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Central America ravaged by all-time record hurricane season

. Nov 15, 2020
hurricane season Photo: FotoKina/Shutterstock

The region of Central America and the Caribbean has been one of the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, pushing an estimated 20 million into poverty and another 7 million into extreme poverty, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). And to make matters worse, the coronavirus crisis is coming in the middle of the busiest Atlantic hurricane season in history, with 29 occurrences and an untold number of deaths.  

Hurricane Eta, which dissipated on Friday, battered Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of the southeastern U.S. over the last two weeks.

So far, 167 deaths have been confirmed as a result of the storm — the

majority coming in the so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Local sources heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> confirmed that heavy rains and high winds have closed the main airport in Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, where electricity and internet have become scarce.  </p> <p>According to Unicef, Eta affected more than 1.2 million children in <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/11/06/with-elections-a-year-away-opposition-to-ortega-splits-in-nicaragua/">Central America</a>, especially due to the lack of safe water, shelter, and the imminent risk of malnutrition caused by the destruction of plantations and the shortage of supplies. The consequences of the heavy rains&nbsp; and extreme winds were felt hardest in Honduras and Guatemala, prompting Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele to send 270 doctors and military personnel and 30,000 care packages to the hardest-hit territories.</p> <p>To the east, Hurricane Laura killed 23 people in Haiti in August, considerably aggravating the country&#8217;s Covid-19 fight. The government is providing community shelters to displaced people which appear to guarantee very little safety from coronavirus infections. Plus, floods have blocked roads preventing patients from reaching hospitals.</p> <h2>Financial destruction</h2> <p>Between 1950 and 2016 — according to the <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/06/24/imf-slashes-latin-america-forecasts-brazil-and-mexico-are-to-blame/">International Monetary Fund</a> (IMF) — fallout from hurricanes have cost Central American and Caribbean countries at least USD 22 billion. The rest of the world combined has faced losses of USD 58 billion.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies says that “natural disasters cause <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/09/29/tourism-dominican-republic-tries-dodge-covid-19/">severe disruptions</a> to a country&#8217;s exports, particularly agricultural exports.” In Guatemala alone, agriculture accounts for 11.3 percent of the country&#8217;s GDP.&nbsp;</p> <p>Since records began 169 years ago, there have never been so many tropical or subtropical Atlantic storms in a single year as in 2020. The exact financial impact of these events has yet to be fully calculated, but factoring in the projected 9.1-percent drop in the region&#8217;s GDP due to the coronavirus pandemic, economic disaster is on the horizon as bodies are still being discovered in the destruction.</p> <h2>Why so many hurricanes?</h2> <p>Hurricanes in the Atlantic basin are &#8220;imported&#8221; from North Africa. Every July, a tropical wave is generated around this region, creating an atmospheric disturbance and an area of relatively low pressure.&nbsp;</p> <p>This wave is carried westward by trade winds and hot and wet air is taken on as &#8220;fuel&#8221; to turn the mass into a tropical cyclone, requiring an ocean surface temperature of over 27 degrees Celsius.</p> <p>A tropical storm — with winds of between 64 and 117 kilometers per hour — already has massive destructive capacity, but becomes classed as a hurricane once it reaches 118 km per hour. Once officially identified as such, these storms are classified from 1 to 5 on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS). At least four hurricanes in 2020 were Category 4 and above, as was the case with Hurricane Eta.</p> <p>Indeed, this year&#8217;s record hurricane season has led to an odd anomaly with the naming customs of these storms. Every year, the National Hurricane Center in Miami selects 21 English, Spanish, and French names — alternating between typically male and female names — to identify hurricanes, going from names beginning with the letter A, through to W.</p> <p>In 2005, for the first time in history, the National Hurricane Center ran out of names after Hurricane Wilma ravaged Central America in October. Another six tropical storms were recorded until the end of that year, which were given names from the Greek alphabet.</p> <p>In 2020, however, Eta — the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet — came into use for the first time ever, and tropical storm Theta has already been identified in the Azores.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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