Hurricane season is in full effect. Even before the season officially started June 1, the Atlantic saw its first named storm: Subtropical Storm Ana. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has projected an above-normal hurricane season, and that’s a terrifying reality for those who lie in any potential paths.
In Central America, more than 7 million people were affected when Hurricanes Eta and Iota struck back in November. Today, the affected communities continue to reel from the loss—the Miskito people in Nicaragua and Honduras, especially. They’ve always lived with storms. What is new is their unforgiving frequency—and the mounting pressure from illegal land grabbers and narcotraffickers looking to kick them out of their homes. With little hope in sight since the hurricanes, some families are abandoning their homes and fleeing north. That’s climate displacement for you. Vice President Kamala Harris took her first foreign trip to Guatemala Tuesday; her pleas that Guatemalans “do not come” to the U.S. is unlikely to change that.
“These communities are trying to survive,” said Andrew Davis, director of the forests and government territory program at PRISMA, an environmental research group in El Salvador, in Spanish. “On top of all these threats and a government that is not supporting their rights, they have a hurricane.”
Welcome to The Frontline, where we hate hurricane season. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. Central America is special to me. My parents grew up in El Salvador, and that’s where I first gained a sense of how intense global inequality could be. Central America is now one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the climate crisis. Last year’s hurricane season is a testament to that.
When Hurricane Eta hit on November 3, 2020, Reynaldo Francis Watson was huddled in his home in the city of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, with about 40 others: his parents, some children, and elders from the Miskito towns of Karatá and Lamlaya. As a leader of the community, he was offering them refuge from the Category 4 storm that was bearing down on their villages. Francis Watson had lived through Hurricane Felix in 2007, which killed at least 133 people in the region, but he was left shocked by Eta, Iota, and the lack of aid that followed.
About half a year later, the region is still suffering. Many Miskito families in Nicaragua and Honduras are without roofs—some without houses altogether—having lost everything. The COVID-19 pandemic and pressures from narcotraffickers and illegal land grabbers are exacerbating an already-volatile situation. Some families are left with no other option but to leave their homes for a better life elsewhere, including the U.S.
Now, the threats they face may worsen. That all depends on Mother Nature. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting that this season won’t be as bad as the last, but it will be above-average. Even the rainfall the region has been seeing the past month is enough to trigger local anxieties.
“There’s still an emotional and mental toll,” said Salvador Casado, a coordinator with CARE Guatemala’s ECHO Alert Project, a rural health program, in Spanish. “The kids have trauma. When it starts to rain, they get scared and remember what happened with Eta and Iota.”
It’s not hard to imagine why. Barely two weeks after Hurricane Eta, Hurricane Iota rolled through on nearly an identical path through the region. And, well, Iota was the season’s strongest hurricane. After these two hits, the damage from flooding and landslides persisted across Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The result? Over $700 billion in damages. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes. Honduras and Nicaragua were the hardest impacted. The pandemic and ongoing drought conditions didn’t help either, said Maite Matheu, director of CARE Honduras.