Deforestation Fuels Hunger in Honduras
By Thelma Mejía
The depletion of natural resources is one reason that drought and hunger has such a great impact on 150,000 families today in Honduras, a country that loses some 80,000 hectares of forest each year.
TEGUCIGALPA, (Tierramérica).- In the 24 poorest municipalities of Honduras, some 150,000 families face famine as a result of the drought that has lasted since January, warn the governmental Permanent Committee for Contingencies, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), World Food Program (WFP) and the European Union.
The region hardest hit -- central and southern Honduras -- is also the least developed, characterized by deforestation and the depletion of its water resources.
The lack of rainfall caused the grain crops to fail, and now Honduras has to import 500 million dollars worth of agricultural products, said Marvin Ponce, of the Coordinating Council of Peasant Organizations.
The government reached an agreement with WFP and UNICEF for the distribution of rations and the development of the "food for work" mechanism in the areas that are suffering most, Mariano Jiménez, minister of Agriculture and Livestock, told Tierramérica.
Also under consideration is financing for irrigation systems for small farmers, and provision of farm insurance to protect them against lost harvests caused by drought or other natural disasters, he added.
But "the funds did not arrive on time, and now it's late because the first harvest has already been lost, the banks only set up obstacles for the peasant farmers. In this context, who wants to plant crops?" wondered activist Ponce.
"Imagine how bad our situation must be that the organizations that provide help in emergencies have stayed here permanently. We have become a country that begs for donations in order to eat" because the country cannot produce enough to feed its 6.7 million inhabitants, Rigoberto Sandoval, a farming and forestry expert, told Tierramérica.
What are needed are policies that give priority to these problems, because the depletion of natural resources is a key factor contributing to droughts and harvest loss, said Sandoval.
According to official figures, deforestation "eats up" 80,000 hectares annually through land cleared for farming, forest fires and illegal logging.
The Honduran people are still trying to recover from Hurricane Mitch, which hit Central America in October 1998. Honduras bore the brunt of the storm, suffering 14,000 deaths, two million people left homeless and a 20-year reversal in national economic development.
Hurricane Mitch revealed the country's environmental fragility. As a result of deforestation and other manmade ecological problems, any intense rainfall produces flooding. And if the temperate winter climate prolongs, fields dry up, as do the reservoirs of potable water.
The arrival of a rainy winter season depends on many factors, including El Niño, the warm current that periodically crosses the Pacific Ocean, causing extreme weather fluctuations in its wake.
The government is working to implement an effective agrarian policy, because until now there have only been "palliative measures to confront the farm crisis. We want to make the leap to prevent the need to 'put out fires' that arises every time there is a drought or famine," said minister Jiménez.
* Thelma Mejía is an IPS correspondent.