Press Release

IACHR and REDESCA Express Solidarity with People Affected by Hurricane Eta in the Americas and Call on States and the International Community to Address Their Predicament

November 17, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (REDESCA) expressed their solidarity with the people who have been affected by the damage caused in recent days by Hurricane Eta in various countries in the Americas. The IACHR and the REDESCA call on States, the international community, and all relevant stakeholders to join forces on behalf of the thousands of people who have been affected by the hurricane, noting once more the importance of guaranteeing international human rights obligations in all circumstances throughout the emergency.

They also expressed their condolences and solidarity with the families of the women, men, girls, and boys who have been affected or who died as a result of natural disasters caused by the hurricane. Likewise, they wish to make themselves available to the authorities of the States in question and the international community for collaboration with the initiatives being implemented to address this critical situation, as appropriate to their functions.

According to publicly available information, Eta made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday, November 3, as a category four hurricane, causing several deaths and dozens of disappearances in various parts of Central America. The IACHR and the REDESCA have noted that the National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Reduction (CONRED) of Guatemala has stated that Eta has affected over 1 million people and damaged more than 50,000 homes, leaving 180,000 people in shelters. The Office of the President of Guatemala reported that at least 53 people had died as a result of this event. According to the authorities, the final death toll may increase as poor road conditions have prevented rescue teams from reaching the area.

In Honduras, the Permanent Contingency Commission (Copeco) stated in a report that 64 people have died as a result of the hurricane, 2,984,611 people are affected, over 174, 851 people have been evacuated, 431 shelters are installed for 9,118 families which hold 44, 908 people being sheltered, and 133 closed shelters. Also 107,792 peoples have been rescued and 8 people are disappeared. Copeco also noted that 14,242 homes have been affected by flooding and landslides, including 52 that were destroyed. Landslides also affected 113 roads and 29 bridges, while a further 21 were destroyed.

In Nicaragua, the National System for Disaster Prevention (SINAPRED) has reported that 130,000 people have been affected in the country, 20,000 of whom are in shelters where conditions are worryingly precarious, including a lack of food and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the information the IACHR has received, the municipality of Bilwi (also known as Puerto Cabezas) and the indigenous territories of Miskitu and Mayangna Sauni Bu are among the most severely affected areas in the country. The IACHR and the REDESCA have been informed of how critical the situation is in these areas, whose populations are experiencing hunger and where thousands of families and community members have lost their houses, crops, or have been forced to move.

According to the information the IACHR and the REDESCA have received, the State of Nicaragua’s lack of response to the humanitarian emergency and the shortfalls in medical services within indigenous territories have exposed this population to even greater risk. In El Salvador, the National Civil Protection Commission reported that at least 2,200 people were evacuated to 56 shelters in 13 locations throughout the country.

In Panama, the IACHR and the REDESCA noted that the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) reported that at least 3,300 people had been affected and 17 had died. According to public information, entire communities were cut off by floods or roads being washed away in the district of Tierras Altas in the western province of Chiriquí, near the border with Costa Rica, where crop losses were also reported. In Mexico, authorities in the state of Chiapas reported 15 deaths and 1600 damaged homes. In the state of Tabasco, over 7600 people are reportedly in shelters and so far an estimated 25,000 families have been affected by the rains that have caused two rivers to break their banks, flooding the state capital, Villahermosa, and the city of Veracruz. In Belize, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) reported flooding that may have potentially affected up to 30,000 people. Finally, in Costa Rica, the National Commission of Risk Prevention and Emergency Attention (CNE) reported that at least 325,000 people have been affected.

The IACHR and the REDESCA note that extreme weather events such as these are becoming more and more frequent and increasingly devastating. In view of this, the scale of the humanitarian crises caused by natural disasters and the effects of climate change may become increasingly severe in the future. The IACHR and the REDESCA therefore remind States and the international community of how important it is to respond to the humanitarian crisis affecting the survivors of natural disasters by providing immediate humanitarian assistance. Particularly when this part of the region is currently experiencing another meteorological event that could possibly worsen the current situation, such as Hurricane Iota. This hurricane has so far substantially impacted the island of San Andres in Colombia, affecting 90% of its infrastructure according to official sources, and would be en route as a category 2 hurricane to Central America, making landfall on Monday, November 16th in Nicaragua. This situation has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased the protection and biosecurity-related needs of people who are affected by climate change and natural disasters, making international cooperation a particularly urgent need.

The IACHR and the REDESCA stressed that the links between climate change and natural disasters are threatening the exercise of various human rights, including by causing the forced displacement of people and increasing inequality and poverty. They also noted that economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights such as access to food, drinking water and sanitation, housing, and health care are often threatened and severely limited during such humanitarian emergencies, which in turn jeopardizes sustainable development and prevents countries from creating the conditions and capacities to build resilience to such events.

The IACHR and the REDESCA called once more for states in the region to adopt mechanisms of shared responsibility and respond collectively to the situation of those who have been affected or displaced. On the matter of the displaced population, any measures adopted should include specific factors that must be guaranteed when people are displaced and during their subsequent return or resettlement, such as guaranteeing humanitarian assistance by establishing shelters with water and food, medical, health, and educational services, as well as mechanisms to facilitate the recovery of their property and possessions or access to compensation for material losses, as established in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

The IACHR and the REDESCA also expressed their concern over the fact that Central America may be significantly affected by possible future events of this nature. They once more advised States of the need to develop and implement strategies for mitigation, adaptation, and resilience to help countries and communities become more independent and to reduce the risks of natural disasters and the destruction they can cause.

Finally, the IACHR and the REDESCA noted that through the Paris Agreement, developed States have committed to helping less-developed States adapt to climate change by providing technology, advisory services, and funding. It must be remembered that the effects of climate change do not affect all people and all countries equally: within the framework of common but differentiated responsibilities, it is essential that not all people and/or States bear the same burden.

The OSRESCER is an office of the IACHR that was specifically created to support the IACHR in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 276/20