MAC: Mines and Communities

Capitalism, climate change and mining in storm-hit Honduras

Published by MAC on 2020-12-07
Source: GLOBE NEWSWIRE, The New Humanitarian, Progressive

The country endures its second major hurricane in as many weeks.

For Bertita Zúñiga Cáceres, daughter of the murdered environmental activist Berta Cáceres, mining and monoculture agriculture – including palm oil plantations – are a large part of the problem.

Zúñiga Cáceres, a deputy in the Honduran Congress for the Intibucá department, said more attention should be focused on the watersheds created by these industries, which have proliferated since a military coup in 2009.

According to her, corrupt political and economic practices have played a more immediate role than climate change in the worsening Dry Corridor droughts. “It has to do a lot with the way the land is treated, so it seems weird to not be talking about that. There are so many extractive projects such as mining that suck up water and have a terrible environmental impact” Cáceres stated.
See also:
2020-11-19 Nucor Corporation hidden connections in Honduras
2016-11-05 "Militarized neoliberalism" and the Canadian state in Latin America
2016-04-21 Villagers take over San Andrés mine in Copan, Honduras
2015-12-02 Canada's Aura Minerals Terrorizing Honduran Communities

Capitalism and Climate Change in Honduras

Yanis Iqbal

December 1, 2020
Honduras lies in tatters. Ecological catastrophes in the form of twin hurricanes have rapidly destroyed its pandemic-ravaged economy. At a press conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez said that his country already had 7% of its GDP wiped out by the pandemic, and that the combined impact of COVID-19 and two deadly storms will create a “bomb that will leave the country and the region in a very difficult situation.”
Hurricane Eta

The first environmental calamity came in the form of the category 4 Hurricane Eta. It arrived on 4 November, 2020 and killed 60 people, seriously affected 3 million people (a third of the country), damaged more than 400 houses and wrecked close to 173 roads. Agriculture authorities have stated that over 216,000 hectares of crops have been lost due to Eta, impacting small and mid-scale farmers.

At least 8,994 families have lost their crops. Overall, it is expected that Eta will turn out to be a “multi-billion-dollar disaster” for Honduras. Damage estimates for Eta’s impact on Honduras are as high as $5 billion – over 20% of the nation’s GDP.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Eta, the number of Covid-19 infections has rapidly increased.  Tom Cotter, Director of Emergency Response and Preparedness at Project HOPE, says:

“Hundreds of families affected by the hurricane are crammed into temporary shelters without masks to protect themselves, unable to keep physical distance, and without access to water to wash their hands. Collective shelters could become a breeding ground for a rapid spread of the virus, increasing vulnerability among a population already affected by natural disasters and the devastating effects of climate change.”

Apart from Covid-19, there is a high possibility of the occurrence of diseases like dengue, zika, malaria, cholera, chikungunya, acute diarrhea, fungal infections, and influenza due to stagnant water and flooded areas.

Hurricane Iota

Coming 13 days after Eta, Hurricane Iota crashed through Honduras from 16-18 November, affecting another 600,000 people. Prior to the arrival of Iota, at least 55,000 people remained in 527 shelters, among them around 20,000 children. Damages in infrastructure included more than 28,000 homes affected, 32 bridges destroyed and 45 bridges damaged.

Due to these access constraints, over 105,000 affected continued to remain isolated in 69 communities. Occurring in this context of pre-existing ruination, Iota was bound to be a cataclysmic event. It caused severe damage, particularly in the Sula Valley, the Department of El Paraíso, Olancho and extending to western parts of the country, such as Copán and Ocotepeque.

The impact of the natural phenomenon forced hundreds of thousands of people in the Sula Valley to evacuate flooded areas, causing an exponential increase in the population housed in temporary places.

Honduras’ Permanent Commission for Contingencies (COPECO) reports that Iota increased the sheltered population to nearly 75,000 people. Many areas in the flood-prone Cortés department in the north-west suffered renewed flooding, triggering further evacuations and exacerbating the disruptive effects of Eta.

Iota travelled further south than Eta and harmed southern and central departments such as Francisco Morazán where torrential rains presented serious landslide risks amid more mountainous terrain.

Like Eta, Iota, too, wreaked severe damage on the agricultural sector. According to CARE Honduras Country Director Maite Matheu, “60-80% of basic grains have been lost. Coffee is one of Honduras’ main export products and 90% of coffee production in the country is done by smallholder farmers.

Eta alone has left losses on the coffee crops of approximately 100,000 quintals. Iota had an impact directed at the growing areas and productive infrastructure and the collateral damage due to high rainfall will mean greater impacts on the field. The effect this will have on income and livelihoods for people, especially the poorest in society, is unimaginable. Experts are already saying that it will take at least a decade for the country to recover from this.”

Global Capitalism and the Climate Crisis

Climate disasters like the one occurring in Honduras are directly linked to the wider processes of global capitalism which have produced ecological destabilization on a planetary level – manifested in extreme weather, species extinctions, drought, desertification, landslides, receding coastlines, floods and hurricanes.

Since records began being kept in 1851, this is the first time two major hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic basin in November. This is because of the acceleration of the global water cycle caused by excessive greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Climate models indicate that by 2100, the number of Category 5 storms will increase 85% globally and 136% in the Atlantic. Furthermore, as per a study published in Nature, “as the world continues to warm, the destructive power of hurricanes will extend progressively farther inland.”

Countries of the Global South are disproportionately affected by climate change due to the fact that global warming hits the hotter, low latitude, tropical and subtropical regions of the earth especially hard. These countries are also generally poor due to imperialist factors such as underdevelopment, mal-development, poverty, corruption and inequality which amplify each extreme weather event into social tragedies as communities suffer displacement, hunger and heightened precarity.

As Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke put it in an article, “there is growing evidence that poorer countries or individuals are more negatively affected by a changing climate, either because they lack the resources for climate protection or because they tend to reside in warmer regions where additional warming would be detrimental to both productivity and health.”

To take the example of Honduras itself, in 2019, the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index ranked it as the second country most affected by extreme weather events, signaling vulnerability “where extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change.” These climate risks were worsened by neoliberal capitalism and imperialism which prioritized capital accumulation over measures aimed at combating climate change.

As a result of capitalism’s drive towards endless profit-maximization, Honduras is today witnessing utter havoc: together Eta and Iota have killed around 100 Hondurans and it is expected that the two hurricanes will cost Honduras $10 billion.

Since neoliberal capitalism reigns supreme in Honduras, climate disasters have been allowed to spill over into the health sector, thus worsening the current epidemiological crisis. According to the ministry of health, about 2.5 million people currently have limited or no access to health services due to damages in health services.

Some 37 health facilities have been damaged, 27 health facilities are out of service and at least 10 health centres have reported losses in the cold chain, equipment, supplies and vaccines, impacting around 114,236 children who will miss out on vaccination.With the latest rounds of hurricanes in Honduras, the urgency of an eco-socialist revolution has been again foregrounded.

Mad profit-maximization and deliberate blindness towards planetary-environmental boundaries are the defining characteristics of capitalism and if humanity needs to have a future at all, socialism has to be established. Instead of caring for the poor and displaced, capitalism utilizes disasters to further consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie.

For instance, in the aftermath of the 1998 Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, the Canadian mining lobby held relief hostage until pro-mining reforms – which were intended to legalize open-pit cyanide mining, permit forced expropriation in the case of social conflict, reduce taxes on mining, and establish no limits on water use – were passed.

In storm-hit Honduras, a climate crisis drives needs and fuels migration

‘They’re already losing so much with the El Niño droughts before this. I bet more and more people are going to leave after this.’

18 November 2020

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras. As Honduras endures its second major hurricane in as many weeks, international aid agencies and local volunteer groups are scrambling the best responses they can to assist people displaced by flooding and landslides.

But aid experts and rights activists, as well as local residents and politicians, say longer-term problems are being neglected in a country where years of devastating drought have caused mass hunger and are leading thousands of Hondurans to flee annually towards the United States.
Yamely Cáceres was displaced from her Chamalecón neighbourhood in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras after flooding from Hurricane Eta, and then prevented from returning due to resurgent floods from Hurricane Iota, which crashed through the region from 16-18 November

“People are losing everything,” Cáceres, who is now living under a highway overpass, told The New Humanitarian via WhatsApp. “They’re already losing so much with the El Niño droughts before this. I bet more and more people are going to leave after this.”

Though it’s hard to pin down the exact extent to which climate change is responsible for this unprecedented season of storms, there’s far less doubt about its key role – over several decades – in causing perennial drought in what is known as the “Dry Corridor”.

Scientists say the droughts are driven by El Niño, a periodic but extreme iteration of global weather shifts made more intense by climate change. Since the Dry Corridor catchphrase began being used in 2009, the area – a stretch of often parched mountainous farmland running from Guatemala to northern Costa Rica – has become home to systematic hunger and malnutrition. Some 3.5 million people – or one in six people in the three worst-affected countries – are estimated to have faced food insecurity in the past 10 years due to the drought cycle.

Conor Walsh, country representative for Catholic Relief Services, an international NGO that provides food aid in the Dry Corridor, explained how Hondurans are on the front line in terms of experiencing the humanitarian impacts of climate change today.

“It’s causing massive increases in storms while having repeated droughts,” Walsh told TNH. “We had three seasons of repeated droughts that were destroying crops, devastating food security, and driving people into the migration caravans. Drought isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s repeated droughts that drive them off of their land.”

Ruinous for farmers, food security

With 30 percent of Hondurans engaged in agriculture, including 70 percent in subsistence farming, prolonged droughts bookended by huge storms and floods have reduced crop yields by catastrophic amounts.

Feed the Future, a programme fighting food insecurity and funded by USAID – the US government’s foreign aid department – estimates that 45 percent of people now live below the poverty line in the six departments of western Honduras in the Dry Corridor.

In 2019, after four years of El Niño-driven droughts, the agricultural monitoring organisation GEOGLAM reported that small-scale subsistence farmers in the wider Dry Corridor region had experienced crop losses of 50 to 75 percent.

A 9 November report from the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said more than 150,000 hectares of crops in Honduras had been lost or damaged due to Hurricane Eta – a devastation of rural livelihoods expected to worsen with more flooding after Iota.

In a 13 November news release, the UN’s World Food Programme predicted that the food emergency in Honduras would deepen. It said the combined effects of catastrophic flooding and pre-existing economic precarity worsened by COVID-19 lockdowns meant the number of food insecure Hondurans would jump from 1.6 million in 2019 to three million by the end of 2020.

Edy Banegas, a forestry expert and human rights advocate working with the San Alonso Foundation, a Honduran human rights group supporting farmers, has observed the longer-term deterioration of food yields. “The harvests have fallen an extreme amount in recent years,” he told TNH. “People are having far less access to food, and therefore can’t even eat in many cases.”

Beyond climate change

Other factors have also been contributing to the crisis in rural Honduras.

“Year by year, through the processes of industrialisation, especially in the southern part of the country where deforestation is worse, the droughts have gotten worse and worse,” Eder Benítez, who works for the Center for Human Development, a human rights organisation in the southern city of Choluteca, told TNH.

For Bertita Zúñiga Cáceres, daughter of the murdered environmental activist Berta Cáceres, mining and monoculture agriculture – including palm oil plantations – are a large part of the problem as they damage the natural water systems.

Zúñiga Cáceres, a deputy in the Honduran Congress for the Intibucá department, said more attention should be focused on the watersheds created by these industries, which have proliferated since a military coup in 2009. According to her, corrupt political and economic practices have played a more immediate role than climate change in the worsening Dry Corridor droughts.

“In the last year, what we’ve experienced is the effects of deforestation and the invasion of territories,” she said. “It has to do a lot with the way the land is treated, so it seems weird to not be talking about that. There are so many extractive projects such as mining that suck up water and have a terrible environmental impact.”

Mario Argeñal, a resident of Danlí in the heart of the Dry Corridor, told TNH he has seen first-hand how deforestation has impacted water supplies. “The mountains here are already destroyed, because they sent off the pines and the forests to foreign buyers,” he said. “Now they don’t have the vegetation to filter and hold water. It’s the same with mining. It leaves us in a terrible crisis when things like this happen.”

For Banegas, the forestry expert, the only way to overcome hunger over the long-term in Honduras – and in the Dry Corridor – is to change the whole way of thinking about farming, and to move away from the idea of large-scale “profit-making agriculture”.

“What should we be doing? We should be changing the logic,” he said. “If we want to leave this situation… the first focus [should be] finding a sustainable model of agriculture for small-scale producers.”

Short-term assistance?

Elio Rujano, a representative for WFP’s regional bureau in Panama, told TNH via email that the agency “is supporting smallholder farmers... to become resilient to recurrent climate shocks while improving and protecting their food security and nutrition.”

WFP provides cash transfers for families unable to cultivate their own crops so they can buy groceries in times of emergency, as well as meals for children in rural schools.

For some Hondurans that TNH spoke to, the work of international aid groups provides a necessary remedy to a deepening crisis of hunger and poverty. But others felt it fails to attack the roots of the problem.

“It is really important that they don’t only bring food,” Benítez from the Center for Human Development said, regarding the aid sector in general. “The aid organisations help people with food, but not as much with, say, water collection systems that could help the farmers survive these droughts.” 

For Hervé Bund, Honduras country director for Trōcaire, an Irish aid organisation helping to develop organic farming practices and providing emergency food supplements to rural families, it’s important to “work with the municipal governments so that their plans for local developments have a focus on adaptation to climate change”.

But a day after the publication of the latest World Disasters Report 2020, Matthew Cochrane, a spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told a UN press conference in Geneva that although Honduras was one of the region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, it received only $1.22 per person in climate adaptation funding in 2018 – around half the rate of neighbouring Nicaragua.

For Maite Matheu, Honduras country director for CARE, the biggest challenge is working out “how to help construct resiliency for families engaged in subsistence agriculture who are facing prolonged droughts, for five years, and who are then getting pounded by these (storms).

“It’s such a challenge,” she told TNH. “Because all the hard work that’s done to help strengthen food security is put at risk if we don’t do this.”

For some Hondurans, there’s a sense that – although well-intentioned – the international aid effort needs to look deeper.

“They come to Honduras with an outsider's view; the vision brought in from another place,” Zúñiga Cáceres said of international aid organisations. “They know there [are problems] here, but they very often don’t look for and try to fix what’s behind the problems here in Honduras. They don’t understand the reality and the causes behind those problems.”

Walsh, from Catholic Relief Services, admitted that the “very important” work of the NGO sector was “not sufficient”.

“We can’t do it on our own. We can’t carry out these projects on a scale that would be necessary to help these people,” he said. “In the humanitarian sector, we have to get over the idea that we need to only respond to these droughts. They aren’t just a one-off event. Due to climate change, they’re here to stay. The way to deal with it is [to] mitigate climate change, as well as helping foment better farming practices to live with it.”

Aura Minerals Comments on Impacts of Hurricanes Eta and Iota at San Andres Mine

November 24, 202

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands, Nov. 24, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Aura Minerals Inc. (TSX: ORA; B3: AURA33) (“Aura” or the “Company”) provides an update on the impacts of Hurricanes Eta and Iota (“Hurricanes”) at its San Andres Mine in Honduras (the “Mine”). The Honduran Permanent Commission for Contingencies (COPECO) issued a red alert state at national level on November 15 for undefined time due to constant rains, that remain to date in the national territory.

Hurricane Eta reached Central America on November 3rd and Hurricane Iota on November 16th, carrying severe storms near San Andres mine causing constant power and communication disruptions. The Company prioritized the safety of its employees and service providers and, as such, reduced or interrupted operations during few occasions within current month when appropriate. In addition, the Company is working closely with local communities, providing food, water, beds, general housewares and other essentials to those affected by the Hurricanes. Donations were also made to institutions designated by the government to evaluate and provide aid to the people affected by the Hurricanes at Copan department.

The Company is not aware of any injuries or casualties caused by the Hurricanes in the region where the Mine is located. In addition, no material damage was caused to properties of the Company and impact on production is estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 ounces against the previous disclosed guidance, therefore impacting in lower revenues and costs for November 2020.

"The safety of our employees and contractors is always our top priority, as well as supporting the communities around our operations," said Rodrigo Barbosa, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aura.
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