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Central America: UN and humanitarian partners continue Hurricane Eta response ahead of new storm

16 Nov 2020


Credit: UNFPA Honduras

A seven-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team deployed on Saturday, 14 November to San Pedro Sula, in the Cortés Department of Honduras, to help continue humanitarian efforts in response to Hurricane Eta, which has caused widespread devastation in the Central American region, affecting more than 2.5 million people across Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

As rescue and assessment teams access more remote areas, the magnitude of Hurricane Eta’s impact in Guatemala is becoming clearer. Torrential rains have left large regions of the east, north and Verapaces under water and caused mudslides.

One such person affected is 74-year-old Idolino Chavez Lopez, who lost the home he shared with his daughter, her husband and their baby.

“This is the worst flood I have lived through,” he said. “We lost everything.”

He had lived in the house for 50 years, but the water rose to roof level and the family could not salvage very much. The home is one of 85 in Jimeritos, Puerto Barrios, on the eastern tip of Guatemala.

The well outside the home has been contaminated, and the family currently does not have food or water. Their crops have also been destroyed, and they are awaiting assistance from aid organizations.

“No one employs me anymore. They say I am too old,” he said, adding that he is only able to take on sporadic day jobs.

Idolino Chavez Lopez lost his home in Guatemala because of Hurricane Eta. Credit: OCHA

Humanitarian assistance for those most in need

The catastrophic storm is adding to crisis-level food insecurity in Guatemala due to months of drought and crop failure, as well as economic hardship caused by COVID-19.

Before Hurricane Eta, some 3.3 million people in Guatemala already had humanitarian needs. Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced by the storm, and more than 650,000 need assistance. The most affected population is at risk of waterborne diseases and increased cases of acute malnutrition, especially among children, pregnant women and the elderly.

UN agencies and their partners are mobilizing available resources to conduct needs assessments and carry out humanitarian aid distributions in support of the authority-led response. A cross-sectoral preliminary assessment team, coordinated by OCHA, has been deployed to Izabal, Petén and Alta Verapaz.

Hurricane Eta caused widespread devastation in Guatemala, including to the home that Idolino Chavez Lopez shared with his daughter, her husband and their baby. Credit: OCHA

Affected communities and emergency services are bracing for potentially more severe weather as Tropical Storm Iota progresses towards the region.

Iota, the 30th named storm in the 2020 hurricane season, could strengthen to the highest category 5 (with sustained winds of 157 mph or higher) before entering Nicaraguan territory later today, following in Eta’s path, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agency.

Ahead of Iota, the UN and regional and national partners are building on the preparedness and response work under way for Eta, including pre-propositioning supplies.