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Eta and Iota further deteriorated food security in the region

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua
  • December 2020
Eta and Iota further deteriorated food security in the region

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Food needs will be above average in the three countries of the region, due to the fact that above-average rainfall has reduced employment opportunities and household reserves, combined with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and crop losses from the previous year.

    • In rural areas affected by weather events, a lower availability of food is expected due to the loss of reserves swept away by the floods and postrera crop losses. There is also less access to food due to the drop in income as a result of commercial crop losses, infrastructure damage that will impede travel between areas, and the total loss of assets. This will cause the annual food shortage season to come earlier, in January/February, which will end with the primera harvest in September. Food security for households in affected urban areas will be impacted by the loss of homes and sources of employment.

    • It is estimated that, despite current humanitarian relief efforts, many households directly impacted by hurricanes Eta and Iota, in urban and rural areas of Honduras and Nicaragua, will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the entire period of analysis, due to limited access and availability of food as a result of crop failure and lower demand for labor.

    • From December 2020 to February 2021, access and availability of food will improve compared to previous months for poor rural households located outside the area affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota, thanks to the apante/postrera tardía harvest and the increase in the demand for labor. However, it will be less than expected due to slight damage from excess moisture and damage to the access roads to the areas where they migrate. For the second analysis period, the situation will worsen seasonally with the establishment of the food shortage season. These households will continue to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the entire period, except for the poorest households in the Salvadoran coffee-growing zone and the Honduran Dry Corridor, which will continue to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • Poor urban households not affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota in the three countries will see a slight improvement in their food situation as the economy continues to grow after reopening. However, this recovery will be gradual and will be more based on informality, which increases the economic vulnerability of these households. The poorest households are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period, while the other households will not experience acute food insecurity.



    Honduras and Nicaragua




    • Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which significantly affected these countries in November, left more than 135,000 people in shelters. Private, cooperative, and government initiatives to cover food, health, and hygiene needs are unable to cover the gap given the magnitude of the damage to housing and livelihoods.
    • It is estimated that over 243,950 hectares of crops were affected. These include both basic grains (corn and, mainly, beans) and commercial grains (African palm, banana, cocoa, coffee, grass, and others).
    • The demand for labor is lower than usual because of damage to commercial crops.
    • The road network was severely affected (bridges and highways destroyed or damaged), causing difficulties in moving both people and goods.
    • The prices of beans and other foods have risen in various markets due to speculation as a result of crop losses and supply problems caused by damage to the road network.
    • Many of the commercial crops affected are a source of labor for poor and extremely poor households in these countries. This, together with the difficulty of transport, will cause a drop in the daily income of these households.
    • Due to poor soil conditions, the apante/postrera tardía sowing will be delayed, and with it the end of the cycle, which is usually between March and April.
    • The prices of white corn and red beans in Honduras and Nicaragua will be above average throughout the analysis period due to the impact of hurricanes Eta and Iota on production and road infrastructure, as well as speculation.

    El Salvador


    • An above-average rainy season and excess rainfall from hurricanes caused some losses in basic grain crops and a projected decline in coffee and sugar cane production for the 2020/2021 agricultural cycle, although at a lesser scale than in the other countries.
    • The decrease in coffee production will have a negative impact on the income generation of producer households and day laborers. The harvest season ends in February.
    • The recovery of urban jobs is expected to be slower in El Salvador compared to other countries.


    • For areas not significantly affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota, the economic recovery after reopening continues slowly. In general, the economy of El Salvador has been the most affected in the Central American region, since the construction, assembly plants, restaurants, and tourism sectors have recovered more slowly than in other countries. This is affecting employment levels, especially in the urban area.
    • According to the CPC/IRI forecast, rainfall will continue to be above average throughout this month, due to the influence of La Niña/ENSO conditions.
    • Weather forecasts indicate that ENSO conditions will continue, and above-average rainfall is expected during the remainder of the analysis period. The 2021 rainy season is expected to start early this year, favoring the production of basic grains in the primera cycle.
    • For the three countries, COVID-19 cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming months. This is due to infections in shelters and increased mobility during the end-of-year festivities. It is expected that in early 2021, governments will implement movement restrictions, less severe than those placed between March and June 2020.


    Last November, the Caribbean region of Central America, including Honduras and Nicaragua, suffered the impact of two category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, just two weeks apart. It is estimated that the total accumulated precipitations in the affected areas ranged from 300 and 1,000 millimeters, representing more than 250 percent of the average rainfall in the area during the same season. Strong winds and these precipitations caused damage to road infrastructure, including roads, highways, piers, and bridges, as well as damage to homes and agricultural losses. More than 340,000 people were evacuated, of which more than 135,000 are in shelters. Hygiene and health conditions in the shelters are precarious, so an increase in cases of diarrheal and respiratory infections, dengue, and COVID-19 would be expected. In Honduras, some people have returned to their homes, although they are semi-destroyed, and others are staying with neighbors given the conditions of the shelters. Because the precipitations did not stop completely in the weeks after these events took place, and given the collapsed river banks, some areas still reported flooding weeks after the last impact, which made the early recovery process more difficult. The most affected departments in terms of infrastructure, income and harvest losses are Cortés, Atlántida, Colón, El Paraíso, Olancho, Choluteca, and Yoro in Honduras, and the autonomous regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast and the Mining Triangle, together with the departments of Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Carazo, and Rivas in Nicaragua. In the case of El Salvador, departments such as San Miguel and Usulután, and some coffee-growing zones in the west, reported above-average rainfall, causing losses in basic grain crops. For the eastern region of El Salvador, the current harvest is the most important of the year, so the losses are relevant to the availability of food for the months analyzed.

    November and December usually mark the start of the second harvest season, with bean production being highly important during that cycle. Given the susceptibility of this crop to excess moisture, there are reports of high impact, especially in Honduras and Nicaragua, for both small-scale and large-scale farmers. Although this will impact producer households through decreased availability and the loss of income from their sale, the availability of these crops in national markets will be covered by the strategic reserves built by the governments with the production of the primera cycle and some imports made in advance, in the case of El Salvador. However, it is expected that prices may remain above average in the coming months. In some areas of Honduras and Nicaragua, there is a third production cycle, apante/postrera tardía, ranging from November/December to March/April. However, due to poor soil conditions, it could be delayed.

    These months also include the season with the highest demand for informal labor in rural areas, due to the harvests of coffee, sugar cane, and other commercial crops. Given the strong impact on some of these crops and the difficulty of access, day laborers will generate less income than in previous years in the departments mentioned above.

    Other livelihoods were also affected, such as livestock, with the loss of smaller species and larger livestock, as well as the loss of several hundred liters of milk that could not be collected or sold in Cortés, Atlántida, Colón, Olancho, and in the municipalities of Matagalpa. This sector will recover slowly because a large proportion belongs to small-scale producers. Fishing suffered significant damage, especially in Nicaragua, because the households located on the Caribbean coast are indigenous peoples with high levels of poverty and a very small scale for production, who suffered the loss of their productive assets. The tourism sector suffered from one of the strongest impacts due to the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had just resumed operations when the hurricanes hit, destroying infrastructure and access roads to places with a greater influx of tourists; unemployment will remain very high in this economic sector.

    Damage to road infrastructure has meant limited mobility for both people and goods, which has altered local, national, and even regional trade. In Honduras alone, more than 542 kilometers of affected roads were reported, plus 23 bridges destroyed and another 43 damaged. In Nicaragua, 1,750 kilometers of affected roads and 106 affected bridges were reported just on formal highways. The difficulty in transporting products and the loss of several crops have caused a rise in the prices of some foods. This situation is expected to go back to normal over time, allowing prices to return to values closer to the average.

    To meet the enormous need for emergency response and early recovery resources, governments have requested external resources to supplement their own. The United Nations has issued a plea for 69.2 million USD to meet the needs caused by hurricane Eta in Honduras, and an additional 25 million USD to supplement the response. These amounts have not yet been allocated. However, the government continues to work on determining additional needs resulting from the impact of Iota. Other actors in the cooperation have already contributed more than 19 million USD. In Honduras, partners such as ACNUR, ADRA, Ayuda en Acción, CARE, Child Foundation, Habitat, OPS, Plan Internacional, TROCAIRE and World Vision, among others, are currently providing food packages, first-aid kits, personal hygiene kits, and biosecurity products for a period of three months. These packages will reach a total of 7,821 beneficiaries. With respect to Nicaragua, partners such as the World Food Program, UNICEF, the European Union, USAID, the Taiwanese and Swiss governments, and World Vision have contributed with over 800 tons of food in basic grains, and funds of more than 14.8 million USD to support the water and sanitation sector, biosafety kits, and to cover other basic needs.

    Despite not having suffered floods to the same extent as the other countries, El Salvador reports that last November was the third rainiest season since 1971. These anomalies affected the production of basic grains in some departments, causing a drop in household reserves for the coming months, and therefore a decrease in employment for the postrera harvest. For the area of the coffee-growing livelihood zone, chronic problems that includes low prices, little support for the sector and the impact of blight, plus this year's higher moisture, will cause low coffee production. Although a slight recovery is expected compared to the sharp decline reported in the past cycle, this will be less than initially projected. This dynamic will cause lower income for producers and day laborers who depend mainly on this sector. In addition, this area shows a deterioration in the prevalence of severe malnutrition as of October 2020 compared to 2019, although it does not show values exceeding five percent. Until November 27th, households in this area were using stress and crisis response strategies, and some were even selling their productive assets to meet their food needs, given that the economy has not recovered and access to employment in the nearby urban areas is very limited. According to the baseline prepared by Oxfam, these households usually live on 100 USD per month, only meeting their minimum basic needs. Furthermore, this area is affected by violence, preventing people from migrating long distances to seek alternative sources of income.

    Expected food security outcomes: The food security situation has worsened significantly for the areas affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras and Nicaragua, especially for those in shelters. Loss of homes and livelihoods makes it difficult to access food, rendering them highly dependent on humanitarian aid. This situation will continue for the rest of the analysis period, due to the time required to build houses.

    Poor and very poor households that lost their reserves from the primera harvest and the postrera crops as a result of the hurricanes will depend exclusively on purchasing as a food source, making them more vulnerable to immediate shock and to the seasonal increase in food prices, which starts in February. Additionally, these same households will have to earn income at a time when damage to commercial crops will cause a drop in the demand for labor, which will be seasonally low after February, even under normal conditions. This will cause households that still have some livelihoods to resort to different strategies to fill the food gap. The annual food shortage season in 2021 is expected to start early in January/February for this population group. Unless charities and governments deliver sufficient humanitarian relief, with broad and regular coverage among the victims, these households will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the analysis period, since the minimum income earned during the labor season will have to be used early due to the lack of reserves.

    One of the areas most affected by the high rates of COVID-19 in Honduras during the previous months is Cortés, which is also the department with the greatest damage. This suggests that the rate of infection of the virus will increase from December. In the case of Nicaragua, given the issues with official data on the incidence of COVID-19, it is not possible to identify a trend, but given the existing sanitary conditions, it is reasonable to expect that there will also be a rebound in cases, although not evident in the country’s statistics.

    Households located in the rural area of the Honduran Dry Corridor, which suffered drought-related losses in 2019, and in the coffee growing area of El Salvador, will continue to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), given that they must recover not only from the shocks of previous years, but also from the problems related to the pandemic and now from the losses generated by above-average rainfall. Households in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador that were not directly affected by the hurricanes are still recovering from the rise in unemployment and debt caused by the restrictions imposed to contain the Coronavirus. This means that economic hardships will continue for most poor and very poor rural households, given the slow recovery in commercial and industrial operations, and the sanitary protocols required for agricultural and non-agricultural activities. Likewise, the availability of labor will be below average since, in some cases, crops such as bananas, African palm, coffee, and sugar cane suffered a decrease in their yield. All of the above will limit the purchasing power of those households and, with it, their access to food through February 2021. The annual food shortage season begins in March, which will entail further seasonal deterioration for these households. However, they are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the analysis period, maintaining a minimally acceptable level of consumption through the implementation of response strategies, such as resorting to savings or support from family and friends, as well as going into debt.

    Employment is expected to gradually increase in urban areas, but since there is no seasonal pattern and is more related to heavily affected non-agricultural sectors, the recovery process will be much slower. El Salvador has been one of the most affected countries in the Central American region, with a 9.2 percent drop in the Gross Domestic Product, according to ECLAC. According to the Banco Central de El Salvador (BCR), the tourism and food services sector reports a negative variation of 50 percent, making it the most affected. In second place is construction, with -38.5 percent, followed by manufacturing industries, reporting a 33.2 percent drop, and wholesale and retail trade, with -32.3 percent. According to the survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador (CAMARASAL), the economic recovery will be gradual, lasting up to a year, so the performance of employment statistics will be equally slow, both in the formal and informal sectors. According to the same survey, until October companies reported that sales revenues remained below 75 percent. These households are expected to have greater difficulty accessing food than rural households not affected by the hurricanes, given that they are completely dependent on purchase as a source of food. A large number of urban households in the three countries will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the analysis period, although there will be some in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), especially those who live in peripheral zones and depend on the informal and the aforementioned sectors, both in large and small cities. 

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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