Many people in Latin America see migration as “the only option they have” after enduring successive crises of climate change, Covid and spiking food prices, the World Food Programme’s head for the region told AFP.
“It’s a hemispheric migration,” the official for the United Nations organisation, Lola Castro, said in an interview in Brussels.
“People are transiting everywhere in the continent… all the way to the border with the US and Mexico, everywhere is affected by migration, and the governments are telling us ‘What do we do with all these masses of people transiting?'”
The pressures, particularly food insecurity, prompted Castro to plead that Latin America “not be forgotten” when its leaders get together with EU counterparts in a joint summit in Brussels July 17-18.
Haiti is of particular concern for the World Food Programme, mainly because of unchecked gangs, Castro said.
“The situation has deteriorated enormously,” she said, adding that “there are 200 gangs and they have taken over the city of Port-au-Prince,” Haiti’s capital.
The danger they pose is preventing Haitians going to work or school or taking food to market, she said.
It “is really like a population taken hostage,” she said.
– Funding cuts –
Nearly half of Haiti’s population, 4.9 million people, are in need of food assistance, but the WFP is only able to get to around 2.5 million of them.
But “due to funding cuts around the world, we are not going to be able to reach one (million) of these 2.5 million,” Castro said, calling that “very dramatic”.
Funding for WFP’s operations in Haiti is $122 million short for this year, she explained.
While Russia’s war in Ukraine has thrown up challenges to food supplies in many regions, Africa and the Middle East especially, food insecurity was climbing inexorably in Latin America, despite its agricultural production capacity, Castro said.
Where in previous years the WFP was helping three million people suffering severe food insecurity in Latin American and Caribbean countries, “now we never go below 10 to 30 million”.
“Migration at this moment is the only option that people have,” she said.
“They leave, to the north, and what we are seeing is a huge increment.”
With the EU-Latin America summit — the first in a decade — Europe is looking to boost dialogue, and push for progress on a free trade deal agreed in principle with the Mercosur countries Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
The European Union is also keen to source rare earths and metals from Latin America as it weans itself off dependence on China.