Causes of Drought and Famine
Ten years ago, when European bankers financed many Third World
coffee-growing projects, they helped set off a chain of events that
continues to drive small farmers in Central America out of
business–and, this year, to the brink of starvation.
In previous years droughts caused hardships, but this year famine
has struck, reports Paul Jeffrey in Pacific News
Service. Some 725,000 acres of rice, corn, and beans have
been lost in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala because of the
drought; Honduras has lost 80 percent of its grain crop. But the
weather is not the chief culprit. ‘The tragedy that has brought
tens of thousands of Central America’s poor almost to the point of
having to choose between death or emigration could have been
foreseen,’ Jeffrey writes. ‘It is not simply lack of rain that has
caused the suffering.’
Decade-old policies encouraging subsistence farmers to plant coffee
to supplement their income have backfired in recent years, as the
worldwide glut of coffee supply has driven prices down. Worse, as
coffee prices plummet and harvests dwindle, more and more farmers
are cutting down hillside trees to expand their subsistence farms.
The newly deforested hillsides, Jeffrey explains, increased the
likelihood of flooding when the rains did come and exacerbated the
effect of the dry spells.
To combat the famine, local charities are helping to organize local
communities rather than petition the government for aid. The groups
will then be able to pressure officials to take action, says
Alejandro Mendoza, director of a Catholic ministry in Honduras.
‘We’re placing all our bets on the process of local organizing. In
the long run, that’s going to make the most difference.’
–Sara V. Buckwitz