Monday, April 16, 2012

Hailstorm La Union: The Recovery Process Begins


It has been just over a week since the hailstorm in La Unión. Over 300 houses were damaged, water sources are still contaminated, and an estimated 250 acres of coffee farmland were heavily damaged. However, the recovery effort has begun and the people are doing their best to cope. I would like to take a moment to discuss the effects, both short-term and long-term, of this hailstorm. First the immediate effects and recovery effort that is beginning.

Many homes have been repaired, with roofing material made available through the local government. However, there are still many homes that are waiting for materials for arrive, and there is a need for more to be purchased. We are currently working with the local government to get better information so that we can become a part of this recovery effort.

Dozens of  people in the town of Chimizal have gotten sick since the hail storm, and contaminated water is the most likely culprit. A health team from the local government is in the process of getting water samples to find out the exact contaminants in the water, and once this information is available UMF will be coordinating with water engineers in Honduras to determine best way to improve filtration and support this community in gaining access to clean water.

Another immediate impact of this disaster is that the water sources in the towns of Chimizal and Quiscamote have been damaged, leaving very little water arriving to the towns. We are working to get water engineers to analyze the sources and propose ways to improve access.

There are both short and long-term effects of this storm on the coffee farms of the affected villages. Fortunately we were near the end of the harvest, but there were still large amounts of coffee lost when it was knocked from the trees and ruined. This means that many farmers lost 10-20% of this year’s income.

Looking long-term, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that farms are still alive, which means the rebuilding process won’t require complete replanting, a process that would involve large investments and would leave farmers without a harvest for three full years. The bad news is that most farms will not have a harvest this coming year. This, combined with the low prices and loss of coffee during the storm, means that many farmers are sitting with little money saved and a greatly reduced income for the coming year. There are two major issues that this will create for the people of La Unión over the next two years.

First, farmer owners have been left without money to invest in their fields. It will be a two-year recuperation process, and there is currently no local access for money to facilitate this process.

Second, many people rely on day labor for the majority of their income. Since farm owners are not going to be able to fully farm their fields, the amount of work available for day laborers will be drastically reduced.

These issues may also lead to other, secondary effects. First, if farmers have no way to recuperate their fields and no access to work, there is a strong likelihood that they will have no choice but to sell property to feed their family. This would leave them with no means of producing income in the future. Second, disaster relief experts have expressed to UMF that, with the scarcity of work available, there is a high risk of mass migration out of these towns.. If a farmer cannot find work in his village, he will be forced to leave his family and look for work in other villages around La Unión, Honduras, or outside of the country. If this happens, it could have devastating effects on the villages and families in them.

We at UMF are working to put together a long-term plan to support these villages. We have spoken with community leaders in several affected villages, and will be spending time in the coming days speaking to community members to find out the best way to partner with them to address both short and long-term problems. Potential ideas that we have already discussed include:

·         Opening a new loan fund for affected farms that would last for several years, helping farmers bring their harvest to its pre-storm production.

·         Making solar dryer materials available as part of these long-term loans. Many solar dryers in these communities were destroyed, leaving farmers without the ability to properly process their coffee. Twelve farmers affected sold high-quality coffee to UMF this year—including Bernardo Ponce, Rigoberto Paz, Antonio Castellanos, Filadelfo Juarez, and others—and we want to ensure that they are able to produce high-quality coffee in the coming year, even if it is in much smaller amounts.

·         Starting family gardens to help provide food for families that are unable to earn enough money to provide proper nutrition for their families.

We will work to continue developing long-term solutions as we help address the immediate needs of these communities. We appreciate the thoughts, prayers, and help that our supporters have given and ask that you consider ways to get involved in supporting these communities in their time of need.

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