Photo: NRC

Hundreds of thousands still waiting for humanitarian aid in Honduras and Guatemala

Published 08. Dec 2020
More than four weeks since tropical storms Eta and Iota devastated Honduras and Guatemala, more than 400,000 people remain in temporary shelters, while thousands are living on the streets in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Honduras 8 December 2020: New UN data reveals that of 5.5 million people affected by successive tropical storms Eta and Iota in Honduras and Guatemala last month: 400,000 people remain in ill-equipped temporary shelters, while 140,000 homes were destroyed in the storms. As many as 330,000 remain cut off from emergency assistance by destroyed roads and disrupted communications in Honduras. This crisis has hit a region with humanitarian needs that already vastly exceed available resources.

“The situation is utterly dire. Entire communities have been cut off by floods and landslides. Hundreds of thousands of people are yet to receive humanitarian assistance, thousands are sleeping on the streets and under bridges,” warns Dominika Arseniuk, Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director for Central America and Colombia. “People here are being forced to tolerate intolerable conditions in a region consistently neglected by the humanitarian community.”  

The most recent storms have compounded the region’s pre-existing humanitarian crises. Six months ago, 5.2 million people were found to be in need of humanitarian assistance across Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala due to years of chronic and extreme violence, displacement, food insecurity and the increasingly adverse impacts of climate change. The region has also become synonymous with highly publicised caravans of migrants and refugees desperately seeking safety and opportunity outside the region. More recently, Covid-19 lockdowns paralysed local economies and over-stretched health systems, all before the tropical storms pushed needs to unprecedented levels.

On the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, one of the largest cities in Honduras, hundreds of displaced families have set up improvised shelters using sticks and plastic sheets, with only pieces of cardboard for mattresses. Others sleep under bridges, and tens of thousands have lost their homes and belongings, leaving them with nowhere to go. Few people have face masks, soap or clean water to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Marlon (32), his pregnant wife and one-year-old daughter lost all their possessions in the floods. They had to quickly flee when the hurricanes struck and are now staying at the outskirts of San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Marlon told the Norwegian Refugee Council:

“We slept outside a building without having any food. We managed to bring some clothes for my daughter, but my wife and myself only had what we were wearing. That first night, the rain poured down on us and we have been living on the streets since then,”

The Norwegian Refugee Council, along with twelve other international organisations, has repeatedly called on the United Nations (UN) to develop a funding plan to support humanitarian response efforts for the region of the North of Central America. Without such a plan, the humanitarian response will remain underfunded and poorly coordinated. 

“This region has been completely neglected by the international community. It has one of the highest levels of people leaving and seeking asylum in the world. The number of violent crime-related deaths is higher than in many of the world’s worst war zones. And it is one of the most affected by extreme weather events, as we’ve seen this year. What more does it take for the humanitarian community to step up?” said Arseniuk.

Facts and figures:

  • In Honduras: 3.8 million people have been affected by Eta and Iota, 61,000 homes have been destroyed. 95,000 people are living in shelters one month after the storms, while communication and roads are estimated to have been cut to 330,000 people.
  • In Guatemala: 1.7 million people have been affected, 79,000 homes have been destroyed and 309,000 are living in shelters.
  • Before the Covid-19 pandemic and the storms, the United Nations found that 5.2 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala due to chronic violence, food insecurity and displacement.
  • “Per the United States' National Hurricane Center (NHC), major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin during November form every seven to eight years, making Eta and Iota's formations within weeks of each other a historical feat. The 2020 season closed as the most active hurricane season ever recorded with 30 named storms, more than twice the long-term yearly average of 12 named storms, including thirteen hurricanes and six major hurricanes, also twice as much or more than average.” OCHA, 4th December 2020 
  • Criminal groups have already started to exploit the situation, blocking humanitarian actors from accessing communities and extorting people as they try to return home.
  • There is a risk that Covid-19 and other diseases, such as dengue, will spread.
  • New caravans of women, men and children are being organised on social media, as people see no other option than to pack their remaining belongings and flee the region because of the worsening situation.
  • In 1998, the world came to the rescue of Honduras and Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. Now, 22 years later, Eta and Iota have caused similar devastation, yet this time on top of an existing humanitarian crisis of violence, displacement and food insecurity, and the region has been neglected by the international community and donors.

Notes to editors:

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