Honduras - Climate
Every day, 300 Hondurans take to the road for a life of exile in the United States. They are reluctantly leaving behind a country that is becoming increasingly poor. Many are in fact climate refugees. An ongoing drought means the rivers of Honduras are disappearing; its soil is drying up and its crops are failing. They see escape not as a choice but as a matter of survival.
In 2020 the two Category 4 hurricanes – Eta and Iota — made landfall in Central America on Nov. 3 and Nov. 17, respectively. Iota, packing maximum sustained winds of 260 kilometers per hour, made landfall in almost the exact location where Hurricane Eta came ashore two weeks earlier, the jungles of the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. Iota was the record-breaking 30th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season. Along with Eta, it marked the first time that two major hurricanes had formed in the month of November. A month later, the region continued to dig out from mudslides. Aid agencies said nearly 7 million people in a zone stretching from Colombia to Mexico are in need of assistance.
The country is highly vulnerable to climate variability. Between 1993 and 2012, Honduras experienced more damage caused by extreme weather events than any other country on earth, ranking first in the Germanwatch Climate Change Vulnerability Index. Extreme rainfall, atypical droughts, variation in the dates of rainfall, loss of fertility and erosion of arable land are all causing problems for agriculture in Honduras.
Climate varies from wet and tropical along coastal areas to dry and cool in the mountainous interior region. The entire country experiences a wet season from April through November and a dry season from December through March. The annual rainfall in the northern coastal region averages between 1,700 mm and 2,500 mm (70 and 100 in), while the Pacific coastal plains receive from 1,500 mm to 2,000 mm (60 to 80 in). Average annual precipitation for Tegucigalpa averages 840 mm (33 in), which is typical of inland areas. The coastal lowlands generally are hot and humid. Monthly mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 26ºC (79ºF) and 20º C (68ºF), in January and 31ºC (88ºF) and 24ºC (75ºF), respectively, in May.
Hurricanes are common. Periodically, Honduras is hit by tropical storms and hurricanes. The rainy season usually runs May-November. There have been approximately nine significant tropical storms/hurricanes that have affected Honduras since 1995. Two of the most damaging storms were Hurricane Mitch (1998) and Hurricane Stan (2005). While hurricanes are a concern, much of the damage to infrastructure is a result of flooding and rock/mudslides.
Honduras has a rapidly expanding population and an economy based largely on agriculture. The mixed terrain and moderate climate allow for a variety of crops; however, excessive use of agrochemicals, particularly in coffee and banana production, has contaminated both soil and water. Other sources of contamination include food processing, sugar refining, and mining wastes containing copper, cyanide, lead, and zinc. As part of the effort to rebuild the economy after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the Honduran government passed several measures to promote foreign investment in mining. However, poorly regulated mining activities have raised concerns over environmental contamination.
The main industrial areas are concentrated near Puerto Cortes, San Pedro Sula, and Tegucigalpa. Most of the US companies (maquila industry) are located in the cities of Bufalo, Choloma, San Pedro Sula, and Villaneuva in the northern Department of Cortes. Mines are located near Lake Yojoa, San Andrés, in Copán Department, and Corpus in Choluteca Department. The Zamorano Valley is an extensive basic grain and horticultural production area. Environmental regulatory controls, environmental monitoring, and enforcement of existing requirements are overseen by the Natural Resources and Environment Secretariat. Governmental monitoring and enforcement of environmental protection regulations are lacking or ineffective.
Poor air quality is typical during the annual spring burning of agricultural land, primarily during the dry season months (February through April). In addition, wildfires during droughts often occur throughout the country. Localized air contamination may occur near specific industrial facilities or urban areas. Honduras has become increasingly more dependent on petroleum-based power plants and less dependant on hydroelectric power plants (from 20 percent petroleum-based in the 1980s to more than 50 percent today). Sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions from petroleum-based power plants may cause local or regional reductions in air quality. In Tegucigalpa, the concentration of suspended particulate matter has reached 851 micrograms per cubic meter, 5 times the EPA standards for particulate matter (specifically, the national primary and secondary 24-hour ambient air quality standards for particulate matter of 150 micrograms per cubic meter). PM-10 levels in Tegucigalpa also routinely exceed applicable standards.
Central America’s position between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans leaves it especially at risk from the extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, and Honduras is already suffering from its effects. In some countries like Honduras , the effects of climate change are already evident, and they may have as little as one decade to respond. Heavy rains in winter are also badly affecting harvests, which has led to increasing malnutrition and poverty in certain areas. Corn (Maize) and beans are two of the most common crops grown in Honduras and a bad harvest is devastating for much of the country’s rural population.
In the summer of 2014, an intense drought saw harvests drop by 80 per cent in some parts of Central America. The price of maize and beans rose by 40 per cent, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. Droughts are not uncommon in the “dry corridor” of Central America, but they are occurring more frequently and intensifying. Due to the harshening conditions, many Hondurans have been forced to leave their homes, leading to an increase of migrants to the US.
Climate scenarios, taking into account the variations caused by the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), project decreases in total rainfall between 3% and 10% by 2020, as well as increases in temperature of 0.9°C on the Pacific slope and some Caribbean basins. By 2090, total precipitation is expected to decrease by 28% to 31% in the districts of Cortes, Atlantida, Yoro, Francisco Morazan, Comayagua and El Paraiso.
It is anticipated that corn, coffee and beans will suffer the effects of climate change, causing stress, low crop yields, decreased quality of crops, and crop losses from partial to total. For maize alone, it is foreseen that production losses could amount to about 120,000 tons annually by 2025, equal to the value of USD 40 million. In particular, the cultivation of basic grains is hindered by variation in the rainy season and increased pests and diseases that have spread due to climate change.
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