Something as obvious as it rains in the tropics in November is a twinge in Luz Marina’s stomach with every drop. For two weeks, this 75-year-old grandmother has spliced all the possible definitions of non-stop rain: squall, cyclone, storm, tropical depression …
But when night falls, he says, putting his hands to his head wanting to pull out his hair, the worst moment arrives. These are the hours when he turns on the mat listening to the water while chocolate-colored puddles form at his feet. He has lost everything he had and has been sleeping in the mud for two weeks on a borrowed mattress on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula (Honduras), where he quietly eats his panic attacks. After all that, that the sky, to which Luz Marina Reyes punctually dedicates several hours of prayers every day, continues to throw water, is a cruel act.
In 20 days Sula has become a valley of two million people who have become destitute from one day to the next. Tens of thousands of families, who last month worked in street vending, sewing branded clothes in the maquilas (factories) or cutting bananas and African palm in plantations, now eat from charity, wear free clothes and have as a routine of the day rummaging through the mud accumulated in their houses to rescue something: the gas tank, a chair, the jug …
The industrial heart of Honduras, if that name fits in one of the poorest countries on the continent, was devastated after 20 consecutive days of water, wind and mud from hurricanes Eta, first, and Iota, later. What used to be modest streets of poor lighting and sanitation have been transformed into brown rivers that enter the living room of the houses and in which float refrigerators, armchairs or dogs swollen like balloons after several days in the water.
Susana, a neighbor of the Jerusalem neighborhood, cleans the interior of her home. | On video, Iota’s passage through Honduras and the devastation it has left behind.
“Look how my hands are,” says Yésica Varela, 40, Luz Marina’s comadre, showing the rash on her palms. “All full of itching from rummaging in the mud,” she assures embarrassed. “Sometimes I wonder what good it is that I am peeling my knees praying that all this happens to us,” she says dejectedly. Every day he lies down with his neighbors from the Jerusalem neighborhood on a mattress next to which he has put everything he saved in the two hours he had to run when the Ulúa and Chamelecón rivers overflowed. A bag with some clothes, a photo album, a trophy from your son, and a Bible. “I just want to leave Honduras,” she repeats sitting on the mattress.
Its history is the same as that of millions of people who live in the Sula Valley in colonies such as Rivera Hernández or La Planeta or municipalities such as La Lima, with almost 500,000 inhabitants. “With the first full [inundación de Eta] the water reached the doors. When it reached my waist, I went to the house of some neighbors who had two floors and I spent two days there. I lost everything in the house. When I was cleaning, the following week, the second full arrived and the water rose to the ceiling. I spent four days at my neighbor’s house and since then I have been under this plastic ”, she recalls as she watches how it continues to rain and a“ third full ”covers what remains of her old house with mud.
A hurricane is a strange disaster. There is no blood, there are not many deaths – about 300 in all of Central America – and it does not have the spectacular nature of the volcano or the earthquake. However, the annihilating effect of Eta and Iota has affected 40% of the country’s population, causing damage only comparable to Mitch in 1998. To the national crisis in which the country was submerged before the hurricanes, it is added that of San Pedro Sula periodically leave the migrant caravans that frighten Mexico and the United States so much, which turns the catastrophe into an expansive wave of international dimensions.
The figures leave no room for doubt. The hurricanes have affected more than four million people, tens of thousands of houses have been destroyed, factories and all crops have been lost, dozens of mountains have been torn away and 110 bridges and 267 roads have been damaged or directly unusable. The country’s main airport, San Pedro Sula, is under the mud and there are still almost 300,000 people isolated. According to the Central Bank (BCH) the economy will fall this year by 7.5%, but after the hurricanes it will fall another three points. A bankrupt State is compounded by the paralysis of private enterprise. The productive sector of San Pedro Sula, where 60% of Honduras’ GDP comes from, has been destroyed.
But Honduras was already a poor country before the arrival of water. The place where all this happens has been appearing in the world press for several years and never for anything good. Five years ago it was one of the most violent countries in the world and for two years it has been a great expeller of its people. Almost 100 Hondurans leave their homes every day to try to reach the United States, according to the human mobility survey.
Describing this panorama can be done in two ways. With the reports of the United Nations and the World Bank, which confirm that six out of ten Hondurans live below the poverty line or that four out of ten do not even have to buy a plate of food, which the organizations define as “poverty extreme ”.
The other option is to ask Gagarin Chávez, a wire-skinned bricklayer who skillfully moves the oar through the streets of the San Rafael neighborhood where he used to walk. Under the water was his house, furniture, clothes, television, stove, beds and a clock.
When he arrives at the patio of the República de Honduras school where the children of his neighborhood used to study, he moors the boat in a classroom where the desks are piled up and a blackboard floats with phrases such as: “Who studies himself” or “we respect the environment” . Gagarin, the son of a nostalgic man from the USSR, is one of the few who knew how to swim when the water arrived between 4 and 14 November and aboard a refrigerator, he says he saved 15 children. And what is the most luxurious thing you have lost? “El Rotoplas”, he answers without doubting the water tank he had on the roof. The misery can also be explained by the scared face of Fabiola Ulloa, a 23-year-old girl whom journalists find on the street hugging her baby just hours after she gave birth on a median in the city. She has just given birth, helped by her neighbors, on the same piece of land surrounded by rubbish that she has lived on since the water took her out of her house penniless and with an immense belly about to explode.
According to the Honduras Foreign Debt Forum (Fodesh), a non-governmental organization dedicated to economic affairs, the Central American country will go back 20 years due to the effects of the hurricanes and the social outbreak is only a matter of days. “The first caravans to leave the country are beginning to organize,” says Pastor Dany Pacheco in Rivera Hernández, another of the flooded colonies. “Without a pandemic, the situation was precarious and, if there was any hope of getting ahead, the water took it away,” says the priest walking through the mud and mountains of furniture destroyed by the mud. “Migration worries me because it is a dangerous route in which migrants can die, but I am also concerned about the increase in violence that there will be,” says Pacheco, used to dealing with gang members, drug addicts and alcoholics in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. American continent due to the control exercised by the gangs MS-13 and 18. The present and the future look bleak in a country on the edge.
Added to the social crisis is the environmental crisis in which Honduras is immersed. In the last decade, the Central American country was the second most affected by hurricanes, storms or floods according to the Climate Risk Index (IRC) carried out each year by the NGO Germanwatch. In all the maps prepared by climate change experts, the Gulf of Fonseca, in the south of the country, appears painted in red, and it is expected that they will soon be under the sea, like Myanmar, Dominica or the Caribbean islands of Panama. This year the hurricane season, the most damaging on record, has exhausted the letters of the Latin alphabet and had to start with the Greek when they reached 30 tropical storms in a year, three of them in the first days of November. According to Enoc Reyes, head of the Government’s Climate Change Office, the outlook for Honduras in the coming years does not consist of “stopping climate change, but rather how to adapt to it.”
For days the Government of Juan Orlando Hernández has been pleading for international aid. According to his estimates, he will need $ 10 billion for reconstruction, but so far he has received $ 75 million for immediate care. According to sources from the European Union involved in cooperation projects with Central America, it is very difficult that in the current context of pandemic this figure will increase.
The rains over Honduras were unlucky enough to start on November 4, the day after Joe Biden and Donald Trump played for the presidency. The United States, which overturned in 1998 after Mitch and even approved a special immigration plan for the affected countries. This time, however, all the help comes down to a tweet from the president-elect sending his condolences. Spain, which was traditionally the second donor in the region, will contribute less than $ 350,000 (about 292,500 euros). Against this background, the Central American government’s strategy is to cry out for the famous “green funds” of the international community, arguing that Honduras pays for the consequences of the excess greenhouse effect gases produced by rich countries.
In this context, the pandemic has been reduced to an anecdote, but its effects are anything but. The department of Cortés, where San Pedro Sula is located, is at the forefront of the pandemic and three out of 10 Hondurans infected with the virus live here, according to official figures. As if that were not enough, they have found “35% positive cases in each shelter visited,” said the city’s Health Director, Juan José Leiva. Before water, 51% of the country’s formal companies had closed or were about to do so, according to the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise.
The writer Horacio Castellanos Moya described in his book Folly the state of mind of Guatemala with a phrase he heard from the indigenous people who witnessed the military massacres of the 1990s when they tried to explain the depression in which they found themselves and that today applies to an entire country devastated by water: “I’m not complete of mind ”. In recent days, the organization Doctors Without Borders has requested, through insertions in the main newspapers of Honduras, the urgent hiring of psychologists to attend to a population that does not stop looking at the sky; some to pray, others to know if it will continue to rain and others to know where so much misfortune comes from.