Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Photos from Flooded Nueva Esperanza

We were able to visit the community of Nueva Esperanza briefly this afternoon and snapped some photos of the damage.

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The water levels were very high and most everything is covered in mud. The cleanup will be a major undertaking and community members are still in the evacuation shelters.

We are still fundraising for the relief effort, which will be a long term effort. If you haven’t contributed yet, its not too late – please click on the Donate Now button to to the right of this post.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Public Health Concerns Following Flooding

As floodwaters continue to recede, communities throughout El Salvador are starting to consider the short and long-term impact of the 1400 milimeters (55 inches) of rain that has fallen in the past week. One of the most immediate issues is public health.

According to Eduardo Espinoza, Viceminister of Health, the most immediate public health concern in El Salvador is the 2,200 community wells contaminated by flooding, which threaten the availability of safe drinking water. The Health Ministry announced yesterday that it is distributing ‘Puriagua,’ a chlorine solution used to disinfect contaminated drinking water. Other organizations are also distributing chlorine-tablets and purified water. Although the wells pose a significant health concern, “the risk of outbreaks can be minimized” through prompt action to identify wells and provide clean drinking water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Flooding can increase the risk of communicable diseases in a number of ways – contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal diseases; floodwater can bring disease-carrying animals such as dogs, rats or mosquitoes into closer contact with humans; direct contact with waste carried by floodwater can cause skin disease; and exposure to weather conditions can lead to respiratory ailments.

The most prevalent health concerns, so far, seem to be respiratory and skin problems, judging by the number of consultations at shelters nationwide. Out of 9,139 health consultations made by October 17th, 2,395 dealt with respiratory problems, primarily among the very young and the elderly. The Health Minister recommended that special care be taken to wrap these vulnerable groups warmly. Another 1,231 consultations dealt with skin problems. However, according to the World Health Organization, neither problem is “epidemic-prone.” 145 consultations dealt with gastrointestinal diseases and diarrhea.

Other “epidemic-prone” diseases are being monitored closely. The Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) has donated diagnostic kits to monitor the spread of H1N1, dengue, malaria, and a disease called leptospirosis carried by rodents and dogs. Espinoza reported five cases of chicken pox in the Municipality of Cojutepeque, which have been addressed with “isolation measures and antiviral treatment to contain the spread of the disease.” Espinoza also reported six cases of the H1N1 virus under isolation. “So far, there has been no case [of H1N1] in the shelters,” says Espinoza.

Another public health problem is that flooding has damaged 138 health establishments, according to the Health Ministry. As just one example, the PAHO reports that the infrastructure at the Kidney Health Unit in the Lower Lempa has been “completely damaged” by more than two meters of water, “losing the medical equipment vital to treat renal failure.” The organization writes, “This unit treats 350 patients with chronic renal failure, who, currently, have no other alternative.”

Dr. Anne Daul, a fellow with the the George Washington University department of Emergency Medicine, added that flood victims also need to be concerned about the psychological impact from loosing a home or even loved ones. She also warns that major catastrophes such as this can break down the social fabric, which puts women at risk of gender-based violence.

The international community, government officials and local partners must all work together in the coming weeks and months to minimize the impact of the flooding on the health of the people. It will be an issue that we at Voices will be monitoring closely.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Corruption, Disasters

Rains continue, flood waters recede in the Lower Lempa

Today community members report renewed access to San Marcos Lempa via the ‘paved’ road.  Many sections are washed out or still covered with a few inches of water, but smaller vehicles are now able to enter the communities.

Families from less directly affected communities such as Amando López and Octavio Ortiz are anxious to return to their homes, but Voices staff and other authorities are urging them to stay while the rain still falls.  It has been raining without pause throughout the country since the early hours of this morning.

ACUDESBAL (the local inter-communal association) and CESTA (an environmental NGO) published a press release denouncing the role of the September 15th hydroelectric dam in the near total devestation of many communities in the Lower Lempa.  The release says “During this climatic phenomena, the CEL again released 11,500 cubic meters per second, but unlike Hurricane Mitch, this amount of water was released for a prolonged period of time, and the river bed is more clogged [than in ’98’], which caused flooding from San Marcos Lempa all the way down to Montecristo Island”.  The release demands that CEL accept responsibility for their negligence, especially after an interview with the CEL president Irving Tochez, where he claims that CEL is in no way responsible for the devestation, but rather mitigated further disaster by ‘helping to retain water and releasing it in a controlled manner’.

They end by stating ” the road to recovery will be extremely difficult, but we know we can count on the support and solidarity among the organized communities, here and abroad”.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Video Footage of the Rescue from the Lower Lempa

As we have been reporting, the flooding in the communities of Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano, Nueva Amanecer, and other communities in the Lower Lempa have been extreme. Last night we posted some photos from Zamorano and elsewhere in the region. Last night Channel 12 in El Salvador showed footage from Nueva Esperanza and the dramatic evacuations from Sunday night and Monday. The video begins with footage from Mata de Piña, which was about where main road through the region became to dangerous. Later in the video, there is footage from the rescue yesterday in Nueva Esperanza, after the floodwater had begun to recede.

Those readers who have traveled with us to the region on delegations have been to these places, though you may not recognize them. You may also recognize some of the people being rescued and even some of the people doing the rescuing.

As we mentioned yesterday, Michael Terry and Laura Turiano are matching the next $2000 in donations that we receive for flood relief. If you contribute now, your donations will be doubled. Please click on the Donate Now button above and help us respond this crisis. Though the water is receding, the recovery challenges are daunting, and the communities in the Lower Lempa need your help!

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams

Pictures of Evacuations and Shelters in Jiquilisco, Monday & Tuesday

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Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams

Matching Grant – Donate Now!

Michael Terry and Laura Turiano just pledged to match the next $2000 donated to Voices for flood relief. So if you click on the donate now button, we can match your contribution. If you donate $100, it will become $200!

The water is receding somewhat, but the need for food, water, clothing, and medical supplies is only increasing. Many communities in the Lower Lempa lost everything, and they need our assistance right now.

So click on the Donate Now Button to the right of this page, your contribution will be doubled!

Thanks to Michael and Laura, and all others who have contributed to this effort.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams, International Relations

Flood Update – Tuesday

Sorry that we’ve been slow with an update this morning, but we didn’t receive much information out of the Lower Lempa until a moment ago.

Some good news to report; the communities of Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano and others that are completely underwater have been completely evacuated. We have been worried about a group of 57 people (last night we reported 40, but that number was revised upward this morning) were stuck on the top of the Nueva Esperanza Community center and then the bell tower of the church last night. We just received word that they reached the emergency shelter at about noon today.

The water has also begun to recede a bit. While the road is still flooded in some places it is possible to get large trucks all the way down to La Canoa, which has been cut off for the past couple of days. Our staff also met up with several people from the shelter in Amando Lopez who made their way up to the main road and rode their bicycles through the flood waters all the way up to San Marcos.

The shelters are full in San Marcos, Tierra Blanca, Angela Montano, and Jiquilisco, and the conditions are poor, but our staff reports that supplies are starting to arrive.

The weather is supposed to be clearing up today, though our staff reports that it is still raining in the Lempa. Officials from Civil Protection have warned the general public that even if the weather is nice today, the forecast is for storms tomorrow and possibly Thursday so no one should let their guard down.

The latest reports are that there are 32 confirmed deaths in El Salvador, and two people are reported as missing. Schools and universities remain closed today and probably tomorrow. El Faro.net is reporting that the official number of evacuees remains at 32,000, and that over 20,000 houses have been destroyed.

The King of Spain has sent a Boeing 727 full of relief supplies to El Salvador, and it is currently sitting at the military airport in Comalapa being unloaded.

Though the news today is not as bad as yesterday, there are many, many concerns about what’s ahead. Eduardo Espinoza, the Vice-Minister of Public Health, is warning that the greatest threat to public health at this moment is contaminated well water. He is very concerned that in rural communities contaminated water will result in high rates of gastrointestinal infections, typhoid fever, hepatitis, and other diseases. The populations most affected by these diseases are the ones living in shelters and have little or no access to medical care. The ministry is working to get doctors and public health experts to the shelters.

Before the rains started last week, the government was predicting record harvests of basic grains like corn and beans. One estimate is that 80% of the nation’s agricultural crops are lost – which will devastate the local economy and food security. The Consumer Defense agency, a private advocacy and watchdog group in El Salvador, is monitoring the prices of foods and other products, especially imports, and so far there has not been a rise in food prices, but it is a real fear in the coming days and weeks.

The Voices staff is currently drafting a couple posts on different aspects of this disaster, and we’ll have a slideshow and update from the Lower Lempa later this afternoon.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams, International Relations, Mauricio Funes

US Embassy Announces Aid for Flood Relief

Today the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador announced an aid package worth $50,000 to support the Salvadoran Ministry of Civil Protection’s efforts to respond to the worst flooding in the country’s modern history. The package will help buy “fuel for emergency vehicles, as well as portable kitchen sets and hygiene kits for people staying in government shelters.”

The Embassy statement also says that they are “distributing equipment that was previously donated to the government of El Salvador by USAID in anticipation of this type of emergency.” The equipment includes plastic sheeting, 2800 hygiene kits, shovels, and other tools.

In a similar announcement, La Prensa Grafica is reporting this evening that the International Development Bank is releasing the first $25 million of a $50 million loan package. President Funes tonight said that the funds will be used for recovering from the disaster. The La Prensa Grafica article also reports that the governments of Spain, Taiwan, Guatemala and the United States have offered assistances, as has the Central American Bank of Economic Integration and the United Nations Development Program, but it is unclear whether any support has actually to reach those in shelters.

President Funes tonight also confirmed that there are 32 confirmed deaths in El Salvador, and that 3 other people are reported as missing, and 32,000 are evacuated to emergency shelters.

Another article in La Prensa Grafica reports that the Legislative Assembly today voted unanimously to declare a national emergency for the next 60 days. In part that waives all duties on aid coming into the country from aid organizations.

While the US Embassy’s contribution is a nice start, the international community seems a little slow to respond. The flooding, at least in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután, has reached epic proportions. There are thousands of people in shelters with no food or water, and many others are still stuck in their communities.

Perhaps the lack of international aid is linked to the lack of coverage by the international media. The AP put out a story yesterday that was carried on the Huffington Post, and the blogs for a couple major news outlets. But a quick scan of some of the major news websites (NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, NPR, Al-Jazeera English) found not one story on the flooding in Central America; forget about a story focusing on El Salvador. Maybe that will change with tomorrow’s news cycle.

This apparent lack of attention makes your contribution and support all the more important. Please help us in two ways:

1) Click on the Donate Now button and make a financial contribution to flood relief – we’ll make sure it gets directly to the community; and

2) inform others about the devastation and ask them to make a contribution.

We’ll be providing another update tomorrow morning.

 

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Worse than Hurricane Mitch – Complete Destruction!

Voices project coordinator  just called from the back of a truck in Zamorano, in the Lower Lempa and is reporting that the flooding is worse than what the region experienced during the 1998 flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch. In Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano and other nearby communities the water is almost to the roofs of many houses.

In addition to water, the current is depositing large quantities of sand and silt from the riverbed into homes and businesses, resulting in near complete destruction.

The report from Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (also appropriately called La Canoa – the Canoe) and Amando López is that they are relatively safe and secure. COO, which is located south of Nueva Esperanza and the other communities that are completely flooded out, is completely shut off from the rest of the region. The shelter in Amando López is cooking food and serving other communities in the region that are also cut off from help. Though isolated, their spirits seem to be okay.

We are also hearing reports that the September 15 Dam just upriver from the Lower Lempa has been releasing as much as 12,000 cubic meters per sec. As we’ve stated in previous posts, 2500 cm/sec is cause for extreme alarm. As of an hour ago, the river remains 10.5 meters (34 feet) above normal.

Our local staff is taking a lot of pictures today and we will try to get them up on this blog and Facebook tonight, if they can find internet.

We continue our fundraising effort and with every drop of rain that falls, your help becomes more urgent. Please click on the Donate Now button and ask your friends and family to do the same.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Uncategorized

Lower Lempa Flood Update – Monday Afternoon

Voices staff was able to get back down to the Lower Lempa this afternoon to coordinate with rescue efforts and get more information about the conditions. Here is the latest.

Currently there are 686 families from the Lower Lempa in the San Marcos shelter, with hundreds of other families from the region in the Tierra Blanca and Jiquilisco shelters. Though these families are safe from floodwaters, conditions in the shelters are bad. There are few mattresses or blankets, and food is scarce. Our staff is working with shelter organizers to provide meals and secure appropriate bedding and clothing.

For our readers from the South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, your partner community of Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (La Canoa) has sent 42 families to the shelter in San Marcos. The other 50 families are in the community shelter where they are safe, but completely cut off from assistance. Members of a military team are stuck in the community with them.

For other partners with ties to Amando Lopez – many families made it to the Jiquilisco shelter but many others remain in the community shelter, cut off from any assistance. They are safe for the time being, but are unable to evacuate.

This afternoon a member of Voices staff came across an agricultural cooperative in Mata de Piña where workers were trying to salvage their corn crop that they were almost ready to harvest. Members of the cooperative were working in waist-deep water, picking, shucking, and grinding corn in hopes of salvaging something. This is a bleak reminder of what is to come in the weeks and months ahead. The region has lost all its crops and will be dependent on food aide programs for the foreseeable future. Today – we’ll just focus on the basics… food, clothing, and shelter.

Rescue teams are currently evacuating approximately 160 people from Nueva Esperanza, where flood levels have now reached 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep.  Mayor Barahona of Jiquilisco is trying to evacuate everyone out, but efforts are slow due to the high water.

We have also heard an unconfirmed report that a boat carrying five people overturned and four people have drowned. Again, that report is unconfirmed and we are trying to get more details.

The September 15th Dam continues to release at 7200 cubic meters/sec, which is extremely high – as we’ve mentioned before, 2500 cm/sec triggers a red alert for flooding. We’ve been monitoring the river levels on the United States Geological Service page (link), and as of 2:00 pm Eastern Time the river remains 10.5 meters (34 feet) above normal.

Railroad bridge crossing the Lempa River taken on Thursday. Since then the river level has risen and is currently 5 feet from the bottom of the bridge

To put this in perspective, for readers who are familiar with the old railroad bridge that spans the Lempa River in San Marcos, the river is approximately 5 feet from the bottom of the bridge.

The international press finally began reporting on this story late yesterday. A couple hours ago the Christian Science Monitor posted a story written by Tim Muth (of Tim’s Blog fame) detailing the disaster. We are grateful that Tim list Voices on the Border as one of the organizations to consider for donations.

Please contribute today! Readers of this blog have been very generous in the past couple of days, but the needs are overwhelming. Thousands of people are in need of food, clothing and shelter. We will make another wire transfer down to El Salvador tomorrow morning. Please help us raise another $5000 between now and then to support local efforts. The Donate Now Button is at the top of this page, and it will only take a moment of your time.

Thank you!