Environmental “Disaster” in El Salvador Gets Little Attention in U.S.

As many of us in the United States, myself included, have been closely following sour economic news here and in Europe, along with the seemingly growing “Occupy” movement, we must not forget that economic security is predicated on ecological security. Such security is lacking in large swaths of the world.

Take El Salvador for example, a country where I have lived and traveled. A tropical depression caused ten days of straight rains between October 10 and 19, dumping more than 55 inches of rain in the region over the span of a week. The country experienced some of the worst rains in its history, worse than those that accompanied Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The storm forced 50,000 people out of their homes, as well as causing 100 deaths, putting the country’s population further at risk.

Here is a report on the flood damage from Al Jazeera English:

Salvadoran President Funes said yesterday that the country faces its worst environmental disaster ever with expected losses of up to 60 % of its bean harvest. Reports also indicate that the country will lose its coffee crops, a key export.

Back in 2010, a report on climate change from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Economics of Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean, predicted that:

The empirical evidence for Latin America and the Caribbean indicates that, in the aggregate, these changes in the climate are having significant impacts on the region’s economies and that these effects will become stronger as time goes on. Added pressure on the region’s water resources, increased forest fires, slumps in agricultural productivity in some areas, negative health impacts, the damage that will be sustained in coastal areas as sea levels rise, diminished ecosystem services as a consequence of serious losses of biodiversity, the higher morbidity and mortality levels associated with extreme weather events and other impacts will be an additional source of concern for the region and will alter its development path. (ECLAC, p. 102)

The effects of climate change are mounting in the country. According to Voices on the Border:

Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s Minister of the Environment, elaborated that the frequency of extreme rainfall events, defined by more than 100 millimeters (4 inches) in 24 hours, or 350 millimeters (14 inches) in 72 hours, in El Salvador has increased continually since the 1960s. Chávez said that until the 1980s, El Salvador “had never been affected by a Hurricane in the Pacific.” Since then, several of the worst weather disasters have resulted from Pacific weather patterns, including Hurricane Paul in 1982, Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and now Tropical Depression 12-E.

El Salvador often tops lists of the most ecologically vulnerable countries in the world. There climate change is not abstract and it’s not about colder winters. It’s a matter of life and death for the country’s poorest. I recall driving with a friend through the country in the summer of 2010 discussing the country’s precarious environment. She reminded me that there is nothing “natural” about natural disaster. What kills people is poor infrastructure and negligent governments. As blogger Tim Muth points out, the effects of climate change are exasperated by “structural poverty.”

On top of that, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, along with Honduras, according to a recent report from the United Nations.

But one of the things that has always impressed me most about El Salvador is the strength of its “organized” communities in addressing grave political, ecological and social problems. Take an example I hold dear, Radio Victoria, in the northern region of Cabañas. The station’s reporters have been tirelessly traveling to shelters throughout the region to hear the voices of those affected by the flooding and to keep their communities informed.

To learn more about the recent flooding in El Salvador and make a donation to support relief efforts, visit Voices on the Border.

 

 

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