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article imageImpacts of climate change on today's Central American migrants

By Karen Graham     Oct 30, 2018 in Environment
Violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the exodus of migrants from Central America, however, experts say the big picture is that changing climate is forcing farmers off their land – and it’s likely to get worse.
People in the United States haven't paid much attention to Central America, other than to listen to the White House tell us we don't want those "criminals," and "invaders" crossing our borders. But the president doesn't mention the violence and poverty being experienced by families wanting a better, and safer place to live.
Yes, there is violence, gangs willing to rape one's daughter or kill your son if you don't give them what they want. That has been well documented by our government. Families arriving at the border from countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have many frightening stories to tell, many of them connected to their homelands’ plague of armed violence.
Police in El Salvador have been trying to crack down on the country's powerful street gangs
Police in El Salvador have been trying to crack down on the country's powerful street gangs
HO, Salvadorean National Civil Police/AFP/File
Decades of violence
Actually, our government has not pointed out that migration from Central America is changing. In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Central Americans traveled to the U.S. to escape economic misery in their war-torn states. Today, the majority of migrants are families, newborns, children, and pregnant women escaping life-or-death situations as much as poverty.
In El Salvador, there are around 65,000 thousand active gang members with a social support base of half a million people. Top state officials in the region are aware of the magnitude of what they face, and behind closed doors agree that they are “fighting a war they cannot win," reports The Atlantic.
People are actually fleeing for their lives and their children's lives. Most of them are naturally scared of what may happen when they reach the U.S.-Mexico border, yet they are also too scared to return to their home country.
Violence in Guatemala leaves thousands dead every year  with around half attributed by authorities t...
Violence in Guatemala leaves thousands dead every year, with around half attributed by authorities to drug trafficking and activity related to the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs
EITAN ABRAMOVICH, AFP/File
Poverty in the Northern Triangle
According to Relief Web, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are in Central America's Northern Triangle. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of people living in rural areas in the Northern Triangle live in poverty. Honduras’ July 2017 national census showed that 64.3 percent of all households live in poverty.
In the rural areas of the Northern Triangle, most farms are family affairs and the most vulnerable to climate change, too. Nearly 95 percent of smallholder farmers have observed climate change, and most are already experiencing the impacts of rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events on crop yields, pest and disease incidence, income generation and, in some cases, food security.
A lack of information from local governments on how to deal with a changing climate, along with a lack of adaptive programs geared to specific crops has left many farmers out in the cold when looking for help. As an example, Digital Journal reported earlier this month on a fungal disease that has decimated coffee crops in Central and South America.
Around 70 percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line even though government figures put unempl...
Around 70 percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line even though government figures put unemployment at just seven percent
STR, AFP
Climate change - the unspoken issue behind migration
Climate change has already affected the coffee crops, just as it has impacted many crops across the globe that depend on certain conditions - from temperature to humidity and soil texture - to grow properly. And like farmers in Indonesia, China, Australia, and India, to name a few, crop losses, when you are already living at the poverty level can be devastating.
The UN World Food Program did a study in 2017 and found that the drought, rather than violence, was the driving factor causing people to leave the region to seek food and work elsewhere.
"We still have some ways to go before we can conclude scientifically that what we're seeing now is outside the norm. But if you go out to the field and ask anybody if this is normal, everybody says no," Center for the Study of the Environment and Biodiversity at the Universidad del Valle in Guatemala Director Edwin Castellanos told National Geographic.
Honduran migrantes waiting at Guatemala's border with Mexico are sleeping in churches  fire sta...
Honduran migrantes waiting at Guatemala's border with Mexico are sleeping in churches, fire stations and makeshift refugee shelters
Johan ORDONEZ, AFP
"The next migrants are going to be climate migrants," El Salvador's Environment and Natural Resources Minister Lina Pohl told reporters at the Central American Commission for Environment and Development on October 24, AFP reported. "Central America has had recurrent losses in agriculture, with populations increasingly faced with fewer opportunities for work and development," Ms. Pohl said.
So this migrant caravan of what President Trump is calling "invaders" is really nothing more than climate refugees. And this is an important distinction because, in its final draft of a UN compact on migration published July 11, 2018, the UN recognized the existence of climate refugees specifically for the first time,
What does all this have to do with Trump's militaristic policies on our border? "A quasi-fascist policy of fear-mongering about immigration and corresponding militarization of the border is clearly the major thrust of Trump's response to the mounting impacts of climate chaos," Ashley Dawson, author of Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change, told The Huffington Post.
More about Climate change, Central america, Violence, Poverty, migrant canavan