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Hurricanes Eta and Iota likely to worsen food security outlook in Central America

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • November 2020 - May 2021
Hurricanes Eta and Iota likely to worsen food security outlook in Central America

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected throughout the region through May 2021. In Central America, the region was already affected by several consecutive years of poor rainfall and the COVID-19 pandemic, which were driving high food assistance needs, especially in the Dry Corridor. The impacts of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which landed in November, are likely to drive an additional increase in the food insecure population. In Haiti, below-average harvests, macroeconomic challenges, and socio-economic stability continue to drive food insecurity.

    • In October, the primera and postrera harvests, rising demand for agricultural labor, and a gradual increase in economic activity due to the lifting of COVID-19 measures were leading to marginal improvements in food availability and access in Central America. However, economic activity remains sluggish due to the impacts of the pandemic and many rural and urban households continue to face difficulty earning sufficient income to afford their food and non-food needs. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in the Guatemalan and Honduran Dry Corridor.

    • In November, hurricanes Eta and Iota brought between 500 and 1,000 mm of rainfall to northeastern Nicaragua, northern Honduras, and northern and eastern Guatemala, causing extensive floods and landslides. The storms directly affected more than 6 million people and caused extensive damage to crops and farmland, livestock and fishing assets, and critical infrastructure. According to available estimates, over 200,000 hectares of staple food and cash crops were damaged. The effects on agricultural labor demand, livestock and fishing activities, and transportation systems are expected to lead to an increase in the Crisis (IPC Phase 3) population in affected areas. Revised acute food insecurity maps are forthcoming.

    • In Haiti, the recent and upcoming harvests and appreciation of the HTG are alleviating food insecurity in parts of the country. However, crop production is below average and staple food prices remain high, while the underlying macroeconomic challenges and socio-economic instability persist. In September, the retail price of maize and rice ranged up to approximately 80 percent above the five-year average, while the price of beans ranged up to 86 percent of the five-year average.

    • Socio-economic instability combined with high and rising food prices are expected to lead to more widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in Haiti during the lean season, which will begin as early as March. The effect of the Central Bank’s recent monetary interventions on the HTG is expected to diminish, leading to another rise in food prices that reduces household purchasing power. Poor and very poor households will likely continue to adopt crisis or stressed coping strategies in an effort to meet their food consumption needs.



    • From mid-September until the first dekad in October, rain was unevenly distributed throughout Haiti. However, current crops are growing normally. The vegetation index has been slightly higher than normal since mid-July. This shows that there has been sufficient beneficial moisture.
    • The security climate is sub-optimal, due to events such as targeted assassinations, kidnappings, sporadic socio-political demonstrations, among others. Additionally, the Provisional Election Council has been formed to organize the upcoming elections, but not on a consensual basis. This leads to fears that the above-mentioned events may ramp up. This risks further harm to food availability and access, given the impact on market supplies and prices
    • Additionally, the gourde (Haitian currency) which had risen by more than 80 percent as compared to the US dollar between August 10 and September 30, has, since October 1, stabilized at approximately 62 gourdes to the US dollar. This caused prices for imported food products such as rice, cooking oil, and wheat flour, to fall significantly.
    • Livelihoods are still disrupted, despite a slight improvement in economic access, due to falling prices. Poor and very poor households will continue to use crisis or stressed strategies to maintain their current levels of food consumption. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity situations will continue in most regions.

    For more information, see the Haiti Food Security Outlook for October 2020 to May 2021.


    • Though in limited capacity, as of October, all economic activities are operational. While agricultural activity has remained steady and remittances have recovered, other activities linked to personal services, trade, and restaurants requiring a large staff, as well as tourism, have been the most affected. Recovering these sources of employment will be a slow process, as will be completely recovering collective public transport, which has not yet been formally reactivated.
    • Rainfall was favorable for basic grain crops from the primera cycle. The arrival of the fresh grains at the markets, starting at the end of August, made it possible to start the seasonal decrease in the prices of corn and beans. This trend will continue with the postrera harvests, keeping the prices stable. Black beans will, however, remain above average. The cost of transport has doubled or tripled, putting pressure on the limited income of the households that depend on it.
    • Most households throughout the country have been faced with a decrease in their income. Some of the strategies used to maintain an appropriate diet include adjusting the typical diet, using savings, and resorting to loans. Government assistance programs facilitated access to food for a few months. As long as their income sources are still below pre-pandemic levels, the households will continue to turn to different options to guarantee their food and other basic expenses, so they will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity.
    • Since October, the season of high demand for agricultural labor has led to an increase in the income of rural households. Less hiring for agricultural activities at the local level or outside the area, due to capacity restrictions, border controls, and transport difficulties, could affect the usual sum of daily wages. That income will be used to pay debts, decreasing their ability to purchase food and save for the coming months. Rural households, particularly in the Dry Corridor, will increase their use of negative coping strategies, marking the premature start of the season of scarcity, so they will experience food insecurity in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    For more information, see the Guatemala Food Security Outlook for October 2020 to May 2021.

    Remote Monitoring Countries[1]

    El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua

    • The average or above-average yields between November and February will fill the reserves of rural farming households and will increase household availability of basic grains, keeping prices close to the average throughout the period analyzed.
    • With the peak of the season for labor demand, from October to February, the income earned by laborers in the poorest rural households will increase seasonally but will not reach the levels of the previous year due to harvest reduction, the delayed start of the coffee harvest, limits on mobility and a greater supply of laborers.
    • In urban areas, lower prices and improved access to markets will maintain good food availability. However, a slow recovery in income, due to debt payment obligations and unemployment rates that remain above pre-COVID levels, will mean that the poorest households will have low purchasing power and continue to face the food limitations they are already confronting.
    • The rural food situation will improve until February, given the higher incomes from casual labor during cash crop harvest and from the Postrera and Apante harvests; therefore, the majority of households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with the exception of households in El Salvador that are dependent on coffee and the poorest households in the Dry Corridor of Honduras, which will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). An uptick in COVID cases will mean a return to certain restrictions on economic activities, which will mainly impact the urban area that will not see a recovery in income and employment levels. However, these households will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    For more information, see the El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua Remote Monitoring Report for October 2020 to May 2021.


    [1] With remote monitoring, an analyst typically works from a nearby regional office, relying on a network of partners for data. Compared to previous series of countries in which FEWS NET has a local office, reports on remote monitoring countries may offer less detail.




    Impact on food security outcomes


    Hurricane or tropical storm

    Floods and landslides would lead to significant losses of staple food or cash crops, with repercussions for labor from agricultural income. Other food and income sources, such as livestock production, fishing, and market access, would also be affected. In affected areas, an increase in the populations experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes would be most likely.


    Reinstatement of COVID-19 restrictions

    The reinstatement of COVID-19 restrictions to limit the spread of cases would likely further slow down the recovery of key income sources for many households, leading to additional reductions in their ability to purchase food. An increase in the populations facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes would be likely.


    Worsening socio-political situation

    An increase in violence that further disrupts economic activity, market access, and livelihoods activities would have consequences on household food availability and access. Many households would likely have increased difficulty purchasing food and have food consumption gaps, leading to more widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Figures Primera and Spring planting begins in April, and the harvest begins in July. Postrera planting begins in September, followed

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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