In Honduras NGOs step up to fight hunger linked to COVID-19

Sep 15, 2020

A CARE food aid package for members of indigenous communities. Credit: CARE Honduras

By Veronique Durroux, and María Elena Calix, UN Honduras

Daysi Castro is a single mother from Comayagua, Honduras. Her family depend on the income she earns washing and ironing people’s clothes. But this income has been drastically reduced as a result of mobility restrictions imposed by the Government to contain the spread of COVID-19, making it harder for Daysi’s family to keep hunger at bay.

“Right now, what we do with my children is have a little coffee in the morning and then we don’t eat until the afternoon, we only eat once a day,” said Daysi.

Honduras is one of the Central American countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 9 September, there were 65,597 cases of COVID-19. With the hospital system on the verge of collapse, the Government has taken emergency measures, setting up triage centres for suspected cases, and forming mobile ‘medical brigades’ to detect cases in the worst-affected towns.

A Plan International food aid delivery with a COVID-19 information handout. Credit: Plan International Honduras

But in Honduras, the pandemic’s impact has extended far beyond the health sector. Millions of students no longer attend schools or colleges. Protection incidents have risen, particularly for women and girls, with an uptick in the rate of gender-based violence. The economy has been severely affected by the lockdown, which has been in place since the Government declared a state of emergency in March 2020. Hardest hit are those who run small businesses, or people like Daysi who work in the informal sector, and whose families now find themselves unable to access enough food to survive. One in four people working in the informal sector is female.

As vulnerability grew in Honduras, NGOs with ongoing operations have tried to scale up their emergency assistance, with a particular focus on food security. Plan International Honduras, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), CARE International, Ayuda en Acción and World Vision immediately redirected funds from their existing programmes and projects to increase food assistance and other emergency relief. Food aid is in the form of food packages as well as pre-paid supermarket cards.

Carlos Hernández, a volunteer with NGO World Vision. Credit: World Vision

With so many people in need, many families are sharing their food rations with neighbours. Carlos Hernandez, a volunteer with World Vision, says the pandemic has demonstrated the solidarity that exists among those who provide aid as well as among those who receive it.

“I believe that the pandemic is teaching us to be more humane,” he said.

The Dry Corridor

The NGO ADRA operates in the Dry Corridor, a 1,600km stretch of land in Central America, which is home to 90 per cent of the region’s population. As its name suggests, the Dry Corridor has extreme climatic conditions. It experiences prolonged drought and erratic rains for many consecutive years, which have left eight in ten people resorting to emergency coping mechanisms to survive, according to the World Food Programme. For 17 years, ADRA has been helping drought-affected farmers and herders here. Since the arrival of COVID-19, the NGO has upped its food security and livelihoods support by delivering food and pre-paid supermarket cards to 8,000 families, including to elderly people in 11 nursing homes.

A family receives pre-paid supermarket cards from NGO ADRA Honduras. Credit: ADRA Honduras

ADRA also tries to boost the resilience of people in this vulnerable region by running a microfinance programme, which provides microcredit for people and small businesses. With maize and bean crops increasingly difficult to grow in drought conditions, the organization also helps families grow gardens full of non-traditional crops, which are connected to irrigation systems so they can grow throughout the year.

Doña Juana Zelaya, who lives in San José, Choluteca, in the southern part of the country, was a beneficiary of this project. “When I see this plot of land planted, I thank God for ADRA’s help,” he said. “This whole plot of land was empty and full of bushes. Now we have a way to support our families.”

Gracias a Dios

Further north is Gracias a Dios, one of the most neglected regions of the country. The majority of the population is from the indigenous Misquito ethnic group, and food insecurity levels run high. Not only is the area difficult to access, but it also lacks many basic services, such as education, health care, water and sanitation. Several organizations and international partners are directing their resources and working to help these people, whose distinct Misquito language and culture can create challenges when providing humanitarian assistance. Since the crisis began, Ayuda en Acción has reached more than 10,000 families, providing them with food and hygiene kits and delivering agricultural inputs to 3,000 small producer families. To deliver an effective humanitarian response, Ayuda en Acción works closely with Governments and municipal institutions as well as producer associations.

A child shows a teaching handout provided by ActionAid. Credit: Ayuda en Accion, Honduras.

During the COVID-19 emergency, Ayuda en Acción has set an example of how to provide food and other humanitarian assistance to indigenous peoples in this and nearby areas. In Gracias a Dios, for instance, staff prepared food aid packages according to the area’s traditions and consumption preferences, finding ways to support local producers at the same time. For example, indigenous men and women harvest, ferment and dry cocoa, which is then exported to the European market. To support these families, Ayuda en Acción made sure to include cocoa in its food kits. When introducing temperature checks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they replaced infrared thermometers, which were not accepted by some communities, with other methods that people were more comfortable with.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Humanitarian Country Team in Honduras, which counts some 26 NGOs in its ranks, has provided food assistance to 65,000 families across the country, including 23,235 people from indigenous and Afro-descendant groups. They also provided some 13,500 rural households with agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and even Personal Protective Equipment.

The Humanitarian Country Team in Honduras, led by the United Nations together with the Government of Honduras, assists vulnerable people as part of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Honduras. The plan requires a further US$80 million to be fully operational.

In Honduras NGOs step up to fight hunger linked to COVID-19 was originally published in Humanitarian Dispatches on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.