Central America and Mexico are regularly exposed to natural hazards requiring emergency aid for around 1.7 million people per year. Climate change and the coronavirus pandemic threaten the food security of vulnerable populations in the Dry Corridor of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. At least 4.4 million people are in need of food assistance. The pandemic has also increased the levels of violence, forcing people to flee their countries. More than 1 million people are internally displaced and about half a million are refugees and asylum seekers.
The humanitarian crisis caused by rampant levels of organised violence, particularly in the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador), triggers humanitarian and protection needs similar to those in conflict areas and linked to forced displacement, forced (child) recruitment, sexual and gender-based violence, restrictions in access to basic services, and extortion. With the coronavirus pandemic, armed groups have been taking advantage of lockdown measures to strengthen their control.
Assistance is needed to provide for immediate needs (health, water and sanitation, shelter, essential household items) as well as safety and protection and recovery of livelihoods. Asylum seekers have additional needs linked to their uncertain legal status in their host country, often limiting their access to services and employment, and to the rise in xenophobia and discrimination.
To better respond to natural hazards and the increased food insecurity, communities and local institutions need to be further empowered and increase their coping capacities.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 5.2 million people in need were living in the northern sub-region of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) before the coronavirus pandemic. This figure represents 17% of the CAM population and has significantly increased compared to the 3.5 million registered in 2016.
The European Union is one of the few donors that started targeted funding in 2018, responding to urgent relief needs generated by violence, while addressing food insecurity and disaster preparedness and response throughout the region.
Disaster Preparedness (DP) is integrated in all projects, with targeted actions focusing on strengthening local communities and institutions, enabling them to identify risks and mitigation measures before natural hazards affect them. DP includes the support for the implementation of national and local policies, setting up of early warning systems, training communities to evacuate civilians or provide emergency health care to victims.
Since 1994, the European Union allocated €257.4 million in humanitarian aid to Central America and Mexico. 66% (€171.9 million) helped respond to emergencies such as floods, droughts, epidemics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, internal displacements and the humanitarian consequences of violence while the remaining 34% (€85.5 million) has been invested in preparing vulnerable communities and their institutions to face future disasters.
For 2019-2020, the EU allocated €26.3 million, to respond to different needs across the region. From the coronavirus pandemic to storm Amanda in Guatemala and El Salvador, passing by the Dengue epidemic in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala and the recurrent droughts in the Dry Corridor of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
This funding also took into account the humanitarian and protection needs of population on the move and asylum seekers in Guatemala and Panama, the victims of the civil unrest prevailing in Nicaragua and its spillover effects in Costa Rica. EU humanitarian aid provided protection, health care and education in emergencies to children and families in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica affected by organised violence.
The EU also included funding dedicated to disaster preparedness and shock responsiveness, through the integration of protection and information management strengthening at the community, national and regional levels.
Additionally, the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism was deployed to assist Guatemalan national response system tackle the forest fires in April 2019. Recently, the Mechanism has been activated for repatriation flights of EU citizens in the region after the coronavirus outbreak, to respond to medical supplies and equipment in El Salvador and to provide COPERNICUS imagery for the floods in the North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.