or 5 systems.

Kayly Ober, Senior Advocate and Program Manager of the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, says the 2019 disasters and Hurricanes Eta and Iota are examples of “sudden onset” events. She fears that these types of events and the migrations that follow are a sign of things to come.

“Sudden events like these will only increase in intensity and frequency in the future,” she said.

However, she explains that the migration caused by these climatic events does not occur in isolation – it is often related to the existing vulnerability and adaptability of a community. “The effects of climate change and socio-economic problems are closely related.”

Man silhouetted in damaged house in Honduras
Hostilio Peralta in his ruined house in Honduras.

CBS News

Angel Munoz, climate researcher at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, agrees. He noted that many people in these communities faced chronic poverty, crime and other difficulties prior to the disaster.

“These people have already had problems, even without a hurricane or drought. They are already struggling to survive,” said Munoz. Sudden onset events are often the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and like Ober, Munoz expects climate-induced migration events to escalate in a warmer future.

But it’s not just sudden climatic events like Eta and Iota that are causing trouble and driving migration from Central America.

“Events that set in slowly, such as persistent drought, have been impairing the capabilities of many people on the edge of the region for years, especially in the so-called dry corridor that leads from southern Mexico to Costa Rica,” explained Ober.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 3.5 million people in the region have faced food insecurity over the past 10 years due to recurrent droughts due to natural climate variability and climate change. The Climate Reality Project explains very well how these climate changes led to high migration rates in 2018.

Whether it’s slow onset events like drought or sudden onset events like hurricanes, we are only experiencing the tip of the iceberg as a hotter earth means more extreme weather. We are already seeing evidence of the effects. A report recently published by Refugees International states: “The trends are clear: sudden onset disasters are becoming more frequent and intense. Disasters lead to protracted displacement.” And the World Bank predicts that uncontrolled carbon emissions in Latin America, the Caribbean, southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa could result in 143 million internal climate migrants by 2050.

Faced with the threat of increasing climate migration, President Biden recently signed an executive order on “Reconstruction and Improvement of Programs for Resettlement of Refugees and Planning the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” calling on federal authorities to produce a report on the climate and present changes and their impact on migration. Mr Biden noted that the report should include the discussion of the international security impacts of climate-induced migration, as well as options for protecting and resettling people displaced directly or indirectly by climate change.

This is an important step for those who are forced to flee their countries due to climate change. That’s because the 1951 Refugee Convention in the United States does not cover climate-induced migration. It defines refugees as those who are outside their country of origin and who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or belonging to a social group. Since this definition does not apply to migration as a result of climate change, these people could not receive international protection.

Girl stands in roofless house destroyed by hurricanes in Honduras
A girl is seen inside a house destroyed by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020 in La Lima community, Cortes Department, Honduras on Jan. 8, 2021.

ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP via Getty Images

The Refugees International report commends the Biden administration’s first steps, arguing that “the United States has a moral and practical responsibility to lead on climate change, migration and displacement issues” because the US for the most part Responsible for Heat – Capturing fossil fuel emissions over time.

“We need to recognize that the effects of climate change are already influencing migration decisions today, and ensure that people who move have access to safe and dignified paths in their own country and abroad,” said Ober.

It will take financial resources to reduce disaster risk, adapt to the effects of climate change, and build resilience. Ober believes that the United States and its allies should increase funding to existing international aid funds, such as the United States-established Green Climate Fund, to help developing countries reduce emissions and improve their resilience to climate change.

Indeed, in its report, the World Bank predicts that robust measures to reduce carbon emissions and support a green transition could reduce the total number of climate migrants by 50% to 80% – that’s 31 to 72 million people – by 2050.

Without a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 emissions and effective policies to deal with the growing threat of climate migration, Ober fears that many more people will be forced to flee.

“I am concerned that the effects of climate change are only becoming more frequent and intense, and that without proper support or political intervention, people will find it difficult to make the decision to move.”

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