When Hurricane Eta ravaged Central America, it hit an already severely battered region. What had sprung as a Category 4 hurricane soon turned into a tropical storm and as of November 9, 235 people have been reported dead due to floods, mudslides, and crumbling houses. The numbers, however, are being updated every day.
In Honduras, 1.6 million people have been affected and thousands are in need of shelters. On the ground, people are feeling a “combination of anguish, indignation, and solidarity”, according to Maite Matheu, Honduras’ country director for the humanitarian organization CARE. Speaking with Global Voices by phone from the capital Tegucigalpa, she said, “There is quite a lot of solidarity among Hondurans, among families, people helping other families get them out of the water, even the little animals.”
Matheu explained that there is a pervasive feeling of indignation because Honduras — like the rest of Central America — saw the hurricane weather forecasts a week before the storm hit the ground. Yet, it appears that the state did not take preventive measures, or evacuate people ahead of time.
On Twitter, journalist Jennifer Avila explained:
Como cada año, las instituciones no están preparadas para las lluvias, #ETA nos sorprende como nos sorprende cualquier otra depresión tropical. Cada año, las familias buscan salvar sus vidas. Cuando termine de llover veremos allí a los políticos haciendo sus campañas.Lean este ? https://t.co/byjCabImVK
— Jennifer Avila (@jenalear) November 4, 2020
As is the case every year, the authorities are not prepared for the rains, #ETA surprises us like any other tropical depression. Every year, families are looking to save their lives. When the rain stops we will see the politicians there doing their campaigns. Read this thread ?
CARE, meanwhile, is focusing its attention on the most vulnerable communities in Honduras’ Dry Corridor, in the south and southwest of the country, which has been devastated by drought for the last five years. At the time Matheu spoke with Global Voices, there were still as many as 200 women, children and elderly people who had been on rooftops for more than 30 hours in that region. She said the situation was so dire that local Hondurans were renting private boats to save them.
Hurricanes are a natural weather disaster made worse by human-caused global warming, and Central America is one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change. Many small family farmers throughout northern Central America have trouble growing food, pushing them to migrate to Mexico and the United States due to food insecurity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated poverty and extreme poverty. as the economy shrinks and the inequality gap rises, CARE is concerned about a mass exodus of displaced people. Matheu explained, “If the poorest and most marginalized populations are not prioritized in the recovery, there will be thousands of people in caravans going the north.”
The ghost of hurricanes past
The force of Hurricane Eta has been compared to a 1998 hurricane that destroyed entire neighborhoods and claimed more than 20,000 lives: “The images we have seen have reminded us of Hurricane Mitch,” Matheu said.
In 1998 hurricane Mitch erased an entire neighborhood in Tegucigalpa; 7K people died & 11K disappeared. Some say Eta will be worse than Mitch. The northern part of Honduras is flooded, rains likely to pick up again in the evening. #HurricaneEta #HuracanEta #Tegucigalpa #Honduras pic.twitter.com/z8My9N1Fal
— Ellen Van Damme (@EllenEVD) November 5, 2020
Analysts believe that the devastation of Hurricane Mitch was a crucial factor in Honduras’ impoverishment, the consequences of which are still felt today. The United States Temporary Protection Status (TPS), of which 83,836 Hondurans and Nicaraguans are beneficiaries, was originally intended for victims of Hurricane Mitch.
#hurricaneeta #huracaneta there are many reasons for the deep problems in Honduras today, but I tend to think a lot can be traced back to the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 – which displaced millions and killed thousands 1/4https://t.co/XWZfacigyE
— amelia (@gringacolocha) November 6, 2020
Questions over governance
To deal with Hurricane Eta, the Honduran government requested that the Inter-American Development Bank advance part of its funds — to the tune of 35 million United States dollars — originally earmarked to deal with the climate crisis. However, allegations of corruption regarding the use of international funds intended for COVID-19 assistance already plague President Juan Orlando Hernández's administration.
Misusing funds for disaster relief is not unheard of in the region. The former President of El Salvador, Francisco Flores, was investigated for allegedly misusing millions of dollars from Taiwanese funds meant for relief from earthquakes and Hurricane Mitch. He died while under house arrest in 2016.
Honduran politics have been increasingly unstable since the 2009 political coup which saw the ousting of leftist Manuel Zelaya. The United States, along with other Latin American countries, had eventually recognized the new government.
In 2017, President Hernandez was sworn in for a second term amidst a backdrop of heavy fraud allegations and protests — including allegations by US prosecutors that he is a co-conspirator in drug-trafficking schemes. In 2019, his brother, Tony Hernandez, was convicted for trafficking cocaine to the United States.
Because human rights activists, analysts, and journalists consider Honduras to be co-opted by organized crime and corporate interests, local solidarity is key for most Hondurans’ survival.
El pueblo hondureño se enfrenta al huracán Eta
con una ola de solidaridad ante un estado ausente-https://t.co/ks8xB1c2g7
— Radio PICA (@RADIOPICA) November 7, 2020
The Honduran people face Hurricane Eta
with a wave of solidarity in the face of an absent state
No sé si sabían de esto pero vi la necesidad de postearlo.
Honduras se está hundiendo, gente en los techos de las casas gritando ayuda, el gobierno brilla por su ausencia y el mundo sigue sin saber de esto. #ETAenHonduras #PrayForHonduras #HondurasResiste pic.twitter.com/M7zbZhbGu2
— Wheein is bae (@wheeinisbae11) November 6, 2020
I don't know if you knew about this but I saw the need to post it.
Honduras is sinking, people on the roofs of houses shouting for help, the government is conspicuous by its absence and the world still does not know about this. #ETAinHonduras #PrayForHonduras #HondurasResists
La imegen que representa la bondad que existe en el corazón de la mayoría de los hondureños. ?? pic.twitter.com/bkkxZDAzNc
— Michelle E. Gálvez (@_michellegalvez) Novemberhttps://www.gofundme.com/f/hurricane-eta-fundraising-for-coastal-honduras 7, 2020
The image that represents the goodness that exists in the hearts of most Hondurans. ??