El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, countries that make up Northern Central America (NCA), share a series of humanitarian needs driven by shared conditions of high poverty, recurrent climatic shocks, chronic violence, limited access to health services and mass population movements from and within their countries, among other factors. The different needs produced by these long-standing conditions have formed a complex web of vulnerabilities that humanitarian action has sought to address with intersectoral approaches for several years.
Despite achievements in providing integrated responses to NCA’s multidimensional needs, humanitarian action in these countries was forced to undergo a radical shift in changed in 2020 due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most active hurricane season on record. Besides creating their own needs, the pandemic and storms have exacerbated existing NCA crises and increased the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the three countries by 60 per cent between the beginning of 2020 and mid-2021.
The impact of these events is evident in several key indicators. After encouraging declines in poverty and extreme poverty rates between 2018 and 2019, especially in El Salvador and Honduras, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) projects that the rates recorded in the three countries at the close of 2020 will exceed those of 2018, creating new risks for hundreds of thousands of additional people. According to 2021, reports from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), the percentage of households in Honduras with food access gaps is 21 per cent compared to 8 per cent prior to the pandemic, while 1 in 5 people in Guatemala are suffering critical food access gaps, gaps that are expected to persist in the coming months.
Consequently, internal and cross-border displacement are showing sharp increases. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) indicates that Honduras recorded 937,000 new displacements due to disasters in 2020, far exceeding the combined disaster and conflict displacement in countries such as South Sudan, Sudan or Afghanistan. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports 375,000 apprehensions of NCA nationals at the U.S.-Mexico border between October 2020 and May 2021, which exceeds the total number of apprehensions in all of 2020. The March and April 2021 numbers, in particular, exceeded the counts for these months in 2019.
With similar trends have been recorded regarding livelihoods and access to health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and protection services, millions of vulnerable people in the NCA, including women, children and adolescents, people on the move, indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, people with disabilities and members of the LGBTIQ+ community, will require a strategic humanitarian response based on a collective understanding of the scope and severity of their needs.