Photo Credit: Gena Steffens
Guatemala is among the seven countries of Central America. It also belongs to the dry corridor countries including El Salvador and Honduras. Mexico borders a significant section of Northern Guatemala while the Pacific Ocean and El Salvador adjoin it to the south. Honduras, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea border it to the east. Pons, Taylor, Griffin, Castellanos, and Anchukaitis (2017) note that this area has encountered extreme weather since 2014. Most of its population resides in rural areas and relies on rain-dependent farming. As a result, when there are delays in rainfall, the entire nation is affected. The Guatemalan drought results from the region’s vulnerability to climate change, and the effect it causes on economic and political instability in the country.
Probable Cause the Drought
Drought in Guatemala is linked to the region’s susceptibility to climate change, which has triggered extreme weather patterns. The rainy season begins in May and ends in October within which people plant the majority of crops responsible for food. However, the seasonal pattern has shifted such that sometimes the rains disappear in the middle of the five-month period. Steffens (2018) attribute this to the natural cycle called the El Nino-southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO occurs across the globe with cooler-wetter and hotter-drier periods alternating. The dry corridor of Central America, along with many other regions of the world are vulnerable to this change. Moreover, climate change has exacerbated overall climate impacts, to the extent that the country receives the extremes of either rainy or dry season.
Climate change can be linked to drought through data, however, insufficient data on the local region has forced scientists to rely on methods such as tree ring analysis and regeneration using contents of the soil. According to Caffrey, Taylor, & Sullivan (2011), the mountain region of Guatemala has been gradually drying even before the Mayan civilization. It implies that the process is ongoing, and is worsening with global warming. Pons et al. (2017) also confirm that the mountainous region had a significant rate of warming between 1961 and 2003, more so than before. Furthermore, Anchukaitis, Taylor, Leland, Pons, Martin-Fernandez, and Castellanos (2015) argued that anthropogenic activities are not the sole cause of the drought. Instead, the results from simulations of the General Circulation Model (GCM) indicate that decadal cycles are part of the issue.
Families that rely on crop production for survival can no longer earn a living. People use the sections of the mountainous region for most of the agricultural activities. Some areas are uninhabitable because of active volcanic mountains. The number of individuals involved is a worry as most of Guatemala’s population resides in rural areas. They depend on seasonal crops, largely corn and beans to feed their families. The size of yield from cash crops such as coffee is also dwindling (Palencia, n.d.). Al Jazeera and Agencies (2016) report that torrential downpour has been washing away the topsoil that is suitable for agriculture. As a result, even if it will rain, crops will not yield as much as expected. Laborers in both small and large-scale farms either are sent home or have to pay more for food. The situation is leaving them with little money for their developmental activities.
Consequently, the government has authorized the importation of the seasonal crops to lower the prices, which only offers a temporary solution to the problem. In Vaqué’s (2017) report, international support has significantly contributed to mitigating the effects of the drought that has killed thousands of animals and people. Indeed, farmers have spent the last of their planting seeds due to lack of a single harvest as the crops dried even before maturing. The financial burden on the government is overwhelming, to the extent of citizens migrating to the US as climate change refugees.
Social and Political Effect
Therefore, as thousands of people have succumbed to the hunger after seasons without rain, others (mostly children) have died from nutrition-related illnesses. The rural residents use underground water for drinking, but the lack of precipitation is forcing them to look for water farther away from traditional sources. Furthermore, the scarcity has led to an outbreak of waterborne diseases. Given that the crops that used to earn farmers money for medication and transport have dried up, they cannot access health services. Some residents in the affected areas suffer from malnutrition because they feed on corn that humanitarian organizations supply (Steffens, 2018). These organizations do not have enough food to provide the residents with a balanced diet.
Moreover, as Guatemalans travel north, the US government either repatriates them or blocks their entry because it does not allow immigrants based on drought. It is focused on building the Mexico border to deter illegal immigrants. According to Wordland (2019) and Steffens (2018), the American government is worried about global immigration due to climate change. The Central American drought is not only mounting political pressure in the affected countries but also the United States. The Guatemalan government has faced several political challenges including corruption, which have derailed the process of solving the drought crisis (Taft-Morales, 2017). As a result, the indigenous communities are marginalized due to inequitable distribution of resources.
Therefore, resources allocation and harnessing of water for irrigation can attempt to solve the food insecurity in the country. It is necessary to collect the water during heavy downpour using bodies such as dams so that farmers can use it for irrigation during dry the season. They can also shift to planting drought resistant and quick maturing crops. Meanwhile, the justice system is attempting to fight corruption that can allow for equitable allocation of resources. The move will avail the necessary infrastructure that will limit drought-related deaths. Furthermore, the health status of most children will improve. As a health services administration major, I believe that people’s health determines the economy of the country.
Overall, the Guatemalan drought results from the region’s vulnerability to climate change and the effect causes both economic and political instability in the country. The El Nino-southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle is responsible for the centuries’ long periods of drought. According to simulations, soil information, and data from tree rings, the drying process began long before the Mayan civilization. However, human activities have an effect too. Traditional crop production that feeds the people has failed, thus leading to hunger-related deaths and migrations. Water harnessing during heavy downpour can be used for drinking and irrigation thus reducing the effects of the drought.
Al Jazeera and Agencies. (June 29, 2016). Guatemala drought leaves hundreds of thousands hungry. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/guatemala-drought-leaves-hundreds-thousands-hungry-160629093644626.html
Anchukaitis, K., Taylor, M., Leland, C., Pons, D., Martin-Fernandez, J., & Castellanos, E. (2015). Tree-ring reconstructed dry season rainfall in Guatemala. Climate Dynamics, 45(5/6), 1537–1546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-014-2407-y
Caffrey, M. A., Taylor, M. J., & Sullivan, D. G. (2011). A 12,000-year record of vegetation and climate change from the Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes, Guatemala. Journal of Latin American Geography, 10(2), 129–151. https://doi.org/10.1353/lag.2011.0041
Palencia, G. (n.d.). Drought leaves up to 2.8 million hungry in Central America. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/drought-leaves-up-to-2-8-million-hungry-in-central-america/
Pons, D., Taylor, M. J., Griffin, D., Castellanos, E. J., & Anchukaitis, K. J. (2017). On the Production of climate information in the high mountain forests of Guatemala. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107(2), 323–335. https://doi.org/10.1080/24694452.2016.1235481
Steffens, G. (October 23, 2018). Changing climate forces desperate Guatemalans to migrate. Retrieved https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/drought-climate-change-force-guatemalans-migrate-to-us/
Taft-Morales, M. (2018). Guatemala: Political and socioeconomic conditions and U.S. relations. Congressional Research Service.
Vaque, J. (June 1, 2017). Chronology of the Dry Corridor: The impetus for resilience in Central America. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/in-action/agronoticias/detail/en/c/1024539/
Wordland, J. (February 22, 2019). The Real culprit behind Trump’s border emergency? Climate change. Retrieved from http://time.com/5535086/trump-climate-change-national-emergency/