How climate change is pushing Central American migrants to the US

(The Guardian, 6 Apr 2019) The northern triangle of Central America, the largest source of asylum seekers crossing the US border, is deeply affected by environmental degradation.

Media outlets and politicians routinely refer to the “flood” of Central American migrants, the “wave” of asylum seekers, the “deluge” of children, despite the fact that unauthorized migration across the US borders is at record lows in recent years. Comparing human beings to natural disasters is both lazy and dehumanizing, but perhaps this tendency to lean on environmental language when describing migration is an unconscious acknowledgement of a deeper truth: much migration from Central America and, for that matter, around the world, is fueled by climate change.

Yes, today’s Central American migrants – most of them asylum seekers fearing for their lives – are fleeing gangs, deep economic instability (if not abject poverty), and either neglect or outright persecution at the hands of their government. But these things are all complicated and further compounded by the fact that the northern triangle of Central America – a region comprising Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and the largest sources of asylum seekers crossing our border in recent years – is deeply affected by environmental degradation and the impacts of a changing global climate.

The average temperature in Central America has increased by 0.5C since 1950; it is projected to rise another 1-2 degrees before 2050. This has a dramatic impact on weather patterns, on rainfall, on soil quality, on crops’ susceptibility to disease, and thus on farmers and local economies. Meanwhile, incidences of storms, floods and droughts on are the rise in the region. In coming years, according to the US Agency for International Development, countries in the northern triangle will see decreased rainfall and prolonged drought, writ large. In Honduras, rainfall will be sparse in areas where it is needed, yet in other areas, floods will increase by 60%. In Guatemala, the arid regions will creep further and further into current agricultural areas, leaving farmers out to dry. And El Salvador is projected to lose 10-28% of its coastline before the end of the century. How will all those people survive, and where will they go?

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The Guardian, 6 Apr 2019: How climate change is pushing Central American migrants to the US