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Hurricane Eta adds to vulnerabilities in northern Central America

04 Nov 2020


Central American countries have been particularly hit by the 2020 hurricane season and seasonal floods. Seen here floods in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Credit: CONRED

Category 4 Hurricane Eta made landfall in Nicaragua early on 3 November. It is also affecting northern Honduras and is on track to hit parts of El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize. Eta’s full impact is not yet known, as the hurricane is moving over Nicaragua at a slow pace, limiting the ability to make deployments for evaluations. But at-risk communities in the region were already reeling from COVID-19 and pre-existing humanitarian needs.


28 storms in a very active hurricane season

Hurricane Eta is this season’s twelfth hurricane. Named after the Greek alphabet, it is the twenty-eighth named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, making this the busiest hurricane season since 2005. Eta is the first storm of 2020 that intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in less than 24 hours.


According to the Pacific Disaster Center, Eta was expected to impact nearly 70,000 people in northern Nicaragua and an estimated 483,000 people in Honduras. The Central American countries have already evacuated thousands of people. Early on 2 November, red alerts had already been declared by Nicaragua in the north-east region, by Honduras in five northern regions, and by El Salvador across the whole territory.


Hurricane Eta is hitting a region already affected by several storms this year. El Salvador, in particular, is still reeling from Tropical Storms Amanda and Cristóbal, which made landfall in May and June, respectively. On 29 October, a landslide caused by heavy rains killed 9 people and affected more than 100 families in the Nejapa municipality in the capital, San Salvador.


Triple impact: Hurricane, COVID-19 and a pre-existing humanitarian crisis

Northern Central America was already experiencing a humanitarian crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Some 5.3 million people already needed assistance in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras at the beginning of this year, primarily in the sectors of food security, health, protection, and water and sanitation.


Hurricane Eta is now battering some of the affected regions including the coastal areas, which are home to several vulnerable indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. According to the latest national population census, indigenous peoples in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala represent 8.4 per cent, 8.6 per cent and 43.6 per cent of the total population, respectively. Many are located in coastal areas, such as the Garífunas, Miskitos and Mayangnas in La Moskitia in Honduras, or on the Caribbean coast in Nicaragua.


Indigenous peoples across the region have been particularly affected by the pandemic due to their ongoing lack of access to health care, food, and water and sanitation facilities. OCHA and partners are promoting better integration of indigenous peoples’ specific needs into the region’s humanitarian response plans.


Regional preparedness and response

Central America has been preparing for hurricanes since the pre-season. The regional disaster coordination body, CEPREDENAC, which launched an online portal to monitor Hurricane Eta, has been working closely with national disaster management agencies in Nicaragua (SINAPRED) and Honduras (COPECO) to coordinate preparedness. Regional emergency protocols have been activated, which will facilitate the ground transportation of emergency supplies, and strengthen response and assistance measures.


Through the regional hub in Panama, UN agencies and NGOs are supporting preparedness efforts, and they stand ready to support a Government-led response if requests are made for international assistance.