When Tropical Storm Cristóbal reached land on the Yucatán peninsula on June 1, 2020 in Yucatán state, Quintana Roo and Campeche, it dumped a huge amount of torrential rain and caused major flooding in many Maya communities. People had to evacuate, and crops and beehives were destroyed. Even some livestock were killed.
The beekeepers and farmers in Campeche, members of the Colectivo de Comunidades Mayas de los Chenes, did not realize the storm was going to be like a catastrophic hurricane. The rain lasted a week and even formed lakes where none had been.
Even though two months have passed, these communities are still challenged by the aftermath of the disaster. The highest level of rainfall happened in the municipalities of Candelaria, Calakmul, Ciudad del Carmen and Hopelchén, the latter being a very hard-hit area, where 70% of the residents earn a living from beekeeping. They practice apiculture, which is the management of European honeybees, and manage native stingless species. Many beekeepers within a 100-kilometer radius of Hopelchén lost their livelihoods.
People lost anywhere from 20 hives to 100 hives, some of them have been beekeepers for 10 to 20 years and then overnight they were wiped out. It is very hard for them to recover their hives.
This 4:56-minute video shows a women's collective in Mexico that cares for the stingless bee known as Melipona Beecheii, which is very small and gentle:
The honey was just about to be harvested when disaster struck, so many of these beekeepers are now without funds to meet their own expenses.
Before the storm there were 14,748 beehives in Campeche. After the storm it was revealed that 4,259 hives were lost.
Everardo Chablé, local beekeeper reported all this to the Mexico News Daily. He said there are towns in other communities that have lost 600 beehives.
He said in early June a group of 71 civil society organizations and academics led an investigation across the peninsula for damage assessment and needs analysis.
In addition, squash plants suffered heavy losses due to flooding in Maya communities in Hopelchén, where they are grown on traditional small family plots called milpas.
To add to the problem, the corn crop was destroyed when water flooded the trojes, which are small traditional wooden structures where corn is stored.
Communities in Quintana Roo were also damaged by Cristóbal. One resident, Isaí Castillo Hernández, of a small rural community called David Gustavo Gutiérrez Ruiz, said the greatest impact of the storm was loss of crops like corn, orange, lemon and other fruit trees, and the serious damage caused. His own grandfather lost his corn crop and oranges to advancing water. Nothing could be salvaged.
Others lost their animals, like chickens, sheep, cows, pigs and turkey on their ranches. Many people lost everything. Even the access road to their community was washed away by the rain.
The government is supporting the community with food packages, whereas in Hopelchén medicines and basic needs are met by civil society groups.
This 6:16-minute video by Five Point Five takes us into the world of the Maya beekeepers and village life:
The damage study revealed that the Maya beekeeping and agricultural communities impacted by the floods were already on the brink of dire conditions with urgent needs due to the coronavirus pandemic. At least 15% of the families in those communities needed food support, and many have no savings or resources left. They were counting on the honey harvest.
Many people working in tourism were helping their families financially, but they lost their jobs due to the effect of the pandemic on tourism. So those additional financial resources disappeared as well.
Another overlapping crisis is that Covid-19 cases are rising fast in Hopelchén, where at the end of May there were only two infected people, but now there are 100. There is no Covid-19 protocol in the community and there is a lack of information in their native Yucatec Maya language.
Hopelchén is also a deforestation hot spot, due to commercial agriculture expansion by Mennonite communities, according to a 2015 study. This is the cause of environmental threats that could have intensified the flooding damage.
This may be why the local people have never seen flooding like this before, and this was only a storm, not a hurricane. Yet the devastation was as bad as they would have expected from a hurricane. Even Hurricane Isidoro did not create floods like this when it hit the area 19 years ago.
Recovery will be slow, and until the waters recede people cannot get on with their lives. Since it is now rainy season, the waters have only dropped a few centimeters in Hopelchén. It could take up to a year for the water to recede completely. You can see the original article with photos here.