By Isabel Nieves, Intern
We often hear about the devastating effects of climate change and the future consequences if we do not begin taking greater action to prevent it. However, the domino effect of human rights issues caused by climate change is often forgotten. The negative impact of climate change is not limited to those who contribute the most to CO2 emissions, as one area that has become most vulnerable to the destructive effects is the Northern Triangle region in Central America, which consists of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The agriculture sector in the region has become more difficult to maintain with escalated risk of droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events caused by climate change, in turn causing food scarcity in the region to worsen. The lack of food security has further stemmed immigration as families in the region look for better opportunities in the United States, one of the countries contributing the most to their climate change crisis.
The Impact of Climate Change in the Northern Triangle
Climate change has become increasingly evident through the increase in the frequency of extreme droughts, floods, forest fires, and hurricanes that have caused mass destruction in numerous communities around the world. Most recently to hit the U.S., Hurricane Maria tore through parts of Puerto Rico in 2017, and the island is still recovering from its deadly aftermath nearly four years later. The surge in hurricanes due to climate change has also impacted the Northern Triangle region, causing not one but two hurricanes within the past year. Back-to-back, Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota wrought catastrophic damage in the region, leaving more than 5.3 million people in need of aid. Research on the global climate risk index by Germanwatch found that between 1998 and 2017, Honduras was among the top two countries that were most affected by extreme weather conditions.
The increase in extreme weather conditions has significantly impacted the local communities, especially local farms in which agriculture makes up 14% of Honduras’s GDP. Many families have nothing to sell or eat with large productions of coffee, corn, and beans withered by droughts, leaving many hungry. In 2018, the Honduran government declared a state of emergency due to food shortages, with over 100,000 families lacking adequate food. Despite the active response in providing families with food, hunger continues to deepen in the country as nearly one-third of the population continues to face issues with food scarcity and nearly two-thirds lives in poverty.
With families already fleeing the Northern Triangle region due to economic instability, government persecution, and violence, the effects of climate change have compounded the need to escape. The climate crisis has further exacerbated the number of displaced individuals and families. This has led to a projected estimate of 3.9 million climate refugees seeking better opportunities and safety in the U.S. within the next three decades. In response, the Biden administration is attempting to curb illegal immigration into the U.S. by addressing the governance, economic, and security challenges in the Northern Triangle region, and has donated $115 million to El Salvador alone to advance their efforts. However, the U.S. must also consider its own contribution in causing the climate crisis in the region.
Call for Preventative Action and Assistance
Rather than efforts aimed to solely discourage immigration, the U.S. needs to shift its focus by addressing its own role in effecting climate change. Additionally, international organizations and development agencies, such as USAID, will need to continue to provide support to countries in the Northern Triangle region and implement creative solutions to improve the agriculture sector and economic opportunities, thus helping to increase food security and stemming migration. Large corporations and countries contributing the most to CO2 emissions need to be held accountable for their involvement in causing climate change and should offer relief to the communities most affected by their actions. Although we are unable to reverse the damage that has been done, preventative action needs to be taken immediately to avoid further destruction and other human rights violations in the Northern Triangle region and the world.