Latin America and the Caribbean is home to diverse natural hazards, including recurrent climate shocks linked to the El Niño and La Niña phenomena, earthquakes, droughts, floods, landslides, tropical storms and hurricanes. The frequency and intensity of these shocks place the region only behind Asia and the Pacific in terms of disasters. The persistent threat and cyclical impact of natural hazards run parallel to structural poverty and inequality, struggling economies (about 46 per cent of the regional population now live in poverty or extreme poverty) and limited government response capacities.
These factors have created a complex operating environment marked by multidimensional vulnerabilities and increasingly interlinked humanitarian needs such as food insecurity, displacement within and across borders and chronic violence. Response authorities are often overmatched in tackling these needs and in preventing future needs.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent socioeconomic impact further compounded the region’s structural vulnerabilities. The pandemic’s unchecked growth outpaced State response capacities across the region, while widespread restriction movements and border closures sent formal and informal economies alike into a sharp downturn. The collective economy of Latin America and the Caribbean shrank by 6.8 percent, more than any region in the world, while employment dropped 9.0 per cent, also a world-leading decrease. As a result, there are 20 million more people living in poverty and 8 million more people in extreme poverty in 2021.
With the pandemic severely weakening resilience to current risks and future shocks, the region is facing several critical risks that could lead to devastating humanitarian implications. The regional 9 per cent increase in moderate-to-severe food insecurity, now affecting 267 million people, is the highest increase worldwide. COVID-19 school closures ran longer in Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere in the world, leaving 86 million children out of classrooms.
In certain countries, violence is returning to pre- pandemic levels, which, together with economic decline and lack of services, is resulting in displacement within and across borders reaching historic levels, as shown by the record-setting 123,100 asylum applications in Mexico in 2021 (a 75 per cent increase from applications in 2019 before COVID-19) and an all-time high of 1.7 million migrants detained at the Mexico-US border from October 2020 to September 2021, or 20 per cent more than the 2020’s 458,000 migrants and 2019’s 977,500 migrants combined.
These concerns are taking place amid a socio- political landscape marked by frequent social unrest, with the COVID-19 pandemic heightening polarization and political fragmentation. Various countries saw spates of protests or violence related to gaps in pandemic response and slow vaccinations, insufficient measures to offset the pandemic’s socioeconomic impact, or opposition to political or economic reform.
The region’s growing needs and outlooks are prompting increased expectations and demands on humanitarian organizations and mechanisms at a time when organizations are facing challenges in maintaining operational capacities, presence and financing to effectively cover the many needs of the most vulnerable across Latin America and the Caribbean.