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Central America struggles with deadly beetles, crop losses

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Christian Fernsby ▼ | March 26, 2019
Central America drought
LatAm   Drought is a major problem in Central America's dry corridor

Honduran conservationists are worried. A deadly insect that wiped out more than a quarter of the Central American country's conifers between 2013 and 2017 is back.

The southern pine beetle, or gorgojo, as it is known locally, appears in large numbers during droughts brought on by El Nino, a climatic phenomenon that occurs every few years and can be a threat to agriculture and even drinking water sources, The Business Times reported.

Cristel Castro from the state forest conservation institute (ICF) admitted officials were ill at ease. "But it's good to be worried because it keeps you alert," she said.

Drought is a major problem in Central America's dry corridor, which extends from north-western Costa Rica along the Pacific coast to Guatemala.

The gorgojo's reappearance comes as the region is facing a dry spell that has ruined crops and forced drinking water to be rationed. It could be even further exacerbated by El Nino, which is characterised by a rise in the temperature of the ocean, subsequently displacing areas of rain and drought.

The World Food Program said in a report that "after several months of flirting" with it, the Pacific Ocean and atmosphere now "seem to meet the criteria for the El Nino conditions".

On the outskirts of the Honduras capital Tegucigalpa, traps have been placed around a woodland area to monitor the return of the insect. The gorgojo lives predominantly in the inner bark of pines and is an aggressive tree killer. Trees with low water reserves are particularly susceptible as they are unable to produce sufficient resin, a natural defense against attack.

The problem was worrying enough for Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez to sound the alarm call in January.

Between 2013 and 2017 the gorgojo destroyed more than half a million hectares of Honduran conifers, out of a total of 1.9 million hectares.

In the United States, one report claimed it caused an estimated US$900 million of damage to pine forests between 1960 and 1990.

Elsewhere in the region, drought is already taking its toll on crops and water sources.

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