Last year 55-year-old Honduran farmer Manuel Abidam Ochoa finished long months of work and finally, under a withering sun, started gathering his corn crop.
But when the harvest was over he fell into despair: he’d reaped just four bushels – not even enough for him and his wife to live on, much less sell at market.
All farmers know bad years. It’s part of rural life. But across Central America men like Abidam are watching yields drop season after season.
For Abidam the reason is simple: the rain has stopped – or most of it, anyway. His modest parcel in rural central Honduras sits in the middle of what – after years of drought – has become known as the Dry Corridor. It’s a vast stretch of Central America, from Panama up through the lowlands of Guatemala.
An Unsettling New Normal
The Dry Corridor is also a reminder of the climate chaos now altering lives in Central America: While drought chokes Honduras’ farm production, the same country’s coastal zones have yet to recover from recent, devastating floods caused by two enormous hurricanes.
Scientists believe the sustained dry spells – the worst in 35 years, according to the World Food Program – are the result of global warming. Abidam doesn’t know about that; he has little access to news programs, nor the time to listen. But he remembers how, when his oldest son was a small boy, the now bone-dry fields around him were lush.
That son grew up and left for the U.S. in search of work, desperate for money. But he only made it as far as Mexico, where he now lives. He found work there, but his low Mexican wage means he can’t send much money home to his parents.
For Abidam’s elderly neighbor, known simply as Don Pedro, the idea of a son living and working in Mexico sounds like a dream. Last year, his only child, Darwin, also headed north. His goal was to earn enough to replace the old roof on his parents’ cinderblock home. But Darwin met a different fate; he died after going into cardiac arrest near the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving Don Pedro to care for Darwin’s pregnant wife and children.
An Unwinnable Fight?
Abidam’s and Don Pedro’s stories define life in the 21st Century for so many people in Central America.
This is a region where fighting climate change seems next to impossible. Governments don’t have the resources to finance even some easy adaptation, such as helping farmers switch to less water-intensive crops. In Honduras, as things stand, the poorest people must rely on outside entities such as the World Food Program for the staples they need to survive.
It’s often said that climate change will affect rich and poor alike. While that’s true, in the short term it’s the poor who suffer far more. People with little or no money can’t just up and move. They can’t invest in solutions or experiment with new technologies.
Yet, they are on the front lines of unpredictable and extreme weather – at the mercy of torrential rains and flooding or dry seasons that stretch for years, seemingly without end.
But the consequences of their suffering hardly leaves the so-called developed world unaffected. The United States, for example, must grapple with migrations of people looking for better futures, testing its own resources, from housing and education to jobs and border security. Europe faces similar influxes from Africa, the Middle East and beyond. And that’s not to mention the direct effects of extreme weather on their own communities: unprecedented wildfires, storm surges and drought.
Amid all the turmoil, governments – even those with deep pockets – show few signs of concerted or comprehensive action; they appear to be dragging their heels.
That’s something the entire world cannot afford.
Crossposted from palabra.