Our family visited Honduras over Holy Week, mostly in Santa Rosa de Aguán, Bacilia’s birthplace and family home. All of us enjoyed the simple way of life in this beautiful town—swimming in the sea, horseback riding, and feasting on traditional Garifuna dishes. (See photos)
One afternoon we hiked down the beach to the point where the Aguán River empties into the Caribbean. To our surprise, the river has disappeared. The mighty Aguán is one of Honduras’ largest waterways, and a namesake for the town. Now it’s gone! A placid lake sits where it used to flow. All that’s left is a narrow stream that peters out before reaching the coast. (See photo with Bacilia’s brother Miguel) Both sides of the mouth of the Aguán have joined together, so we could stroll along an unbroken stretch of sand. There’s not enough current to form an outlet. (See photo)
The river used to provide an abundance of fish and shrimp for the local population. With the disruption of the eco-system, this source of food is all but extinguished. Crabs used to migrate down the river to lay eggs in the salt-water surf, but now they’re cutoff. The stream is a dead end, where crabs congregate, easily scooped up in the nets of opportunistic crab hunters.
It didn’t take many inquiries for me to identify the culprit in this environmental and human calamity. No, it’s not caused by global warming. Powerful producers of African palm trees have diverted massive quantities of water upstream to irrigate their plantations. Protests have been sent to the Honduran Government by community leaders, but so far it’s been to no avail.
As a result, Santa Rosa de Aguán is facing yet another crisis. Fifteen years ago, Hurricane Mitch make landfall here with a giant storm surge. Record rainfall inundated the river, which in turn swept through the town, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Large segments of the beleaguered population were resettled in surrounding areas. More and more young people headed for the U.S. or elsewhere looking for a better future. Since then, the local population has suffered, along with the rest of Honduras, the ramifications of the country’s tumultuous political scene.
The last thing Santa Rosa de Aguán needed was the loss of its river. Bacilia’s older brothers, Miguel and Joche, agree that if the river isn’t restored soon, the town (what’s left of it) might have to shorten its name to just Santa Rosa.