Climate change is advancing quickly in Central America. Honduras is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change and extremely vulnerable to hurricanes. Back in 1998 Hurricane Mitch swept through Honduras with devastating effects. It killed 5,000 people. 70% of the country’s crops were destroyed. It caused billions of dollars worth of damage, and led to economic recession and increased poverty. Honduras also is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. According to the Human Development Index in 2011 nearly 65 % of the population lives under the poverty line. This means that many Hondurans have no savings or backup systems to support them when going through more challenging periods of the year.
Water is major issue in Honduras. Seasonal floods jeopardize food security and regularly destroy people’s houses and crops and therefore the basis of their livelihoods.
At the same time water scarcity is a problem the Honduran people are challenged with every day. Although Honduras has 19 watersheds which account for total yearly flows of over 90 million cubic meters, access to water is still limited in many areas of the country. In rural areas only 77 percent of the population has access to water and only 15 percent has access to safe drinking water. Degraded watersheds affected by deforestation and pollution of water aggravate a critical situation.
The key to tackling these problems is the responsible management of resources. Progressio supports local partner organisations in developing skills to manage natural resources sustainably – mainly water, forest and soil – to tackle environmental vulnerability and to influence environmental legislations that have a direct impact on the concerned communities. Progressio’s development workers and partners also raise awareness with respect to the importance of preventing water pollution and support in the reforestation of watersheds.
A good example of this work comes from four communities in Marcala (Western Honduras). Here, Progressio development workers have supported farmers in the diversification of their production by breaking their dependency on rain water. They have done this by training them in the installation and maintenance of a 21 hectares-long water pipe for drip irrigation systems. Farmers are being encouraged to install micro systems in their plots so that they will be able to benefit from the system. Farmers are thus able to diversify their crops and increase their income while using water efficiently.
One of Progressio’s development workers was amazed with the outcome of the project:
” This project is benefitting up to 100 impoverished families from four communities. 60 percent of the beneficiaries are women. These families have four children on average and most women are raising their children by themselves, without their husbands’ support. “
Access to water
Especially in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, accessing water is a huge problem for poorer people. Marginalised neighbourhoods have no public water system and people there must buy water from private suppliers. This water is distributed by lorry and the monthly cost is 50 times higher than in neighbourhoods with access to the water system.
That is why Progressio supports a women’s movement (Madre Tierra) working with limited resources which has already built around 200 tanks to harvest rainwater. Progressio is strengthening the organisation’s capacity to identify donors to fund training on rainwater harvesting, vegetable gardens, organic fertilizers and pesticides, among many other activities. (Read an article the urban farming revolution).
Illegal logging causes immense difficulties in Honduras. It changes land use patterns from forestry to agriculture and livestock. As this is often done in a relatively unmanaged way, it can lead to a high level of soil erosion. Equally important is the way in which it creates a culture of illegality and feeds into violence. Land rights are also an ongoing issue.
A new law to protect national forests was passed in Honduras in 2008 thanks to lobbying by Progressio’s local partner organisations. Since the law was approved, Progressio and some of its partners have promoted implementation of the law by helping communities to put in place Forest (Community and Municipal) Consultation Committees. These Committees increase people’s participation in local decision-making processes with regard to their natural resources. To date, eight committees are already working.
The new legal framework includes a law that outlaws illegal logging and makes it punishable. The implementation legislation is currently being worked on. One of the issues to address in its implementation was the community’s demands to restructure the whole forestry system to make it effective and free of corruption. Now the Ministry of Agriculture has to issue logging licences and community led structures in the field are being set up to record and report violations of the new legislation.
The incredible work of the local partner organisations and the Progressio staff in Honduras has been linked up to activities in Ireland and the UK around the new EU law, banning the import of timber that is not from certified sources. (Progressio is currently working within Ireland and the UK to advocate for an effective implementation of the European law.)
Weak state institutions and structural shortcomings
Development in Honduras is also stymied by the nature of governance in the country. There is a history of state structures being weak and policies being either inadequate or difficult to implement. Social polarisation has intensified after the 2009 coup d’état, and this has been detrimental to the work of many civil society organisations.
In relation to the coup, Xiomara Ventura, Progressio’s regional manager for Central America, states:
” In truth, it was the last thing that Honduras needed. We’d already lived through years of weak government and corruption. Poverty here is endemic. Unemployment is really high. Lawlessness is a serious problem. And to make matters worse, the military coup in 2009 has meant an increase in social repression and censorship, which has continued despite the election of a new government in November 2009. “
Central America Regional Manager (based in Honduras)
A key challenge for Honduras is therefore to tackle those structural problems that make it difficult for people to move out of poverty. Democracy is still fragile in the country and needs to be based on a broad-base participative model where development responds to people’s demands and actual problems.
So Progressio is focusing on increasing people’s participation in local and national decision-making processes, and in particular, working to help empower women to lead a full and active role in society. At the same time we speak out against the increased impunity for killings against women, social activists, peasants and the LGTBI (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bi-sexual and Intersex people) community members since the 2009 military coup. Progressio also focuses on raising awareness on HIV/AIDS.
Despite the grim facts and challenges Honduras faces today, Xiomara Ventura gives a positive outlook and emphasises the enthusiasm of the Honduran people to change things to the better:
Honduras is a young country – half our population is less than 19 years old. And with youth comes enthusiasm. People here really want a future that doesn’t involve poverty, poor housing and malnutrition!
” Honduras is a young country – half our population is less than 19 years old. And with youth comes enthusiasm. People here really want a future that doesn’t involve poverty, poor housing and malnutrition! “
Central America Regional Manager (based in Honduras)
Documentary: Protecting Water, Protecting Life in Honduras
This documentary gives a detailed overview of the impact of water scarcity and climate change in Hoduras and introduces some of Progressio’s related projects and activities. Local people and development workers talk about the challenges they face and the great improvement some of the projects have already brought to communities in different parts of Honduras. (2 parts)
Map of Honduras
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