Earth Day and Climate Change in the Bajo Lempa

This weekend residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután are celebrating Earth Day in Amando Lopez. The events will focus on climate change and its extreme impacts on the communities, as well as the possible impacts of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and associated tourism projects. Voices posted a blog last week regarding the MCC in El Salvador, and another today about the effect of climate change. We will post more over the weekend about the Earth Day activities and future efforts in the fight to protect communities and the environment in the Bajo Lempa.

This article was written by Jose Acosta, Voices’ new field director, and first published in Contrapunto (El Bajo Lempa con Tenacidad y Esperanza), an online journal in El Salvador.

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The Bajo Lempa, with Tenacity and Hope

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says human actions are directly changing our global climate, and environmental changes will affect all people and ecosystems. The panel also shows that those who live below the poverty line will suffer the greatest impacts.

Residents of El Salvador have already felt the disastrous effects of climate change. The Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES, in Spanish) reports that the country’s average temperature has increased 1.2 degrees over the past 40 years. As a consequence, there has been an increase in the occurrence and strength of storms and hurricanes. A recent government study found that El Salvador has suffered five large-magnitude, climate-related events in just the past three years. These events resulted in 244 deaths and affected more than 500,000 people, 86,000 of which live in shelters. In addition, these events have caused considerable material damage. Three storms – hurricanes Ida and Agatha, and stropical storm 12-E – resulted in $1.3 billion in damage.

Poorer populations are even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and these storms exacerbate poverty by further reducing the ability of impoverished families to respond to crises. During and after disasters, households are forced to use or sell their few resources just to survive, limiting their long-term resilience and further diminishing their food security. Their way of life and capacity to cope with their poverty are weakened with each disaster, forcing many into chronic poverty. CESTA/Friends of the Earth demonstrated this cycle in a study carried out  in the communities of Amando Lopez and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, located in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután.

The study reports that the main problem for communities in the Bajo Lempa is flooding. According to the Confederations of Federations for Agrarian Reform (CONFRAS) flooding is partly due to the mismanagement of the 15 of September dam located a few kilometers up the Lempa River. During Tropical Storm 12E (October 2011), the discharge from the dam reached 9,000 cubic meters per second, resulting in record flooding throughout the communities downstream from the dam. The CEL, the government institution that manages the dam, was supposed to send information about flow rates to the communities downstream to warn them when the Lempa River may rise. Unfortunately, the CEL did not communicate with the communities and the most extreme flooding happened with little warning.

Organizaitons in the Bajo Lempa, however, came together and formed the Inter-Institutional Roundtable, and issued a press release on November 11, 2011 stating, “We demand to know the CEL’s plan for managing the release of water from the dam and the environmental impact study in order to coordinate the agricultural production cycles and manage risks, and to prioritize life and the protection of the inhabitants of the communities.”

In addition to the flooding, the local population reports several other impacts of climate change, including higher temperatures, droughts, extinction of species, increase of disease, and salinzation of soil and water sources due to increased sea levels. The Association of the United Communities for Economic and Social Development of the Bajo Lempa (ACUDESBAL) declared that communities in the Bajo Lempa are strongly feeling the affects of climate change, and that it has increased food insecurity and made poverty worse.

These problems increase as the levels of consumption and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise. The IPCC says that if CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 450 ppm, average temperatures will rise 2 degrees. Such a rise in temperatures will cause catastrophic climate events.

For El Salvador projections indicate an increase in the temperature between 0.8 and 1.1 degrees by the year 2020. Some of the expected impacts in the Bjao Lempa are:

–       Public health problems

–       Shortage of potable water and species of plants and animals

–       Contamination of wells and salinization of bodies of water,

–       Degradation of agricultural lands and decrease in their productivity

–       Loss of domestic animals and livestock

–       Local drainage systems will fill with sediment and collapse

–       Failure of other existing flood prevention systems, among them roads, paths, and bridges

The affected communities are already taking steps to prevent these impacts before they happen. Concepción Martínez, a historic leader of Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, recently stated, “We believe that in confronting climate change, the only viable option is to fight for our survival.”

A resolution adopted by various communities states, “we meet under the heat in La Canoa (another name for Comunidad Octavio Ortiz), to analyze the impacts of climate change that we are experiencing in the form of floods and droughts, but also in the form of the voracity of the transnational businesses and governments that do not respect the cycles of life.

In this occasion we (communities in the Bajo Lempa) express:

“We commit to watch and demand that government policies confront climate change, and we demand they listen and include the opinions and proposals from the communities and civic organizations when forming these policies… to survive and maintain hope that another Bajo Lempa is possible.”

 

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