Men wade through a street flooded after the passing of Hurricane Iota in La Lima, Honduras, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Iota flooded stretches of Honduras still underwater from Hurricane Eta.
( AP Photo/Delmer Martinez
Tanzina: I'm Tanzina Vega. Welcome back to The Takeaway. A set of devastating hurricanes have pummeled central America. On November 3rd, Hurricane Eta first struck Nicaragua and then made its way to Honduras and Guatemala. According to the Red Cross, more than 2 million people in the region were affected by floods and landslides caused by the hurricane.
Then this week, another Hurricane Iota made landfall in Central America delivering yet another blow to the region. The two storms back-to-back, aren't only devastating to communities in Central America, but are also complicating efforts to mitigate COVID-19. Joining us now to talk about what's happening on the ground is Jeff Ernst,a freelance journalist based in Honduras. Jeff, thanks for being with us.
Jeff: Thanks for having me.
Tanzina: What are conditions on the ground in Honduras right now?
Jeff: Right now, much of Honduras is underwater particularly in the Northwest Sula Valley region, which is home to about two million people and in the second largest in Honduras, San Pedro Sula. It's really the economic motor of the country. The fact that so much of this area in particular is underwater is really indicative of how damaging it is given that roughly 40% of the GDP or more is produced in this region but really after Iota we have much more widespread damage a lot across the whole country was a much larger storm.
Just particularly across the North Coast and the West, there's still rising waters in some parts. we've lost a lot of bridges and roads and other infrastructure and there's many people who are currently displaced by the flooding.
Tanzina: The storms first struck Nicaragua before going through Honduras and Guatemala. What were the effects in those two countries?
Jeff: With Eta, it was damaging, but it went through pretty lowly populated area of Nicaragua, but Iota was so much larger that it really hit harder in Nicaragua and even the winds were harder too. In Nicaragua, we're seeing pretty widespread damage, flooding even in the capital of Managua and South of it. Nicaragua is pretty devastated at this point too.
Tanzina: You've been reporting on this region in Honduras for a while, how have the governments responded to efforts on the ground?
Jeff: The government's response has been heavily criticized. Ahead of Eta, it has actually scheduled this special holiday for that week in order to try to promote domestic tourism and stimulate the economy, which has been really hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a clear reticence by the government to cancel that vacation and so they did not emit alerts or evacuation orders, which led to tens of thousands of people being completely caught off guard and then ended up getting trapped on the road, some for as many as five days.
Of course, that led to more deaths, which we really don't know how much yet, because the water was never even able to fully recede from Eta before we got hit by Iota. There's really some clear negligence by the government here and then in terms of responding, they're completely overwhelmed by it and they're clearly unprepared.
There's a real question of how they're spending their resources, the government just a year ago or just from Israel, this boat for war that really has seemed to have no purpose for a country like Honduras, and yet their emergency response units doesn't have the boats necessary to be able to deal with these strong currents that we're seeing from the flooding in order to rescue people until the water gets down, the people are very upset, definitely more than ever with the government and this could definitely lead to even more political instability than we've seen down here in the past.
Tanzina: That political instability could also spur more migration out of the region, is that right, coming towards whether that's the United States or moving towards Mexico or other places as people try to survive?
Jeff: Absolutely. There's already people organizing on social media caravans that looks like they're planning for January, most of them. Whether or not that materializes, there's just no doubt we're going to see an uptick in migration over the next year, particularly as COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased. I talked to so many people already, particularly the young people who just see no opportunity, they have no work and now they've lost everything so they really have nothing to lose. They see migrating as the quickest way to be able to help their families to rebuild and recoup everything they've lost.
Tanzina: The United States government has limited at least, under the Trump administration, migration from many of these countries, at the same time it's asked many Central American countries to help it with its asylum policies. Has the US government sent any aid to these countries as they struggle to deal with the blows from these hurricanes?
Jeff: The lack of leadership from the US following these crisis is really shocking. There's been no word from the state department or from the White House, other than USAID, which is down here. Most recently after Iota, they designated $17 million to the region, half of which is going to Honduras. Then also the US military base down here has been a source of rescue missions, which has definitely been very helpful, but $17 million when we're talking about billions and billions of dollars of damage.
Really in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch hit, which was the worst natural disaster in Central America to date, it was US leadership that mobilized support from the global community and that is completely lacking at this point. President-elect Biden has expressed his concern and support for the region. There's hope that when he takes office, he will take up that traditional leadership role of the US to help one of its neighbors.
Tanzina: We'll be watching to see how this pans out. Jeff Ernst, a freelance journalist based in Honduras. Thanks for being with us and stay safe.
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