FORT MYERS, Florida — Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. government has committed more than $1 billion worldwide to provide humanitarian aid and development assistance to countries severely impacted by the pandemic. In particular, America has provided more than $22 million to Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to help combat the economic, security and health issues that have been amplified by the pandemic. This aid has been especially important as immigration and travel connect the entire region, thus making the health of each nation interconnected. Here is an in-depth look at how U.S. foreign aid in Central America has helped address the challenges each country faces.
Migration and Refugee Aid in Mexico
Foreign aid in Central America supports refugees and immigrants. Due to the pandemic, a number of court dates for refugees and asylum seekers hoping to enter the United States have been pushed back. As a result, these individuals are living in camps in Mexican cities along the borders, which makes them susceptible to violence and unsanitary conditions.
In response, the United States has given $1.8 million in Migration and Refugee (MRA) funds to camps to supply services such as hand-washing facilities, sanitation and hygiene products and emergency assistance. As such, technical assistance to COMAR, a Mexican refugee agency, has allowed remote registration of asylum claims and doubled the number of remote Refugee Status Determination interviews.
Economic and Health Support in Honduras
Honduras, an already struggling country, risks facing a considerable contraction to its economy due to a fall in trade and investment. Since the U.S. is one of Honduras’s major trade partners and is struggling with its own economic hardships, Honduras’s economic downturn is expected to worsen. Additionally, the hurricanes that hit Honduras in 2020 increased the number of displaced populations and it led to an increase in COVID-19 cases. As a result, damaged infrastructure and blocked roads have made it difficult for shelters and hospitals to obtain and provide sanitation products and medical services to victims.
The $3 million funding that the U.S. has provided to the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) has helped support Honduras’ risk communication and interventions in sanitation, water and hygiene. Funds have also been given to existing programs to enhance health care capacity, sustain nutrition and education for children and promote economic recovery. An additional $2.4 million in health assistance has also helped strengthen labs and improve disease surveillance. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the country’s National Lab to provide supplies and funds for rapid response teams, which are vital in COVID-19 contact tracing.
COVID-19 Relief in El Salvador
In El Salvador, the pandemic has impeded economic growth and poverty reduction. The World Bank estimated that the country’s GDP contracted by 8.7% in 2020. The lack of opportunity for economic growth for individuals is a driving factor of immigration, which is especially risky for families and individuals to undertake the long journey during the pandemic.
In total, El Salvador has received $6.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the U.S. To counter drivers of immigration, $2 million was dedicated to Economic Support Funds to create jobs and increase access to credit. For health assistance, the U.S. has provided the country with 250 portable ventilators, CDC briefings and support for quarantine centers.
Hunger and Health Support in Guatemala
For Guatemala, U.S. COVID-19 aid in Central America has been vital. Hunger and malnutrition worsened during the pandemic, and with rising numbers of cases, the healthcare system was on the verge of collapsing. Fortunately, the country has received more than $8.4 million in assistance that will help with humanitarian needs and emergency health responses.
USAID has helped smaller businesses stay afloat and pay staff. To combat hunger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture modified a food donation program, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, to deliver 132,000 lunches to children every school day at home. Additionally, the CDC has contributed infection control training and $120,000 in lab supplies.
Making a Difference
Evidently, U.S. foreign aid in Central America has made a difference during the pandemic. An additional aid to Central America includes a $500 million investment in energy and clean water services in El Salvador and a $200 million loan to a Guatemalan bank to expand lending to domestic businesses. This is just further proof that the United States has the potential to make an impact in the movement to eradicate global poverty, even amid these unprecedented times.
– Giselle Ramirez-Garcia