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Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Hurricanes Eta and Iota are a Lesson in Inequality and Racism

Two hurricanes have devastated Central America, affecting mainly indigenous communities and people of color, as the region reels from the impacts of the pandemic. We need to talk about climate inequality.

2020 has been a record year for hurricanes, going farther than anything meteorologists expected. This season has had 30 named tropical storms, roughly 2.5 times the typical 12. The year is still not over, with experts predicting a few more storms in 2020.
Climate change has been contributing to the rising temperatures in the Caribbean, and the warmer the water, the stronger the storm.
The warm temperatures creating violent storms in the Atlantic are the direct result of climate change, driven mainly by the carbon emissions of developed countries. Scientists have long predicted that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations will suffer the most from climate change. In 2019, a study released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that if global temperatures rose by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, poor countries could face the “destruction of entire communities and millions of premature deaths.” The 2020 hurricane season has shown just how true that is and how much sooner it could happen.
Hurricane Eta made landfall on Nov. 3 in Nicaragua, wreaking havoc in an already economically and pandemic-battered region. Central America saw days of dangerous flooding, landslides and general climate terror. With winds hitting 140 miles per hour, Eta tore roofs off of homes and brought down trees and power lines as towns and villages flooded in one of the poorest regions of Nicaragua. Eta, the 28th storm of the season, would destroy whatever chance Central Americans had of recovering from the pandemic.
Government shelters in Nicaragua quickly filled up, with people seeking refuge from the flooding and winds. In Guatemala, search brigades pulled the first bodies from a landslide on Nov. 6, where over 100 people were thought to be buried. In Chenalho, a town in southern Mexico, 10 people were swept away by an overflowing stream. Hondurans, huddled on the roofs of their houses as water rushed through the streets, spent hours worried and waiting for help. Families watched their neighbors on their roofs and remembered the last time a hurricane had devastated the region.
It was only 13 days later that Iota, the 30th storm, would make landfall again in Nicaragua. Iota would destroy the regions that Eta had spared and endanger the 300,000 displaced people in the region.
The damage is extensive, wiping out entire communities and sources of income. People who had struggled to keep their homes throughout the job loss created by the pandemic saw them wiped away by the water.
Eta and Iota have shown the inequalities created by climate change. Developing countries are the smallest contributors to climate change, yet they suffer the biggest consequences. Large corporations that benefit established economies continue to pollute the environment, and small communities pay the price. If Eta and Iota had made landfall in any developed country, their recovery would be a lot quicker and more successful. Their economies have not suffered as much as Central America has, and they have the money to support the infrastructure necessary to recover. But instead, the hurricanes dealt destruction to the people least involved in the systematic destruction of our environment.
And where are these corporations and nations when the most vulnerable are affected? While several of them have begun aiding the region, one of the biggest roadblocks is the difficulty in soliciting the funds from global organizations.
The United Nations’ Green Climate Fund, created to help developing nations mitigate and combat the effects of climate change and to which developed nations pledged to jointly contribute 100 billion U.S. dollars a year to, has only raised a fraction of that amount. Nations have to go through a tedious process to obtain funds while hurricane victims go hungry in shelters and the pandemic flourishes in its new conditions.
Among the areas affected by the storm is the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, home to various Indigenous communities and 3.5 percent of the total biodiversity of the world. Bosawás creates around 368 million tons of oxygen in a year, reaching Europe and North America. The hurricanes have laid waste to the reserve, wiping out the communities that have peacefully coexisted with the environment.
Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast has been destroyed, with the indigenous groups and communities of color living there receiving most of the damages. These communities have not benefited from the economic growth that fuels climate change, even more so the one created within the country. As families walk around the destroyed remains of their towns and homes, aid struggles to make it through the unkempt roads that connect the flourishing Pacific coast to the underserved Atlantic coast.
Mari Velasquez-soler is News Editor. Email her at
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