Rural villagers are using hoes and pick axes to hunt for victims of landslides that have killed at least 179 people in Central America after the season’s first tropical storm, dubbed “Agatha.” Thousands remain homeless and many are still missing. Rescue crews are struggling to reach isolated communities to distribute food and water. The heaviest toll is in Guatemala, where authorities report 152 dead with 100 people still missing. In Chimaltenango department, landslides buried rural indigenous communities and killed at least 60 people. In Guatemala City, a massive sinkhole swallowed an entire intersection, gulping down a clothing factory although causing no casualties. (AP, May 31)
The devastation comes as a new study warns that Mexico and Central America could lose a third of land suitable to grow coffee due to global climate change. Specialty arabica coffee grows within a narrow band of altitude and temperature, making it particularly sensitive to climate shift.
At the current rate of temperatures rise, 30% of these lands could be lost by 2050 forcing many farmers to turn to different crops, said Peter Laderach, a lead researcher at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The study has been monitoring 7,000 small farms in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua for the past year.
Greenhouse gas emissions could heat the Earth’s surface by between 2 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (1-6 degrees Celsius) over the next 100 years, according to the UN, contributing to unpredictable rainfall patterns, excessive droughts, and more powerful storms. These factors have already impacted coffee growers from Kenya to Central America, with lands at lower altitudes being lost to cultivators. “We’ll have much less coffee available and for those who can still produce, the price could go up,” Laderach said. (Reuters, May 19)