The first week of November 2020 came with a dreadful feeling of Déjà vu for Hondurans. Eta, a category 4 hurricane, slowly made its way across Central America dropping multiple feet of rain with it. Astonishingly, two weeks later, Hondurans hunkered down again as hurricane Iota, a category 5, struck the same region again. It was hard not to think back to October 1998 when a hurricane by a different name, Mitch, devastated Central America. In Honduras, the 1998 disaster cost thousands of lives, displaced tens of thousands of people, damaged over 50% of roads, and resulted in the loss of an estimated 70% of agricultural production.
The impact was felt for years. At the time, the then-President, Carlos Flores, said that Mitch was a once in a century phenomenon and was hopeful that the country would persevere. However, just two decades later, Honduras has been hit by back-to-back major hurricanes. The outcome looks to be much the same, though loss of life has been significantly reduced. The Sula Valley, widely known as the country’s industrial capital, was inundated with two to three feet of rain and the flooding has displaced tens of thousands again. Many roads and bridges have been destroyed and crop failure is widespread.
The impact on economic development following the hurricanes is hard to predict as it is combined with the already devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Earlier this year, the president of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) had stated that the financial and economic impact of the coronavirus was going to be worse than that of Hurricane Mitch. Fearful of the negative effects of a 6-month lockdown, Honduras was already pushing for the “re-opening” of the economy when the hurricane hit, despite having a rather unsuccessful management of the pandemic. Those hopes, as any other of economic recovery in the fourth quarter of 2020, vanished as soon as Eta made its way into the region.
The impact on the all-important Honduran agricultural sector, if remotely similar to those of Hurricane Mitch, will likely also cost the country millions of dollars. Moreover, the population is expected to suffer greatly from the loss of crops, especially of basic grains such as beans and rice. As Honduras will be forced to import these grains to feed the population, prices are expected to rise - even more than they already had during the pandemic. And, because of the destruction of roads, higher prices are not the only worries for communities in remote locations. Scarcity of food and transportation difficulties will likely push thousands of Hondurans into food insecurity. Between 1998 and 1999, the World Food Programme worked to provide tons of food to Central American countries, as well as facilitating transportation of such to remote regions. As the negative impacts of the pandemic, Eta and Iota combine, Honduras and its neighboring countries will need all the assistance they can get.
These are, without a doubt, difficult times for Honduras, but they are also times filled with hope as many in the country have rushed to help collect donations and distribute food. Many have also shown their bravery and courage in rescue missions along the northern coast. As a Honduran, I feel extremely proud and touched to be reminded of the solidarity and good-will of the people in my country, as well as the generosity from people around the world who wish to help our communities.