Communities still demand reconstruction in the Lower Lempa

This is a translation of Contrapunto‘s February 13th note about our partners in the Lower Lempa.

By Gloria Morán

Photo: Luis Veláquez

San Salvador – It has been two months since the Salvadoran President, Mauricio Funes, promised to invest around 21 million dollars for the reconstruction efforts in the Lower Lempa.  Today, representatives from the region are denouncing the failure to fulfill this promise.

On December 19th Funes made this promise, just after the Lower Lempa had suffered the some of the worst impacts of Tropical Storm 12E in October 2011.  “The first priority is the recovery of the levees along the shores of the Lempa River; then the rehabilitation of the drainage ditches, and the construction of two permanent shelters that can provide security and hygiene should future evacuations prove necessary”, announced Funes to local residents in December.

At that moment the Salvadoran representative assumed, with authority, the reconstruction as part of the historic debt owed to the residents of the Lower Lempa, noting that they had discover drainage systems that hadn’t been maintained in over 30 years.

Of these promises, Gilberto Berríos of United Communities (ACUDESBAL), assured us that “of that promised, still nothing has been done”.  The residents of the Lower Lempa, above all, ask that the government repair and rebuild the damaged levees as quickly as possible.  They also demand that they begin the cleaning and rehabilitation of the drainage system and the reconstruction of the main roads that were washed out.  They also insist that the hydroelectric company, CEL, establishes a protocol for discharges so that the residents know when they will release the water, and how much.

They also request that the government create an integral plan to provide health, education, and basic services to the local population; not just reconstruction.  “What is happening now, since nothing is being repaired, is that we are preparing for another flood”, said Maritza Hernández, another representative from the Lower Lempa, who affirmed that time is their worst enemy.

José Acosta, representative in the Lower Lempa for the Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA), expalined that the greatest worry of the communities is the imminent arrival of the rainy season [around May], and there has been no progress.  Berríos explained that they have seen the contractors who are responsible for the reconstruction in the region, but they have only cleaned-up and marked-off the areas where “we suppose they plan on doing some work, but this is insufficient”.

The representatives of the communities expressed that this is nothing new.  They have been waiting 13 years since Hurricane Mitch and the levees are still incomplete.

According to the surveys done by organizations in the region, 29 communities have been directly affected, of about 2,000 families. [in Jiquilisco]

In regards to the unfulfilled promises made by the president, the head of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (PDDH), Oscar Luna, said that as an institution they are requesting the necessary measures so that the residents of the Lower Lempa and other communities receive the help they need in so far as rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Voices note:

The promises made on December 19th by President Funes were considerably more modest than those announced just 3 days after Tropical Storm 12E.  On October 20th, Funes flew into the offices of the Mangle Association in the Lower Lempa and declared that the government and the CEL hydroelectric company would build levees, clean the drainage system, build shelters and dredge the Lempa River.  He also emphasized the government’s interest in establishing the Lower Lempa as a key region for agricultural development in El Salvador, as well as the their commitment to an integral risk management policy.  On November 15th Funes reiterated these promises, even going on to explain that the CEL wanted to just repair a few of the levees, but he had ordered them to include all of the communities, especially along the Tecoluca side of the river. According to a delegation of German Engineers from 2003, it would cost about 400 million dollars to complete all levees, drains, and to dredge the river.  The 21 million that the CEL and the Salvadoran government finally signed off on is really just another band-aid on an increasingly compromised infrastructure.  If the contractors continue the ‘reconstruction’ effort at this pace, the effort will certainly be of little use in the Lower Lempa.

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