ROSARIO, Argentina – Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his closeness to the people of Central America, “hit by strong hurricanes.”
“In particular I recall the Island of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, as well as the Pacific coast of the north of Colombia,” the pope said during his Angelus address. “I pray for all the countries who are suffering as a result of these disasters.”
The conference of bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean is joining the pope’s appeal, asking both for humanitarian aid and for a day of prayer for the region on Dec.12.
There were several back-to-back hurricanes affecting Central America throughout November, beginning with Eta, a Category 4 storm. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more than 4.3 million Central Americans, including 3 million Hondurans, were affected by Eta.
Those numbers only rose when Iota, another Category 4 storm, hit the region last week. At least 200 people were killed by both hurricanes, with Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras the most affected.
The hurricanes’ destruction comes on top of the economic paralysis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the World Food Program, the hurricane compounds hunger problems already deepened by the coronavirus. Before the pandemic, the Dry Corridor of Central America – El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua – saw five years of prolonged drought and failed crops due to erratic weather patterns, which left smallholder farmers, day laborers and their families’ food insecure.
The UN agency predicts the number of people with severe food insecurity in this corridor could increase from more than 1.6 million in 2019 to close to 3 million in 2020, due to the socioeconomic fallout of COVID-19 and the devastation caused by the storms.
To quote just one example of how the two storms hit the region, take the case of Nicaragua: Hurricane Iota struck the small nation 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta had hit just two
According to the United States National Weather Service, Iota is strongest storm of the 2020 season, and Eta was the second strongest.
In Nicaragua, as in much of Central America, the storms and the pandemic came after years of economic and political crisis which has often pitted the Church against the regime of Daniel Ortega.
During his Nov. 22 Sunday homily, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua asked the faithful to go to their parishes to show “a generosity without advertising, humble and simple, without looking for any acknowledgements.”
A source in Managua told Crux over the phone that the people responded, but in secret: Not so much for the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, “when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” but because of alleged threats from the security forces against those providing aid through the Church.
In Colombia, Iota completely devastated Providencia, a mountainous Colombian island in the Caribbean, known for its emerald-green nature reserves, pristine golden beaches, and UNESCO-protected coral banks.
Yet the estimated 5,000 inhabitants were struggling before the Category 5 hurricane hit: They lived off the small tourism industry, carefully built around these rare treasures. The storm was the last straw for many on the island, and thousands of recently homeless residents are trying to find their way out of the remote paradise.
Last week, the Latin American bishops conference (CELAM) and the regional Caritas made an appeal to redouble efforts to help the victims of the hurricanes and the pandemic in the region, and calling for a day of prayer this Dec. 12, feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.
They noted the storms left “more than 5.3 million people affected, 330,000 who are living in temporary shelters after losing their homes.”
“The objective of these campaigns is to obtain financial support for urgent aid, so that the Caritas networks of these four Central American countries can serve the most vulnerable people affected by this health crisis and the disaster caused by the hurricanes,” says the Nov. 25 statement.
Wilfredo Cervantes, Director of Caritas Honduras, noted that his country is one of the poorest in Latin America, and that they “don’t have the means to respond to the combined emergencies of back to back hurricanes as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Over three million people have been affected in Honduras, with many families sleeping out in the open. For this reason, the local Caritas office is trying to “take care of their immediate needs in the short term and help them rebuild their homes and lives in the long term. With international solidarity we can start to rebuild our communities.”
Caritas Internationalis estimates that the initial programs in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua will last two months and have a total cost of just under $1 million. This will help respond to vital needs of thousands, providing them with food, hygiene kits, access to safe drinking water and ensuring that people can protect themselves from COVID-19.
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