Nicaragua is currently struggling to cope with the effects of a double environmental disaster. In September 2007, Hurricane Felix tore through the country’s impoverished northern Caribbean region, killing more than 100 people, leaving 220,000 homeless, and destroying vast amounts of agricultural land and forests.
But that wasn’t all. Fifty days of heavy rains—starting just before the hurricane hit—have continued the destruction, causing flooding in large areas of the country’s Pacific regions. In response, President Daniel Ortega’s government declared a state of national disaster on October 19. SINAPRED
, Nicaragua’s disaster relief agency, estimates that the rains destroyed the homes of another 216,000 people.
The international response has been rapid, with numerous countries, international agencies, and NGOs sending aid to Nicaragua. But Laura de Clementi, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative to Nicaragua, warns that unless seeds are quickly purchased, distributed, and planted, parts of the country could face severe food shortages in the coming months.
These natural disasters have an unnatural component, however, reports Inter Press Service: deforestation. Of the 8 million acres of forest in the country in 1950, only 3 million remain, according to the country’s Environment Ministry. Deforestation exacerbated the damage done by Hurricane Felix and the rains, increasing the level of soil erosion and boosting the likelihood of landslides. Ironically—and unfortunately—a government plan to reforest 60,000 hectares each year that began just before the hurricane hit has since been put on hold.
“Nicaragua is not to blame for the hurricanes and storms, but it is responsible for the destruction of its forests, which form a protective barrier. Rain causes greater damage to land stripped of its trees than to forested areas,” biologist and geographer Jaime Incer Barquero told IPS. Yet the people who cut down trees are often impoverished, possessing few other ways to earn a living. An effective plan to combat deforestation will need to establish alternative, environmentally sustainable livelihoods for Nicaragua’s poor communities. These sustainable ways of generating income would also bolster—rather than undermine—the country’s natural protections against disasters, contributing to the security of all Nicaraguans.