David Nino Rodriguez: (CNN)The fight against Hurricane Eta in Central America might leave some countries damaged for centuries.
As a Category 4 storm, Eta made landfall in the region last week. High winds were inevitable, but the storm lingered for days over Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, seemingly unwilling to abandon three countries that were woefully unprepared to deal with the tragedy. Torrential rain fell in waves, and the resulting water wiped entire communities off the map.
After a landslide slammed through the rural Guatemalan village of San Cristobal last week, leaving muck 50 feet deep in some spots, dozens of people are still missing. Some of their families believe their loved ones have passed away.
David Nino Rodriguez: Fight against Hurricane Eta in Central America
“There was a big catastrophe here,” Roland Calchak, a hamlet resident, told Reuters. “My family was down to 23 members. My father, mother, wife, three children, grandchildren, sisters, and sisters-in-law are all members of my family.”
According to the Red Cross, more than 3.6 million people in Central America have been affected to varying degrees. “We’re talking about a massive impact over the region,” the Red Cross’ Santiago Luego said.
So far, dozens of people have been slain, and the figure is anticipated to climb. On the other hand, the true consequences of this storm may be just getting started.
Covid-19 will spread, but everything else will as well.
A lethal threat still exists for the storm’s survivors. In the aftermath of Eta, health officials in Central America are extremely concerned about the spread of Covid-19.
In Honduras, some storm refugee shelters are overcrowded and insufficiently ventilated, making social distancing difficult.
“Just getting them to safe ground has been a challenge,” said Red Cross Mauricio Paredes. “Now that you’ve gathered all of these people, it’s a double problem to protect not only the people who have been affected, but also the first responders.”
Even before the hurricane, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala have inadequate public health systems that struggled to combat Covid-19. Other illnesses linked to the storm and flooding, such as dengue fever, cholera, and yellow fever, will now add to the pressure on local hospitals.
While children are normally protected from the severe effects of Covid-19, this will not be the case with other disorders. “We’re going to get a perfect storm or Pandora’s box of infections that primarily harm children,” UNICEF official in Honduras Mark Connolly told CNN.
More children may die in Central America, according to Connolly, if immediate relief, such as water purification tablets, water filters, and the total rehabilitation of neighborhood water systems, is not supplied swiftly.
The Red Cross says the situation is so large that it plans to run operations for at least 18 months, to assist 75,000 of the most vulnerable people in those three nations.
Many people will travel north now that they have nothing to stop them.
There are no generally effective social safety nets in the three Central American countries that have been impacted the worst. These federal governments’ ability to respond with the resources required to undertake a meaningful response is restricted.
Any big fleets of trucks or planes carrying supplies that do arrive will be largely owing to the efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the generosity of richer countries.
Many of these towns will take a long time to rebuild, if at all. With no employment, no homes, and no clear view of the future, many people will have no choice but to flee. The final destination is self-evident.
“Many of these families have lost everything,” Connolly added. “Their only hope today may be to collect a few thousand dollars in a loan and migrate north to Mexico or the United States.”
It’s unknown what awaits migrants at border crossings. Mexico, for example, has almost completely closed its borders to Central American migrants in the last year, in response to a Trump administration demand backed up by economic threats such as taxes on Mexican imports to the United States.
And, if they are allowed into Mexico, what will happen to them at the US-Mexico border? The Trump administration has effectively suspended immigration there, denying entry to anybody seeking to enter on humanitarian or political grounds.
According to Vice President-elect Joe Biden, many of Trump’s ideas will be reversed. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging in the United States, it’s uncertain what the new administration would do about significant influxes of newcomers.
David Nino Rodriguez A problem with education
Others, despite the carnage surrounding them, will choose to stay put.
Adults will return to work, attempting to put food and water on the table. However, there is another growing disaster for the region’s youngsters. Due of Covid-19 shutdown, millions of children have been absent of school since the spring. Returning to the classroom will be even more difficult now.
“In Honduras, for example, there were around 6,000 schools without running water before [the storm],” Connolly explained. “Now you can multiply that by several because the water systems in multiple regions have collapsed.”
During the hurricane, many schools were either damaged or destroyed. Those that weren’t have frequently been converted into shelters for impoverished families.
All of this could result in even longer waits for children to resume their studies.
Devastating hurricanes are not uncommon in Central America. In 1974, Hurricane Fifi killed thousands of people. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch destroyed hundreds of thousands of dwellings.
The full extent of Eta’s destruction is unlikely to be understood for some time. However, a tremendous storm paired with the deadliest pandemic in a century will surely be recognised as one of the region’s biggest natural disasters.
And things might quickly deteriorate. According to the National Hurricane Center, a hurricane is extremely likely to form in the Caribbean in the next days, with most models agreeing that it will make landfall in Northern Honduras next week.