War-like Levels of Violence Enveloping Millions in North Central America

Millions of people in North Central America are currently living in war-like levels of violence. This crisis is affecting Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and it is shattering lives and exacerbating humanitarian needs. Almost one in three people in North Central America is in urgent need of aid, yet the international community continues to overlook this crisis and is failing to provide adequate funding. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warns that this situation is becoming another large, protracted, neglected humanitarian disaster.

During his visit to Honduras, Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of NRC, heard stories that are similar to those of people in war zones like Syria, Yemen, or Ukraine. Violence permeates the very fabric of life, forces tens of thousands to flee their homes, and makes it almost impossible to live safely and with dignity. For instance, a school supported by NRC in La Lima had 5,000 students five years ago, but now, there are only 1,200 left as thousands have dropped out or fled to the United States due to violence and hurricanes’ devastation, and poverty.

Across North Central America, heavily armed gangs, drug traffickers, and transnational criminal organizations fuel society-wide corruption and gender-based violence. Desperate migrants from the region and as far away as Africa and Asia also trek through these dangerous terrains in search of protection and opportunities in North America. A thousand migrants from dozens of countries cross into Honduras every day, seeking protection and a better life in North America.

Moreover, the region is increasingly struck by climate change and extreme weather events, destabilizing livelihoods and reducing access to resources. In Honduras alone, 3.2 million people are in need of aid, many of whom require both protection and food assistance.

North Central America has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. The crisis manifests in the forced displacement of entire communities, gang recruitment of children and young people, a lack of access to medical care, and large numbers of children dropping out of school. Rates of sexual violence and femicide far exceed rates globally.

Despite the acute and growing humanitarian needs, last year saw grossly inadequate levels of funding for the response and some of the lowest globally, with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras receiving between a quarter and a half of the required amounts. 70 percent of all funding for the region in 2022 came from the United States, highlighting the failure of other donor countries in Europe, the Gulf, and large Asian economies to play their part. This trend looks set to continue in 2023.

NRC and local and national authorities have made some progress in supporting families forced to flee their homes. In March of this year, Honduras introduced a law to support internally displaced people and prevent violence and forced recruitment conducted by criminal organizations. However, this legislation must be effectively implemented and receive financial and diplomatic support from the outside world.

“There needs to be far greater recognition of the climate crisis, the situation facing young people, and the levels of violence that people in Honduras and Central America endure. The outside world has so far failed to react to this crisis in a way that matches its human cost. Only with a concerted effort, from many more donors, will there be the progress that is so clearly needed,” added Egeland.

The crisis in North Central America is a humanitarian disaster that requires urgent and sustained attention from the international community. Millions of people suffer from extreme violence, displacement, and poverty. Climate change and extreme weather events are exacerbating the crisis, and there is a lack of funding to address the humanitarian needs. The outside world must recognize the human cost of this crisis and provide adequate support to help the affected communities access their rights and live safely and with dignity.