In a geographical sense, Central America refers to the land bridge in the middle of the American continent. Politically, Central America is the small region, situated between North America and South America, including the seven countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The region borders Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua were the first of the seven Central American states to become independent in 1838, succeeded by El Salvador in 1841, Panama in 1903 and Belize in 1981.
Due to cultural similarities, Central America is considered part of Latin America. While the humanitarian and sociopolitical situation in Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama is generally stable, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are plagued by violence, hunger, poverty and human rights violations. Central America covers an area of around 522,000 square kilometers. As of 2021, the region had an estimated population of some 51 million people.
The humanitarian situation
The North of Central America (NCA) – also called the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) – is a sub-region comprising El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and one of the most dangerous places on earth. Nicaragua is bordering the Northern Triangle. Gang violence, threats, extortion, persecution and sexual violence have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes in search of safety. More than 1.1 million people from Central America have been uprooted from their homes while some 3.6 million people across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras face acute hunger.
El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua - some of the poorest countries in Latin America - are prone to a variety of natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, landslides, and hurricanes during the June–November Atlantic hurricane season. Furthermore, some of these countries are vulnerable to droughts and volcanic eruptions. Recurring natural disasters exacerbate food insecurity and other humanitarian needs among vulnerable people. During September 2022 heavy rainfall caused flooding and landslides throughout northern Central America, adversely affecting millions of people.
Persistent insecurity, instability, poverty and hunger in Central America have forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Many Central Americans, particularly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, suffer from extreme gang violence, crime, corruption, and lack of opportunities, which compel them to flee or migrate. The number of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and asylum seekers from the region has soared in the last years. Overall, more than 1.1 million people from Central America have been uprooted from their homes both within their own countries and in neighboring ones.
Some 597,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Over 318,000 people are internally displaced within Honduras and El Salvador, according to government figures, while some 200,000 Nicaraguans have sought international protection worldwide. Since April 2018, political turmoil in Nicaragua continues to drive large-scale displacement.
Host communities for refugees and IDPs are primarily situated in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the number of refugees and migrants travelling north by land through Central America has also increased massively since the beginning of 2022.
Up to 3.6 million people across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are projected to face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity between September 2022 and March 2023, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). In 2023, the United Nations estimates that 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in the Northern Triangle of Central America, among them are 1.1 million in El Salvador, 5 million in Guatemala, and 3.2 million in Honduras.
The security situation
Murder rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are among the highest in the world. Rising crime and extreme violence fueled by gangs and drug cartels, as well as weak institutions, are responsible for much of the increasing displacement in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The situation is exacerbated by rising inequalities and the impact of climate-related disasters. In Nicaragua, political violence against opposition members is forcing people to flee.
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras continue to be the most criminally violent countries in the world, with women, LGBTIQ people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people), children, youth and people with disabilities suffering a disproportionate impact of the violence. Humanitarians on the ground compare the high levels of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to those in war zones.
Organized criminal groups, including local and transnational gangs as well as drug traffickers, are significant perpetrators of violent crimes. They commit killings, acts of homicide, extortion, torture, kidnapping, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence. Violence is directed against police, human rights defenders, judicial authorities, the business community, journalists, bloggers, women, and members of vulnerable populations.
Impunity continues to be widespread. Armed gangs operate with near impunity in certain parts of the Northern Triangle of Central America, often targeting children and adolescents who refuse to join their gangs or participate in criminal activity. Corruption, concerted efforts by organized criminal actors, and undermining of anticorruption institutions and the judiciary by corrupt political actors make meaningful investigation and prosecution of crimes, including corruption, involving public officials difficult.
Authorities commit widespread human rights violations, particularly in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In March 2022, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador declared a state of emergency and suspended basic human rights in response to the gang violence. Human rights groups say the Nicaraguan government of President Daniel Ortega has intensified its systematic repression of critics, journalists and human rights defenders in 2022. The Nicaraguan government reportedly closed more than 2,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) last year, according to Human Rights Watch.
Your donation for the Central America emergency can help United Nations agencies, international humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their local partners to rapidly provide water, food, medicine, shelter and other aid to the people who need it most.
- UNHCR Emergencies: Displacement in Central America
- Catholic Relief Services (CRS): Help Families Facing Crisis in Central America and the Caribbean
Currently, there are only a few active appeals for the Central America crisis. You may also consider making a broader earmarked donation or an unearmarked donation for organizations active in the region.
- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): Central American Migration in depth
- Doctors Without Borders USA: Central American migration crisis
- Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC): North of Central America and Mexico
- UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean: Migrant and refugee crisis
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): Mexico & Central American migration crisis
- Action Against Hunger: Latin America & the Caribbean
- Save the Children US: Donate to Help Children in Latin America
- World Food Programme (WFP): Donations
- International Rescue Committee (IRC): Donations
- ACAPS: Central America, Complex crises and migration in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, thematic report, January 2023
- USA for UNHCR: Central America Displacement Crisis Explained
- UN OCHA: Latin America and the Caribbean in the Global Humanitarian Overview 2023
- European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO): Central America and Mexico
- Council on Foreign Relations: Central America’s Turbulent Northern Triangle
- International Crisis Group: Central America
- Human Rights Watch: World Report 2023: Nicaragua
- Human Rights Watch: World Report 2023: El Salvador
- Human Rights Watch: World Report 2023: Guatemala
- Human Rights Watch: World Report 2023: Honduras