El Niño left many problems in its wake

Urgent action by the international community and governments in the dry corridor of Central America is essential to help build resilience, food security, and restore livelihoods damaged by drought and other extreme-weather effects of El Niño, United Nations leaders said Thursday.

The devastating El Niño event that began in 2015 was one of the worst on record and its impact continues to be felt in the dry corridor, compounding the damage from two consecutive years of drought. As a result, some 3.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance with 1.6 million moderately or severely food insecure in the hard-hit countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

To raise awareness and coordinate responses to both the protracted El Niño-related crises in the dry corridor and the possibility of a related La Niña event in the second half of 2016, U.N. agencies and other partners met at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The meeting included the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme with the aim of mobilizing the international community to support the efforts of governments, U.N. agencies and other partners.

In opening remarks, José Graziano da Silva stressed that “the challenge facing the dry corridor is not only climate change: it is also extreme poverty, and food and nutritional insecurity,” adding: “We need to change the traditional response strategy and tackle the structural causes of poverty and food insecurity in Central America’s dry corridor, and not settle for simply mounting a humanitarian response every time an emergency situation occurs.” He is director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Some 10.5 million people, about 60 percent of whom are in poverty, live in the dry corridor, a region characterized by extensive deforestation, soil degradation and water scarcity.

These conditions are exacerbated by El Niño and its counterpart La Niña which occur cyclically. However, in recent years extreme weather events associated with these two phenomena, such as droughts and floods, have increased in frequency and severity.

The dry corridor runs from southern México south to Guanacaste in Costa Rica.

Guanacaste has suffered from the drought, too, but another impact on Costa Rica has been the flow of Central American refugees from the north. Refugee applications in Costa Rica have increased to 800 in 2015. That number is five times greater than three years ago, said officials.

U.N. refugee officials are holding a two-day session in Costa Rica next week. The sessions will be at the Hotel Real Intercontinental Wednesday and Thursday.

Like refugees to the United States, many claim they are fleeing violence, but hunger and lack of employment also play a big role.

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