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Honduras: Humanitarian needs increase as hurricane recovery efforts continue

02 Dec 2020


District of Policarpio Bonilla in the municipality of El Progreso, Department of Yoro, Honduras. Credit: UNDAC/Martin Torres

Nearly a month after Tropical Storm Eta hit Honduras, almost 100,000 people are now in shelters. More than 300,000 still cannot be reached in isolated communities. As the days pass, the essential needs of those who had to flee their homes, leaving everything behind, continue to increase as the humanitarian response grows in complexity.

A month ago, Tropical Storm Eta battered Central America, affecting millions of people in Honduras. Two weeks later, Tropical Storm Iota aggravated the already dire situation in the country, forcing another 800,000 people to evacuate flooded areas, and exacerbating the immediate needs which national authorities and humanitarian organizations continue to respond to across 17 departments.

“Nobody here managed to save anything,” says Carol. With the rising waters, she and all her neighbours in the municipality of El Progreso, in the Department of Yoro, had to leave their homes and take refuge in the local church. They lost all their belongings. After a nearby river overflowed and the church became flooded, they were forced to sleep in the streets for two weeks because shelters were already at capacity.

Carol tells her story to the members of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team that arrived in the country three weeks ago and has been visiting affected areas to assess the humanitarian situation of the population.

People take shelter under a bridge on Bulevar del Norte, San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Credit: UN Honduras

As of 2 December, almost half a million people have had to be evacuated and more than 95,000 people are in some 1,000 shelters across the country. Many have also taken refuge in the homes of family, friends and neighbours. Overcrowding has become a major problem amid the pandemic when there is a growing need to protect against the risk of infection, as humanitarians now fear a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Before the storms, Honduras had the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in northern Central America. The pandemic has strained the health-care system, overwhelming the already limited capacity of hospitals. Maintaining COVID-19 protection measures in shelters has become a major challenge, and humanitarian organizations are highlighting the need to provide more masks and personal protection supplies.

Credit: UNDAC/Martin Torres

Due to extensive flooding, humanitarian partners are also highlighting gaps in access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. In addition to the risk of contracting COVID-19, floods have brought with them mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, which have spread throughout the country, having reached record numbers in 2019.

Feeding people who have been evacuated and sheltered appears to be another challenge in a country where food insecurity has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Humanitarian partners have highlighted the need to deliver nutritious food to affected people and have warned about the risks of providing breast-milk substitutes and powdered milk, given the health risks associated with using these products in facilities with inadequate sanitation and limited access to safe water.

In overcrowded shelters, the issue of security is also a concern. Many criminal gangs have control over entire areas and continue to threaten and extort people. In a country where gender-based violence reaches extremely high levels, humanitarians have identified protection as one of the priorities, including for women and girls.

The need for a large number of shelters also means that many schools are being used for this purpose. With the prolonged use of educational facilities as shelters, and the likely deterioration of their conditions as a result, humanitarian partners fear that they will not be ready in time for the new school year set to begin in early 2021. This could have a negative impact on school-age children who have already been affected by school suspensions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to this situation, the Humanitarian Country Team launched a Flash Appeal on 19 November with the goal of raising US$69.2 million to assist 450,000 of the most vulnerable people. To date, contributions have been very modest.

For Carol, who hopes to find a safe place for her family, the priorities for survival are very clear. “We need food and other supplies like mattresses. Now, the children are sleeping on the floor... it was worse than Hurricane Mitch in 1998. This time it was two hurricanes in a row. It’s time for help to come.”