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Food security affected by Tropical Depression 12-E and subsequent rainfall

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • October 2011 - March 2012
Food security affected by Tropical Depression 12-E and subsequent rainfall

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario (October 2011 – March 2010)
  • Table 1. Less probable events during the next six months that could change the above scenarios
  • Key Messages
    • The high accumulations of rainfall and the strong winds from Tropical Depression 12-E, combined with subsequent low pressure systems, caused significant damage to Guatemala’s highway network, water and sanitation infrastructure, and housing, as well as crop losses, particularly on the southern coast, in the southern portion of Petén and on the altiplano.

    • The altiplano is extremely vulnerable to food insecurity resulting from crop losses. Although day wages earned during the last quarter of the year will allow households to purchase food supplies, they will have to resort to external assistance in order to fully satisfy their food needs. This area will be at the Stressed level (Phase 2, IPC), with some areas in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC). From January to March, upon the conclusion of coffee bean picking and the sugar cane harvest, the area’s poorest households will have difficulty consuming sufficient food, and as a result of poor crop yields they will enter the Crisis stage during the first quarter of the year.

    • The food security situation in the eastern region, currently in the Stressed stage, will remain unchanged during this period, as income generation from day labor will provide for the purchase of food, and crop losses in the region were not as extensive as in other regions of the country. Over the course of the first quarter of next year, the situation will become more critical but will not reach the Crisis stage.

    • For households in the southern region, post-harvest losses of maize from the first planting (caused by the high levels of humidity resulting from constant rains), together with crop losses from the second planting, will reduce food reserves, which are projected to become depleted earlier than usual. Income generation during the ensuing six-month period will make it possible to satisfy food requirements. During the next six months, a majority of the region’s poorest households will be at Stressed levels, with some at Crisis levels – a deterioration in food security in this area.

    Most likely food security scenario (October 2011 – March 2010)

    The food security situation has deteriorated as a result of the impacts of Tropical Depression 12-E and subsequent low pressure systems, which produced intense rainfall and strong winds throughout almost the entire country. This in turn led to rivers overflowing their banks, landslides of varying magnitudes, and flooding that affected the country’s infrastructure, housing and crops. Official figures indicate a total of 78,000 people affected, with 38 deaths and more than 15,000 housed in temporary shelters. Estimates of agricultural and economic damages require a field assessment, which has been hampered by persistent flooding and difficulties in accessing affected areas. As a result, the government has declared a state of public emergency for a period of 30 days, which is renewable for additional periods.

    Although the effects of the tropic depression were strongest in the southern and western regions of the country, rainfall caused by the low pressure systems impacted the all areas of the country. As a result, the most likely scenario as projected in the previous report has changed considerably. According to that report, the food security situation would have improved significantly throughout the country, upon the successful harvest of crops from the first planting, with yields better than those obtained in the preceding two years, while second planting crops had not suffered any significant effects.

    Highway infrastructure was seriously affected.  Bridges were destroyed or structurally damaged, highways blocked by landslides and cave-ins, and there was widespread flooding. Secondary roads also are in a very poor state, making movement impossible and hampering access to and from markets.  As a result, the flow of food from production areas to consumers has been slowed.  In a number of cases, this has led to crop losses and increased prices. The rainy season is about to conclude, however, which will contribute to the improvement of conditions along some roads and highways.  In addition, it is projected that the most important travel routes will be repaired and placed back in operation by the government.

    Although the maize- and bean-producing areas (the Northern Transverse Strip and the southern portion of Petén) did not initially face the direct impact of the tropical depression, intense rainfall during the ensuing days produced heavy flooding and caused rivers to overflow their banks. This is significant because crops from these areas supply grain to the national market, and contribute to price behavior. Most of the production from the first planting had already been harvested, and with the humidity that remains in the soil, there exists the possibility of replanting in areas that suffered second planting crop losses.

    Given the magnitude of this shock, potable water access and sanitation infrastructure were seriously affected. This situation, combined with the fact that the low temperature season will soon begin, will lead to an increase in the number of cases of gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.  As a result of the accumulation of standing water, cases of dengue fever are expected to increase. This increase in morbidity will lead to a deterioration in health status.

    Altiplano (livelihood zone 5, particularly homes located on riverbanks and hillsides)

    At the time when the tropical depression made landfall, most of the homes in this area were in the annual hunger season, a critical period in which household food reserves are depleted and there is no demand for farm labor as a source of income. An improvement in this situation had been expected because of the onset of the high season for labor in crops such as coffee and sugar cane, and because the only basic grain crop was almost ready for harvest, with yields expected to be greater than those seen in the last two years. These two occurrences were expected to increase both food availability and access for the poorest households.

    The high accumulation of rain, however, caused rivers to overflow their banks and produce landslides of a wide range of magnitudes, due to the region’s irregular topography. These events had a negative impact on maize and bean production, with reports of damage from landslides and flooding. At the time, maize was beginning to mature. In some places ears had begun to appear, while in others they had not yet developed. Although it has not been possible to conduct an adequate assessment of the current status of agriculture due to problems of access, heavy losses are projected for this region. This means that the affected population will not be able to replenish its food supplies with grain from harvested crops, as expected. For those households suffering a total loss, it signifies a prolongation of the lack of food reserves for at least one full year, because the period required for crop growth in this area is quite long. These households will have increased dependence on income they are able to generate from day wages in order to satisfy their food needs. Homes suffering only partial losses, however, will have reserves for one to two months.

    It is projected that crop losses and the difficult access to markets resulting from damages to the country’s highway infrastructure will lead to a temporary increase in food prices at a point on the seasonal calendar when a decrease is normally reported. This increase, however, is not expected to be particularly large, as crops already harvested in production areas will begin to move. In the altiplano, although 80% of extremely poor and poor households depend on purchased maize, and 97% on beans for the entire year, this dependence will decrease considerably in November, when the harvest is brought in, and will stay lower until February or March, when all reserves will have been consumed. As a result of crop losses and damage, however, it is probable that reserves will be depleted one or two months earlier. In this area, approximately 25% of the population is classified as extremely poor, while 50% falls in the socioeconomically poor group.

    Poor and extremely poor households in this region depend on the sale of labor (day laborers to work in farm crops such as coffee and sugar cane) for 60% of their income. October marks the beginning of the peak demand for labor. At least initially, the coffee sector has not projected any extensive damage, which means that households depending on farm wages will have employment for the next five or six months; the income earned will be used for the purchase of food. Although the sugar cane sector has reported damages, assurances have been given that these damages are not particularly significant as regards the demand for labor. A delay in the commencement of the sugar cane harvest is projected, however, particularly as a result of flooding and poor road conditions. Moreover, a reduction in household purchasing power is expected as a result of food prices being higher than projected for this time of year.  However, labor-based income will bring to an end the most critical season of the year, and employment opportunities will not be significantly affected.

    The low temperatures expected over the next four months will contribute to an increase in respiratory diseases, particularly among those population groups suffering housing damage or loss. Freezing temperatures and strong winds can also be expected to cause damage to vegetable crops, which will likely begin a new production cycle following the recent losses. This will further impact negatively on the economy of the region, particularly in regards to the day labor demand generated by this sector for the poorest households, and an increase in the price of these products for the entire country.

    As response mechanisms, this region’s poorest households may resort to the sale of the few domestic animals they possess (chickens) to obtain cash, and may decrease the number of meals consumed. An increase in migration to other productive areas, such as Mexico, the southern region of Guatemala, and other areas of within the same region, is also possible. For the time being, no emergency food assistance has been scheduled for this area.

    During the first quarter of this period, it is expected that the region’s poorest households will partially satisfy their food needs through purchasing, which will be possible by virtue of income received from the sale of unskilled labor. The poorest households in this area will be at the Stressed level, with other areas at the Crisis level.

    During the first quarter of the year, it is expected that conditions will begin to deteriorate considerably, particularly toward the latter part of the quarter. The season of high demand for day laborers will end early, which in turn will reduce total net income received. Figure 3, (page 2), shows this region to be in the Crisis phase, and conditions will most likely remain at this level until the next harvest, in late 2012.

    Eastern region (especially livelihood zones 7 and 8[1], which include the departments of El Progreso, Santa Rosa, Chiquimula, Zacapa, Jalapa and Jutiapa)

    This region includes the “dry corridor,” an area characterized by arid conditions that typically hamper agricultural activities in the region, while at the same time impacting the regional economy and food supply. Rainfall in this region was not of the same magnitude as that observed in the rest of the country. Rainfall did, however, surpass historic averages for October. Greater precipitation this year contributed to improved growth in first planting maize crops, and it was expected that bean crops would also record better production levels than those observed last year. In this area, the crops most affected by flooding and overflowing rivers are those planted on the banks of rivers, creeks and streams, and in low-lying areas. Maize crops located in the highest areas of the region were also affected, since their growth is slower than that of maize planted in lower-lying areas. The excessive humidity and strong winds produced both damage and loss.

    The greatest damage will be observed in the bean crop, which is the primary crop for the second planting and which supplies the national market. Beans are extremely susceptible to high levels of humidity, and it is projected that damage caused by fungus and rotting may occur in the near future. There are also reports of damages to vegetable crops, such as tomato and pimento chili pepper.

    According to FAO reports, maize prices paid to the producer have shown an increase, following the start of a decrease subsequent to the conclusion of the first planting harvest. Bean prices, conversely, have not shown any significant variance, since households in the region have grain remaining from the recent first planting harvest. As this product is consumed and demand increases, however, it is expected that the price of beans will be subject to pressure, with increases inevitable. In this region, the poorest socioeconomic groups depend on purchases for between 50% and 75% of their basic grain needs.

    The greatest source of income for the poorest households is the sale of unskilled labor, and this current season marks the beginning of the period of greatest demand for that labor, with the commencement of harvest periods for coffee, tobacco, cantaloupe, watermelon and to a lesser extent, sugar cane. There have been reports of only minor damages to coffee plants, and as a result, the number of laborers hired is not expected to decrease significantly. Damages to tobacco on the south coast appear to be somewhat more extensive, which could mean a lower level of income from this activity. Damages to sugar cane do not appear to be particularly extensive, although flooding could delay the harvest. With the income received from these activities, households will be able to purchase food which, under normal circumstances, would come from their own production.

    Households that have seen their harvest reduced by damage or loss, including post-harvest losses resulting from the excess humidity in the environment, will see a reduction in their reserves for 2012, with an early onset of the annual hunger season for the third consecutive year.

    As response mechanisms, the region’s poorest households may resort to selling the few domestic animals they own (chickens) in order to obtain cash, as well as to decreasing the number of meals consumed. Also probable is an increase in migration to other productive sectors, such as Mexico and Guatemala City.

    It is expected that the region’s poorest households will be at Stressed levels (Phase 2, see figure 2), since negative effects were not widespread during the first quarter of this period, and because they have available some stocks of basic grains from their harvests. Those who suffered a total loss of their harvest, however, may have to satisfy their food needs through purchases. In addition, prior to the recent rainfall, some external assistance was already being provided under Title II emergency programs; this will mitigate to an extent the shortage that these households may see in their basic grain reserves. For all of the region’s poor households, the onset of the period of high demand for unskilled labor will lead to an improvement in access to food.

    Over the course of the first quarter of the year, it is projected that conditions will begin to deteriorate, as it is quite probable that recent damage and losses will cause household reserves to last one to two months less than normal. Moreover, sources of employment will begin to decrease seasonally, and it is quite probable that the harvest period for crops requiring a large number of day laborers will be shortened. This region’s poorest households are not yet expected to enter the Crisis phase, however. The end of the outlook period will mark the beginning of the annual hunger season.

    Southern Coast (especially livelihood zones 12 and 13[2], which include the departments of Escuintla, Suchitepéquez, Retalhuleu and the low-lying areas of San Marcos, Santa Rosa and Jutiapa)

    The south coast region received the largest amount of rain, as can be seen in Figure 4. The first production cycle for maize had already concluded, with good yields in this area, given the adequate levels of rainfall. Some areas are reported to have an excess of maize, making the supply of this grain to other areas of the country possible, particularly the altiplano. Production of beans for consumption is considerably lower than maize production, but like maize, suffered no damage. In the production cycle for the second planting, the poorest farmers plant maize, while farmers in the mid-range socioeconomic group produce sesame, the harvest of which normally begins in November. This crop is subsequently sold and the income received used to purchase agricultural inputs for the subsequent basic grains crops. This activity is a source of employment for the extremely poor, who are landless and depend exclusively on the wages they earn as farm laborers.

    According to an assessment conducted by Acción Contra el Hambre (ACF-E) in municipalities of the departments of Escuintla, Jutiapa and Santa Rosa, maize planted in those communities suffered damages of between 50% and 100%, while the bean crops in Moyuta and Pasaco, both municipalities of Jutiapa, suffered damages amounting to as much as 93%. Santa Rosa also reports losses affecting the sesame crop, and all of the municipalities evaluated also reported losses of poultry. Agricultural losses included the harvest of first planting crops that were still in the field, as well as household reserves and crops from the second production cycle, which had been planted about one month earlier. In these municipalities, the impact was sufficiently severe to push affected households into Crisis conditions in the coming months.

    During the next six months, the harvest of sugar cane and the gathering of coffee beans will take place, resulting in a large volume of unskilled employment opportunities available for households in the poorest socioeconomic groups. This in turn will provide the poor households (which suffered post-harvest losses of first-planting grain crops and/or damage or losses to second-planting crops) the means to obtain food. Once this employment opportunity has concluded, however, the food security situation of these households will be greatly compromised.

    Homes located on the coast depend on fishing for their livelihood, along with wage labor. Fishing activities were suspended at the beginning of the month, as a result of dangerous conditions at sea. The result was that these households had no product to sell or to consume. Once conditions improve, however, these households will return to their fishing activities and once again receive an income. Increased day labor activities during the following six months will also benefit these households, which will be at Crisis levels owing to health and access conditions resulting from the heavy rains spawned by Tropical Depression 12-E.

    Institutions affiliated with the United Nations System are currently considering the possibility of requesting, through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), approval of funds for the distribution of food aid that would be additional to the support provided to the water and sanitation, shelter, health and nutrition sectors.

    Table 1. Less probable events during the next six months that could change the above scenarios



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Entire country

    Significantly diminished demand for unskilled labor as compared to previous years, as a result of unforeseen damages caused by excessive rainfall

    A reduction in the number of day laborers hired or in the rate paid to such laborers, with a resulting decrease in income for those households depending on this source of income. For the affected population, this will create difficulties in accessing and purchasing food, since their cash income will have decreased and market prices will be above not only historic averages but also above the prices in effect in 2010.

    Altiplano and eastern region

    External food aid is not distributed during the coming months

    If this aid does not materialize, particularly in the altiplano, affected households will be unable to meet their food requirements and will enter a Crisis situation.

    Figures Seasonal calendar and critical events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar and critical events

    Source: MFEWS

    Figure 1. Estimated acute food insecurity outcomes, October 2011

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Estimated acute food insecurity outcomes, October 2011

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4. Accumulated rainfall (in millimeters), October 1-17, 2011

    Figure 3

    Figure 4. Accumulated rainfall (in millimeters), October 1-17, 2011

    Source: INSIVUMEH

    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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