PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — The possible arrival of an El Niño before the end of 2018 could add to an already vulnerable food situation in Central America, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

In an Aug. 24 report, the two agencies noted that severe drought conditions have led to the loss of approximately 280,000 hectares of beans and maize in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The losses have increased the cost of the foods for the entire population and have affected the food security of more than 2 million people, the FAO and WFP said.

According to the agencies, the Honduran government declared an emergency in the Dry Corridor earlier this month after an estimated 82% of the maize and bean crops in the region were lost. Meanwhile, the government of El Salvador declared a “red alert” in July.

Compounding the impact of the droughts across Central America is the lingering possibility of an El Niño between September and December. Even if El Niño is weak it could have a significant impact on the outcome of the second crop cycle in the region, the agencies said.

“Just when rural communities were recovering from the 2014 drought and the El Niño phenomenon of 2015 — the strongest recorded in recent history — a new drought is affecting the most vulnerable again,” said Miguel Barreto, WFP regional director for America and the Caribbean. “With the support of the international community, we have worked together with the governments and rural communities of the Dry Corridor to help them become more resilient to extreme climatic variations, but we need to redouble our efforts and reach more rural communities.”

Julio Berdegué, regional representative for the FAO, said it is “urgent” to improve the climate resilience of the inhabitants of Central America.

“We are particularly concerned about the effect of this new drought on migration, in an international context that restricts the movement of thousands of people who, in their localities, will have great difficulty in securing the livelihood of their families,” Berdegué said.

The FAO and WFP said they are working in close collaboration with governments and partners on a number of plans, including:

• Analyzing the impact of the 2018 agricultural cycles on the price of staple foods;

• Evaluating the food and nutritional security of the communities in the Dry Corridor once the first harvest is completed and the second harvest begins;

• Supporting governments in setting up systems to monitor the situation of agricultural production and food security;

• Reaching agreements that allow the regulated, safe and orderly temporary migration of people from the rural communities most affected by the drought; and

• Mobilizing resources to scale rainwater harvesting and storage systems to reduce the impact of future droughts.