Hungry and desperate: Climate change fuels a migration crisis in Guatemala

Starving and in debt, farmers whose land has been destroyed by climate-related weather events are becoming migrants.

LA VEGA, Guatemala — Darwin Mendez has tried and failed to reach the United States three times. Twenty-three years old and $30,000 in debt, he said leaving Guatemala is his only option. Years of punishing drought scorched the field he farms with his father, mother, uncle and siblings, shrinking the maize and drying out what precious few kernels grow on the tiny cobs. 

Then came the rains.

Unpredictable storms and back-to-back hurricanes last year brought heavy downpours to the hills of western Guatemala, triggering mudslides that buried Mendez’s crops and left pests and disease in their wake. When the land dried out, it stayed dry, and the region is once again gripped by prolonged heat waves and persistent drought.

For Mendez, it means another year of poor harvest.

“We don’t have much land — no one does around here — so when we lose crops, we lose everything,” he said.

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