TACOMA, Washington — Honduras is a low-middle-income country in Central America. Recently, it has had the second-highest economic growth rates in Central America, behind Panama. However, poverty and inequality rates remain high. Natural disasters also pose a large threat to the people of Honduras and disproportionately affect the impoverished. With the onset of COVID-19, the vulnerability of the homeless in Honduras has only increased.
The Homeless in Honduras
About 48.3% of Hondurans live under the poverty line, a number that goes up to 60.1% in rural areas. With the country’s GDP expected to contract due to COVID-19, that number will only rise. The growing rate of poverty results in a growing rate of homelessness.
The effects of natural disasters like hurricanes only exacerbate the incidence of homelessness in Honduras. In 2020, 4.5 million people, roughly half the population, suffered significant impact after two hurricanes hit only weeks apart. More than 85,200 homes were damaged and 6,100 destroyed. As a result, tens of thousands of people faced homelessness and took refuge in shelters. Those who could not seek solace at shelters sleep in makeshift sheds made of wood and plastic sheets, under bridges or on sidewalks.
The Added Impact of COVID-19
With more than 100,000 COVID-19 cases as of November 2020, Honduras ranks above other Latin American countries like Paraguay and Venezuela. The country’s GDP is expected to contract by 7.1% in 2020 because of a fall in trade, investment and consumption. This was worsened by the U.S. GDP contraction as the U.S. is a key trade partner for Honduras. The economic effects of the pandemic on low-income households is a factor increasing homelessness in Honduras.
Being Homeless During COVID-19
“Housing has become the front line defense against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation,” said Leilani Farha, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. Homeless people, especially those living in shelters, are less able to socially distance themselves or quarantine. They are also unable to receive aid from the government. In the early days of the pandemic, the government went door-to-door delivering care packages of food and facemasks. More than 3.2 million people received them, but those living on the streets did not, simply because they have no door to knock on. Homeless people are also more likely to contract COVID-19 due to a combination of overcrowded conditions, lack of access to water and sanitation and a higher incidence of pre-existing health issues.
Homelessness in Honduras also presents a complication for COVID-19 vaccine distributions. The homeless are excluded from door-to-door campaigns, like those in Singapore that aim to increase trust in the vaccine and get people registered which has historically been very important in mass immunization efforts.
As a low-income country, Honduras is counting on the World Health Organization to provide free COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX for some of the population. The rest of the vaccines will come from a coalition between the IHSS (Honduran health system) and the private sector. The IHSS ordered 1.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to vaccinate 700,000 Hondurans affiliated with the IHSS, all of which should be in the country by the end of August 2021. The government has no plan for those not affiliated with the healthcare system.
The most recent hurricanes worsened an already fragile health system. Because of their devastation, about two million people have limited or no access to health services across the country and 120 health facilities are inoperative. Beyond that, 12 health facilities in Honduras reported damage to their cold chains which are necessary to transport temperature-sensitive goods like COVID-19 vaccines. Officials are expecting that with the myriad of challenges the country is facing, many will have to wait until 2022 to be vaccinated.
Organizations Assisting Honduras
While the situation looks bleak, there is hope for the people of Honduras. Many NGOs are working in the region, addressing challenges from all sides. Some work to reduce food insecurity, a problem that has intensified since the outbreak of the pandemic. Others are working with the IHSS to provide emergency services to the sick.
Ayuda en Acción is one of several NGOs that immediately redirected funds from its existing projects to increase food assistance and other emergency relief in the country. In Gracias a Dios, one of the most neglected regions of the country, Ayuda en Acción has provided food and hygiene kits to more than 10,000 families.
The Humanitarian Country Team in Honduras, made up of 26 NGOs, is also assisting. In total, the Humanitarian Country Team in Honduras has helped to reduce food insecurity for 65,000 families across the country during the pandemic and has also helped to deliver agricultural inputs to 13,500 rural households.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is working on the other end. Gavi is helping to provide immediate funding to healthcare systems which allows Honduras to better protect its healthcare workers, perform necessary training and purchase tests. Gavi is also co-leading COVAX which will help Honduras vaccinate about 20% of its population.
Prioritizing the Homeless in Honduras
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to prioritize vulnerable populations like the homeless in Honduras in efforts to alleviate poverty and treat COVID-19. Now more than ever, marginalized groups need to receive as much support and assistance as other groups.
– Brooklyn Quallen