Each year an estimated 1.7 million Central Americans are hit by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, droughts or hurricanes. The disasters are often under-reported, particularly in the case of medium-scale or climate-related events such as floods and droughts, although their humanitarian impact can be severe.
In addition, the region suffers from high levels of violence; the homicides rates are among the highest in the world.
High exposure to natural hazards combined with poverty and extreme levels of violence are eroding the coping capacities of local populations and institutions, leading to recurrent emergency situations. When disasters hit the region, the most pressing needs usually include temporary shelter, food, safe water, proper sanitation, primary health care, protection, basic relief items, hygiene promotion, infrastructure repairs, and the recovery of livelihoods. Given the high levels of vulnerability, empowering communities and local institutions to prepare for, and respond to natural hazards optimises resources.
Central America also suffers the humanitarian consequences of pervasive violence, a silent emergency which has permeated entire countries, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee the “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras. The organised violence has led to death rates similar to war, causing forced displacement, lack of access to basic services, the recruitment of children and confinement of populations by armed groups.
Since 1994, the European Commission has allocated €223 million in humanitarian aid to Central America and Mexico. About two thirds (€148 million) helped respond to emergencies such as floods, droughts, epidemics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, internal displacements and the humanitarian consequences of organised violence. The remaining third (€74.3 million) has been invested in preparing vulnerable communities and their institutions to face future disasters.
In 2017, the Commission released €2.1 million to assist the most vulnerable populations in Guatemala and to respond to the food crisis in the most vulnerable communities affected by recurrent droughts and the deterioration of the institutional capacity for prevention and attention at local and national levels. For 2018, €1 million has been allocated to strengthen food security in the region.
The Commission also provided support to Mexico following the deadly earthquakes of 7 and 19 September 2017, which claimed over 450 lives and affected some 7 million children. The Commission released €158 000 to help 1640 students and 41 teachers from Oaxaca to restart their classes. Under the European Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU deployed expert structural engineers to help assess buildings damaged by the seism.
Through the Education in Emergency programme, from 2016 to 2017 the Commission allocated €1.8 million to facilitate access to education, protection, and health care, including psychological support, for children, adolescents and their families in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador affected by the humanitarian consequences of the violence.
The European Commission integrates disaster risk reduction (DRR) in all its projects, and dedicates specific programmes to addressing these risks. The disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO) focuses on strengthening the capacities of local communities and institutions, by enabling them to identify risks and to take mitigation measures so as to be better prepared to respond to natural hazards.
The 2017-2018 DIPECHO dedicates granted €2 million to disaster preparedness activities in Central America, benefiting 15 900 people in the region. For 2018, €3 million have been allocated to strengthen local capacities through DIPECHO projects.