Exploration on Natural Disasters and Development in Honduras

By Angelica Gualpa

About a year ago, I booked a ticket to La Ceiba, Honduras, to volunteer with a local organization in a small town by the beach called El Porvenir.  We passed through pineapple valleys and countryside farms in the taxi before entering the community that I would call home for the next couple of months. As we drove closer to the volunteer house, the water levels rose higher and higher until the taxi could no longer drive. People were throwing buckets of water out of their homes, streets started to resemble rivers, and the entire region was left without electricity. After back-to-back once-in-a-century hurricanes,1 my neighbors lost everything. They left El Porvenir to head to the North.

In Honduras, when it rains, it pours. Hurricanes, floods, and tropical storms invade the homes of 4 million Hondurans, leaving families stranded, hungry, and the country in a state of pure devastation.2 In 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota left 2.5 million people food insecure.3 The country’s largest airport, San Pedro Sula, was completely submerged.4 With Honduras’ 517 miles of Caribbean coastline, one can only imagine how much damage was done, and how much action is needed to repair Honduras. The responsibility of this repair should be on the shoulders of the Honduran government, but as we saw in 2020,  locals and foreign aid took on the response. Change must be shaped around sustainable development on emergency disasters to protect the homes and families of Honduran citizens.

The Strength and Limitations of Local Networks

With 85,200 homes damaged by the hurricanes last year,5 Honduran locals worked on the ground to provide immediate assistance to reinforce stability in communities on and off the coastline.6 Local organizations, including Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN), Hope United Foundation, and the Hispanic Federation, came to the rescue.7 They supplied food, rescued families using boats, and provided shelters for hundreds of displaced Hondurans. The local networks stepped up and responded immediately. But they were filling a gap. The lack of coordination and response to disasters left locals with the duties and responsibilities of the Honduran government. While the locals on the ground and foreign aid provided immediate relief, the Honduran government failed to cater to the long-term after-effects of climate change-driven disasters. And is not prepared for the next one either.

The Role of Foreign Aid

While foreign aid is essential to rebuilding the Hurricane’s destruction, it is limited in the government’s role to address urgent humanitarian crises. The U.S. Agency for International Development gave $30 million to Honduras for humanitarian assistance for those impacted by Hurricane Iota and Eta.8 While the U.S was prepared to alleviate the impact of the hurricane’s devastation, Honduras was not. The government lacks proper planning and coordination of foreign aid to improve living conditions, provide resources, and address humanitarian stability. The delay in national emergency response impedes development and stability, leaving Hondurans vulnerable and displaced even after help from the United States. Sustainable change from the Honduran government is way overdue.

Government Failure and Absenteeism

Some might argue that foreign aid is enough to cover the cost of the damages nationwide. However, monetary aid alone is counter-productive. The Honduran government must be  accountable for its inaction and unpreparedness to respond to the insecurity of millions Hondurans. The Honduran government responded with 100 municipal shelters for 247,000 internally displaced Hondurans, not even 1% of the affected population.9 Hurricane season is current, and Honduras’ recovery efforts remain unfinished, leaving millions of Hondurans vulnerable and susceptible to the full wrath of natural disasters.10 Why is the government lacking an immediate and sustainable response to an urgent and persistent humanitarian crisis?

Investment in the Future

It’s one month away from the end of Hurricane season in Central America. President Juan Orlando Hernandez called for help from other nations after the hurricane hit the country.11 Now we must call the Honduran government to implement a disaster response plan using foreign aid.

The plan must include a sustainable approach: invest U.S aid to create a dam in Coastal regions to prevent water from entering the mainland and lessen the impact of destruction throughout the nation. On a local scale, the government must invest U.S aid in Honduras Solidarity Network’s community centers where government advocates work with community members to distribute food, rescue families, and create shelter during emergencies. Throughout this process, HSN can establish committees where locals and government advocates work together to plan and coordinate response efforts for each region. With an inclusive and sustainable plan, Honduras can fight against the destruction of an entire nation.

Angelica Gualpa is in the MPA-PNP program at Robert F. Wagner’s Graduate School of Public Service. As a first-generation, Latinx student Angelica wants to uplift and draw attention to the social issues within Latin America and advocate for social global impact.

1 Berrerdelli, J. Ida’s Remains Threaten Once in A Century Flood Event in the Northeast. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ida-flooding-northeast-hurricane-remains/

2 Reuters. Honduras’ Hurricane Losses Total 1.9 Billion, Far Below Government’s Estimate, UN Says. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/honduras-hurricane-losses-total-1-9-billion-far-below-government-n1251915

3 When it rains, it pours: The Devastating Impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/12/devastating-impact-hurricanes-eta-iota-honduras/

4 Zuniga, A. San Pedro Sula Honduras Airport Submerged by Hurricane Iota Flood

5 Cabezas, J. Honduras Hurricanes Push Thousands into Homelessness. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/storms-honduras/honduras-hurricanes-push-thousands-into-homelessness-idUSKBN28L276

6 Honduras Solidarity Network. Honduras Solidarity Networks Hurricane Eta and Iota Emergency Response Fund https://afgj.salsalabs.org/2020hondurashurricaneeta/index.html

7 Central America Hurricane Response Fund. https://hispanicfederation.org/ca_hurricaneresponsefund/  

8 Office of Press Relations. United States Announces Additional Humanitarian Aid for People Affected by Hurricane Iota and Eta. https://reliefweb.int/report/honduras/united-states-announces-additional-humanitarian-aid-people-affected-hurricanes-iota

9 Central America and Mexico. The UN Refugee Agency. March 2021. https://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20Central%20America%20and%20Mexico%20update-March%202021.pdf

10 De La Garza, A. The Start of Hurricane Season Brings Anxieties to Central America, Still Reeling from Last Year’s Disasters. TIME. https://time.com/6053535/hurricane-season-2021/

11 Cabezas, J. Honduras Hurricanes Push Thousands to Homelessness. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/storms-honduras/honduras-hurricanes-push-thousands-into-homelessness-idUSKBN28L276