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"When we lose crops, we lose everything": the climatic emergency aggravates the migratory crisis in Guatemala


Extreme weather events have become more frequent, which according to experts could cause the displacement of hundreds of millions of people in the world. This situation already exists in Guatemala.

By Denise Chow and Carlos P. Beltran -

NBC News

LA VEGA, Guatemala -

Darwin Méndez tried to reach the United States three times, but has not succeeded.

At 23 years old and with a debt of $ 30,000, he says that leaving Guatemala is his only option.

Several years of severe droughts burned the field that he cultivates with his father,

mother, uncle and brothers;

This has caused the corn to shrink in size and dry out the few kernels that grow on the tiny ears.

Then the rains came.

Last year, a series of unpredictable storms and consecutive hurricanes caused heavy downpours in the hills of western Guatemala, triggering landslides that engulfed Méndez's crops and generated pests and diseases.

When the land dried up, the land remained parched, and

the region was once again affected by prolonged heat waves and persistent droughts.

For Méndez, that means another year of bad harvests.

Darwin Méndez, a Guatemalan farmer who has tried to cross into the United States three times.Carlos P. Beltran / NBC News

“We don't have a lot of land, no one around here has big land.


when we lose crops, we lose everything,

”he said.

As Guatemala is impacted by intense droughts and devastating floods, two extreme situations that have been made worse by the climate emergency, some farmers like Méndez have been forced to make drastic decisions such as selling everything they can or borrowing huge sums of money to to be able to leave their regions.

Most move within the country, going to the cities in search of work, but

others will join the tens of thousands of Guatemalans who try to make the dangerous journey north each year.

More than a fifth of Guatemala's population faces what a United Nations body describes as dangerously high levels of food insecurity.

Almost half of all children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished and, according to the UN World Food Program, in some highly vulnerable rural communities that number is significantly higher.

“Everything we sow in the field is not enough to feed us.

I want to go to the United States so I can feed my family

, ”Méndez said. 

I want to go to the United States so that I can feed my family. "

Darwin Mendez

More than 250 miles from Huehuetenango, which is where Méndez lives, is Chiquimula, a town in southern Guatemala where José Vásquez is located, who also says he has a hard time surviving on what he grows.

Vásquez, 42, is a small farmer and on a recent walk through his plot, located on a slope, he cut a couple of stalks from his cornfields.

When he opened the shells, he showed wilted ears with only a few brown kernels.

José Vásquez experiences the effects of drought on his crops in Chiquimula, Guatemala.Carlos P. Beltran / NBC News

[The climate emergency drives mass migration to the US]

"The problem with corn is that the rain didn't come," he said, adding that sometimes he feels desperate.

"I'm scared because there won't be food for my family," he


Experts have said that climate change could cause the displacement of hundreds of millions of people around the world as rising sea levels, high temperatures and extreme weather events become more frequent and transform the habitable places of the world. planet.

In some regions that already face high levels of poverty, corruption and conflict,

the effects of global warming can create a tipping point for some of the


most vulnerable communities


Relatives of Darwin Méndez, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala Carlos P. Beltran / NBC News

This situation already exists in Guatemala.

The absence of large cuts in global emissions increases the chances that global warming will cause the emergence of climate migrants on almost every continent.

The consequences will be alarming.

"It is difficult to find a region of the world that will not be greatly affected by climate change and migration."

Nicholas Depsky, PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley and researcher at the Climate Impact Laboratory

"When you see the estimates, it

is difficult to think that we are exaggerating the seriousness of the situation,

" warns the researcher of the consortium of scientists made up of researchers from Berkeley, the University of Chicago, the Rhodium Group and Rutgers University.

From Southeast Asia to Central America, the movement of people displaced by climate change could increase political conflicts between various countries or deepen existing tensions, Depsky added.

"From the perspective of the United States, migration is a flash point


" he


"It is a very divisive political issue, and Central America is a region that receives a lot of attention due to its influence on our political discourse."

Migration has been a central theme for the Climate Impact Laboratory, and Depsky's research has focused on droughts in Central America.

Guatemala is located along the Dry Corridor, a geographic stretch that stretches from southern Mexico to Panama, where high levels of poverty and

dependence on grain crops in rural communities make the people of that region especially vulnerable

to climate change.

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Depsky is the co-author of a study published in December in the journal Environmental Research Letters that modeled forecasts for future droughts in Central America.

Researchers predict that the severity, frequency and duration of droughts throughout the Dry Corridor will worsen through the end of this century.

Although the models predicted a decrease in average annual precipitation, Depsky said extreme weather events, including severe storms and heavy downpours, caused by climate change, will likely increase.

It is not yet known whether global warming plays a role in making hurricanes more frequent, but research has shown that warmer sea surface temperatures increase the chances of storms becoming major hurricanes.

Part of the problem is that there is no clear definition, legal or otherwise, of climate migrants.

Although it is still rare for climate change to be the main reason someone decides to leave home, it is almost certainly an aggravating factor in many cases.

José Vásquez shows the dried corn from his crops in Chiquimula, Guatemala.Carlos P. Beltran / NBC News

“It is very important to look at

how climate change interacts with existing vulnerabilities

and how it exacerbates those vulnerabilities, how it threatens livelihoods, how poverty increases, how it interacts or conflicts,” said Amali Tower, founder and CEO of Climate Refugees, a non-profit organization that helps and raises awareness about climate migration.

In Guatemala, several years of severe drought have been interspersed with tropical storms - such as hurricanes Eta and Iota last year - and other events of heavy rainfall that have not only destroyed crops but also affected soils, said Paris Rivera, climatologist from the Mariano Gálvez University of Guatemala.


The plants no longer emerge and there is an infertile soil having various problems,

mainly for people who use the soil for their crops and for their personal supply, generating incredible food insecurity," said Rivera.

Although the climate emergency may fuel new waves of migration in Guatemala, and in other parts of the world, not all people will have the means or the capacities to cross borders.

"It's not as simple as a drought hits the Dry Corridor and all those farmers pick up their stuff and move north

," Depsky said.

"This situation has many nuances, and the people most affected because they have fewer resources to adapt and face difficulties will also be those who cannot afford to move until it is

a life or death situation,"

warns the scientist.

That is why most climate migration will likely happen among people who have been displaced and forced to move within their own countries.

Corn crops have been affected by long droughts in Guatemala.Carlos P. Beltran / NBC News

A report released earlier this month by the World Bank projects that by 2050,

216 million people

in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Eastern Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific could be displaced within their countries.

“Nobody really wants to be forced to leave their own home.

In general,

climate change impacts mobility because it creates situations of internal displacement,

”said Tower.

But as this increasingly unsustainable situation develops, some people like Méndez feel they have no choice but to leave Guatemala and move north.

“I am worried about the future.

The only thing I can do is pray to God to be able to migrate to the United States,

”says the Guatemalan.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2021-09-23

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