Insecurity is the primary factor within the decision making process for the thousands of Central Americans weighing the decision to leave their home countries for Mexico, the United States or elsewhere. However, ‘insecurity’ is often construed in popular American media coverage to be in reference to drug-trafficking, violence and other rampant crime. What’s often left out of the discussion, though, is how insecurity refers to the effects of climate change. Persistent drought, and destructive intermittent rains combine to devastate largely agricultural economies.
Many people who live in the dry corridor of Central America are subsistence farmers, completely reliant on what they grow for their survival. Unlike in the US and parts of Europe, there is no crop insurance or other programs to tide farmers over in bad years. Often, there are no irrigation systems, either. So, if the rains don’t fall, crops simply don’t grow.
“If you have one bad year and the rains don’t fall, that creates a certain stress,” Sutter says. “If you have year after year after year — and, at this point, essentially five years of very bad drought conditions — then that’s when conditions can lead to hunger and starvation.”
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says 2 million people in the region are at risk for hunger, Sutter points out.
“I think that’s [something] people underestimate about the caravan, or any migration story, really, when you hear about it: It has to be really bad for you to want to flee a problem,” Sutter says. “There’s an incredible attachment to a sense of home and place, especially among people who are farmers, who are attached to the land. It’s a big deal to think about leaving. That gives you a hint at how intense the situation is for many farmers.”
While President Donald Trump claims that caravans of migrants heading from Central America to the US are an “invasion” of “gang members and very bad people,” his own commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection says that crop failure is one of the main drivers of migration.