On Monday, February 23, 120 residents of the Jiboa and Lempa River basins began marching from the bridge crossing the Lempa River. By Friday community members from El Salvador’s four major river basins had incorporated into the march and 275 people spent the night in front of the National Cathedral in San Salvador. Saturday morning over 2,000 members of the ‘Movement of Communities Affected by Flooding’ marched to the Presidential Palace. The 2º March for Life was a successful culmination of an intensive campaign for infrastructure to protect the nation’s coastal communities from annual flooding.
While many familiar with Voices on the Border have heard about the impact of Hurricane Mitch (1998) and Tropical Storm Stan (2005) on the Lower Lempa, the flooding that regularly affects these communities is shared by those residing in the basins of River Paz, Grande and Jiboa as well. Together they are over 250 communities, 12 thousand families – over 65 thousand inhabitants. In June of 2008 many of these communities representatives came together and formed the ‘Movement of Communities Affected by Flooding’.
While many of them had been struggling to demand levees and other measures of protection against flooding for years, this was the first time the communities were able to come together as a national coalition. Their objective was to lobby the Legislative Assembly to make a space for their needs in the national budget. Thanks to constant lobbying, by November the Legislative Assembly had approved 2.4 million dollars of the national budget and another 10 million from the Inter-Development Bank loan for flood prevention infrastructure. The Ministry of Agriculture claimed to begin the most urgent repairs of damaged levees by December, but those in the communities saw no machinery or movement.
This lack of action brought the coalition together for the 2º March for Life. Within the electoral frenzy that dominated the news cycle, the communities knew only something of a large magnitude would get the media’s attention. They also took advantage of suddenly ‘available’ politicians to back their cause. Before the communities marched, the now President-elect Mauricio Funes publicly declared his support for the communities in a speech in Jiquilisco. The March was also featured in every major media outlet in the country.While it is uncertain weather the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) will be able to complete any works before the next rainy season sets in, the Movement of Communities Affected by Flooding has won a space at the table. They are currently meeting with the MAG every Wednesday to coordinate the works and negotiate priorities. For example, in the Lower Lempa the organization United Communities was able to finance a project to rehabilitate one of the principal drains in the zone; now the MAG has committed to matching the project and rehabilitating a second drain.
In the meantime, the 2009 rainy season is forecasted to be particularly wet with an above average number of storms and hurricanes. Any major works will have to wait until the rains stop in November. The communities of El Salvador’s coast will be forced to confront the phenomena as vulnerable as ever – but when the skies clear perhaps the new administration will be able to guarantee their future security.
Pag231 For the Equipo Maiz pdf document that was handed out along the way to San Salvador! (Spanish)