Food security and water issues in El Salvador are partially caused and definitely worsened by the effects of climate change. The unpredictable patterns of rainfall and drought that are characteristic of climate change negatively affect crop production, thereby leading to reduced yields and higher market prices.
José Camilo Rodriguez, mayor of the community of Tonacatepeque, remarked in an interview conducted by the World Bank on the stress that has been put on the poor farmers in his community, due to the effects on the market that were caused by precarious weather conditions, such as floods.
Floods, in addition to harming crops, often tend to lead to the contamination of rivers as sewage and rainwater combine and flow back into rivers as the floods subside. FAO estimates that a mere 16% of Salvadorans have access to water that is safe to drink. The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) additionally notes that only 2% of the rivers in El Salvador hold water that is suitable for human consumption. MARN alleges that one of the most contaminated rivers is the Lempa River, which reaches a large number of communities over its 360-kilometer span and is highly polluted by fecal bacteria.
In regards to food related security, FAO cites that 9% of the Salvadoran population is undernourished, missing about 190 calories from their diet. Inequality in access to food is troublingly high. Despite all of the challenges and problems the Salvadoran people face, at least a few communities have come together in community-based projects to improve their food and water security situations.
Grassroots community efforts to improve food security and water quality are making concrete, positive impacts in El Salvador. We at Voices on the Border have had a direct hand in working with communities in the Lower Lempa to help develop irrigation systems that facilitate crop cultivation, especially during the dry season and periods of drought, which threaten crop yields.
In addition, communities in Santa Marta, El Salvador, with the help of an international NGO have successfully worked to raise fish, harvest honey, and crops. These products are sold at market and some of the profits are invested back into the venture, to keep it growing. This project enjoys the help of many members of the community, who take turns fishing or selling their products at market. Grassroots level improvement of the food security situation in El Salvador is promising and seems to be gaining popularity.
Supplementing these grassroots initiatives are the efforts of various international organizations that have attempted to help improve the food security situation in the country. On March 24, the USDA, under their Food For Progress (FFP) initiative, donated 30,000 metric tons of wheat to El Salvador. The sales of this wheat are intended to generate about $11 million of revenue that will be utilized to finance infrastructure and development projects to help farmers affected by Tropical Storm Ida. Food For Progress also urges them to take advantage of the trade opportunities afforded to them under the DR-CAFTA agreement. Since 2001, USDA has delivered 130,400 metric tons of food to El Salvador, for a total value of approximately $27.5 million. While this form of aid seems both promising and beneficial to food security measures, due to the direct investment in domestic production El Salvadoran agriculture, other programs have not been as conscientious.
USAID’s “glass of milk” project, was launched in 2009 with the intention of providing a daily glass of milk to 3,790 students in 15 schools of Ataco, Ahuachapán, with the aim at improving the physical health and development of Salvadoran youth. USAID invested $76,317 for the provision of these resources and the program was successful with the caveat that it missed a prime opportunity to invest in the Salvadoran economy. Instead of cooperating with local dairy farmers within the country, USAID financed the importation of dried milk imported from northern US states. This large-scale importation of milk drove down market prices for dairy products, creating adverse consequences for local dairy farmers. While the aid of international organizations is necessary for food and water improvements in El Salvador, this project is an example of why organizations need to be wary of the manner in which they seek to make improvements.
Food and water security is a vital issue for communities in El Salvador who are experiencing unpleasant consequences on their agricultural sector from the economic interdependence that has arisen from globalization and the effects of climate change. These factors continue to complicate El Salvador’s quest to better its food security situation, but through domestic investment in agricultural infrastructure and products and grassroots community efforts to promote sustainability, it is likely many of these problems could be mitigated.