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Drought threatens 3.5 million people in absence of assistance

  • Alert
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • October 16, 2015
Drought threatens 3.5 million people in absence of assistance

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The ongoing El Niño event has led to one of the worst droughts in recent decades throughout much of Central America and Haiti, with small-scale farmers sustaining heavy losses in staple crop production during the Primera/Printemps season. Forecasts for the remainder of the ongoing Postrera/Été season are mixed, and further adverse impacts on agricultural production are possible. Urgent food assistance is currently required for approximately 2.5 million people already experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity. Assistance needs will increase with an early start to the 2016 lean season in February/March, with up to 3.5 million people in need of assistance.

Central America and Haiti continue to be affected by the ongoing El Niño event, which is broadly associated with below-average rainfall in the region. In many areas, satellite-derived rainfall estimates indicate that total rainfall between January 1 and September 10, 2015 was the lowest in the past 35 years. The CPC/IRI Forecast indicates a 100 percent probability that the current El Niño event will continue through December, and that it will likely persist into the 2016 Printemps season in Haiti.

The drought has significantly reduced crop production during the Primera/Printemps season, particularly for small-scale producers in Haiti and “dry corridor” areas of Central America. In Haiti, interviews with local officials and partners suggest national Printemps production may be up to 50 percent below average, with local losses in worst-affected areas between 75 and 100 percent. Official production assessments in El Salvador and Honduras, and field reports and interviews with local officials and farmers in Guatemala, indicate that national Primera season losses ranged from 10 to 30 percent for maize and beans. Losses for many small-scale producers were much larger (e.g., 50-80 percent), with some reporting no harvests at all. Areas where Primera/Printemps losses were greatest include the northwest and southern peninsula in Haiti, dry corridor of western and eastern Guatemala, parts of western and particularly eastern El Salvador, western and southern Honduras, and northwestern and central Nicaragua.

In Haiti, the drought has reduced opportunities for agricultural labor, such as land preparation, weeding, and harvesting. Limited water availability may reduce livestock productivity and increase the expenditure on water for human and animal consumption. Poor households will increase reliance on non-agricultural income sources, including petty trade, labor migration, and the collection and sale of firewood/charcoal. Because many areas affected by the 2015 drought were also impacted by poor 2014 production, current shocks to normal sources of food and income are coming at a time when many very poor households have already been engaged in alternative livelihoods strategies, leaving them less able to cope. Prices are above the five-year average in most markets by 5-30 percent for maize meal and 50-110 percent for black beans. Although imported rice prices remain mostly stable and near average, a continued depreciation of the Haitian gourde (HTG) against the U.S. dollar (USD) could also push up rice prices. The expulsion of some Haitians from the Dominican Republic is also putting additional pressure on host households in some border communities, especially in Sud-Est Department. Currently, parts of the southern peninsula and Sud-Est, Nord-Ouest, Nord-Est, upper Artibonite, and Centre Departments are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

In Central America, drought has similarly reduced Primera 2015 agricultural production and labor income. As in Haiti, poor households will increase reliance on non-agricultural sources of income that are already being used following the below-average Primera season and reduced coffee sector incomes in 2014/2015. Although dry conditions helped mitigate the further spread of coffee rust that has been prevalent since 2012, dryness will also likely reduce coffee yields during the 2015/2016 season, leading to a continuation of below-average coffee labor opportunities during the October/November to February/March harvest period. Similarly, the drought will likely reduce labor opportunities from the production of other high-value crops (sugar cane, cardamom, fruits, etc.). Although red beans from Nicaragua and white maize from Mexico are helping mitigate impacts of reduced crop production on market supply in Central America, prices remain above the five-year average in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, by 10-35 percent for red beans and 5-25 percent for white maize. Currently, small-scale farmers in dry corridor areas of western and eastern Guatemala and Honduras who experienced severe production losses and who are facing below-average income opportunities are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

The start of the Postrera/Été season in September was irregular, with below-average total rainfall and a delay in the onset of the season by up to 20 days in parts of central and southern Honduras, northwest Nicaragua, and parts of southern and northern Haiti. Rainfall has improved in recent weeks and short term forecasts (i.e., 1-2 weeks) indicate continued precipitation. However, longer-range forecasts continue to suggest below-average seasonal rainfall totals during the remainder of the Postrera/Été season. If rainfall remains poor, significant crop losses are expected. However, if improved rainfall occurs over the coming weeks, Postrera season harvests could be better than currently expected. In addition, the expected continuation of the El Niño into the first half of 2016 will likely result in below-average Apante/Postrera Tardía/Hiver harvests in Central America and Haiti, and may impact the 2016 Printemps season in Haiti.

Across the region, up to 2.5 million people are currently in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. Although ongoing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes may be partially mitigated by Postrera/Été and Apante/Hiver harvests, and by the seasonal increase in agricultural labor demand in Central America through February/March, response needs will persist throughout the coming months. For the worst-affected households, increased reliance on non-agricultural sources of income are unlikely to fully compensate for the impact on the agriculture sector, leading households to forego key non-food expenditures and/or reduce meal size and frequency. By February, many poor households are likely to have little or no household food reserves, and will be entering a period of seasonally low income opportunities. Furthermore, above-average prices for staple foods could rise higher in late 2015 and early 2016 if Postrera/Été harvests are poor. External emergency assistance needs will be highest in Haiti and Guatemala, where little assistance is ongoing or planned. The governments of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras have ongoing and planned assistance for some affected populations. However, additional assistance needs are likely.

In the absence of assistance, FEWS NET estimates that by March 2016 up to 1.5 million people in Haiti and 2 million people in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), meaning that they will be facing food consumption gaps or depleting crucial assets in order to obtain enough food. This will likely continue until the Printemps 2016 harvest in Haiti (June) and Primera harvest in Central America (August). This represents response needs significantly greater than in recent years, including in comparison to the 2012 coffee rust shock and last year’s heavy losses for subsistence farmers during the Primera/Printemps season.

Figures Figure 1. Régions les plus préoccupantes en matière d’insécurité alimentaire aigüe

Figure 1

Figure 1. Régions les plus préoccupantes en matière d’insécurité alimentaire aigüe

Source: FEWS NET

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