Hunger drives migration in Central America: study

Thu Sep 17, 2015 2:27pm EDT
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By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Food shortages and cuts in farming jobs caused by a prolonged drought are driving thousands of people living in parts of Central America to leave their homes, according to new academic research.

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said in a study that worsening hunger, combined with high levels of crime and gang violence, are driving poor families in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to migrate.

Those affected are moving within their own country, often from rural to urban areas in search of a better life and jobs, or to other countries in the region or the United States, the study said.

"Migration has always been linked to income disparities between countries, socio-economic instability, and population pressures; however, this is the first time food insecurity has been specifically singled out as a trigger for migration," Miguel Barreto, WFP's regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement on Thursday.

"This exploratory study is important because it underscores the need to invest in food security to prevent migration."

Hardest hit are subsistence farmers in Central America's "dry corridor" running through parts of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where growing numbers of women and children have migrated in recent years, the study said.

Low rainfall for two consecutive years has caused widespread and severe drought, leading to poor harvests of staple crops like beans and maize and leaving more than one million people in the corridor facing a shortage of food and rising food prices, the study said.

"This has negatively affected many of the most vulnerable segments of society that are largely dependent on one harvest per year and compounded by declining labor opportunities," the study, supported by the Organisation of American States, said.   Continued...