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Central American Climate Migration is a Human Security Crisis

Central American migrants in Mexico City, November 9, 2018 – photo by Wotancito

By Amali Tower

In the pursuit of addressing the ‘root causes’ of migration from Central America to the U.S. southern border, the United States is motivated by a foreign policy built on seeking to improve conditions in Central America countries. However, this policy fails to fully grasp the extreme conditions that now mark contexts of forced displacement. 

The Central American Integration System (SICA) — the economic and political organization of Central American states — has expressed the need to approach forced migration through a human security and development lens, rather than a traditional hard security one, and through coordinated regional responses. SICA identifies the structural causes of migration as poverty and inequality, insufficient growth, high demographic growth in cities – with rural areas lagging, high levels of violence, a wage gap between the region and the United States, family reunification needs in the United States, and vulnerability to climate change. SICA notes that Guatemala and El Salvador, and at times Nicaragua, are among the 15 countries in the world most exposed to disasters.


Central America: Climate, Drought, Migration and the Border


Dry season in Nicaragua, 19 February 2011

By Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, US Navy (Ret)

The dominant media narrative that explains the reasons for current Central American migration to the United States centers on the dismal economic and security conditions across source states: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The ‘failing economies’ and ‘corrupt governments’ narratives largely frame our understanding of the near en masse emigration of Central Americans northwards. However, those explanations don’t tell the whole story. The ongoing food security crisis across the region (caused by drought, crop disease, and water shortages) deserves special examination, not only because it might be a leading causal factor for the crisis, but also because it is undoubtedly one of its catalysts. As such, any U.S. policy prescriptions that do not help to address the catastrophic impacts of environmental changes on Central American agriculture, will fail to achieve their objectives.


Top Climate Security Implications for Latin America: A Regional Breakdown

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of
climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in
2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, U.S. Navy (ret) Senior Research Fellow, The Center for Climate and Security

From December 1-12, world leaders are meeting in Lima, Peru to lay the groundwork for a global agreement on climate change. But aside from being a setting for this round of international climate talks, the Latin American region is facing significant security and development threats from climate change that are not often reported.

Climate change is a stressor that will compound, and already is compounding, vexing preexisting developmental challenges across the regions’ states – testing governments to the limits of their capacities and affecting populations in diverse ways. While this “stressor” is becoming better appreciated by development stakeholders, a dimension that is not as well-appreciated is the impact climatic and environmental shifts will have on states’ security in general, and on the operations of regional militaries more specifically. Below is a sub-regional breakdown – a sort of “get to the point” compilation – of the implications of climate change on this growing, dynamic and increasingly relevant region of the globe. The compilation draws from and builds on a joint military assessment I contributed to as a consultant for U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The geographic categories below reflect a structure commonly used in the U.S defense sector. (more…)

Nicaragua’s Ecological Battalion: Boots on the Ground to Fight Climate Change?

Nicaragua has a new ecological battalion – allegedly the first of its kind in Central America. More specifically, it is a division of the army tasked primarily with stopping illegal logging, planting trees, and yes, fighting climate change. Operation Green Gold, the inaugural mission for the new battalion, recently wrapped up, and has declared “its first ‘battlefield victory’ by netting 111,800 cubic feet (3,165 cubic metres) of illegal lumber felled by loggers.” (more…)