In 2012, the Octavio Ortíz community decided to rebuild their casa comunal.
The new infrastructure is more spacious and has a higher foundation, which is fundamental considering that in the past the communities in this part of the country have suffered greatly from floods caused by the overflow of the Lempa River. This building will serve as a shelter for natural disasters and emergency situations.
The beginning wasn’t easy.
Elmer Portillo, who at that time was serving as the President of the community, recently commented on the committed effort put into the the project, “When we began the construction of the new communal house, we didn’t have enough money, nor secured support from NGOs or institutions, we only had the will and the ability to work.”
Despite these limitations, this is the result. A spacious modern structure with impressive architecture.
The community contributed 100% of the labor and also some of the economic resources to purchase materials such as concrete blocks, cement and zinc sheets. Various other sources, among them VOICES, have supported the project with small donations over the years. VOICES made a final donation of $4,750 for the installation of the floor, which will conclude the project in the next few months.
VOICES ON THE BORDER congratulates the community, especially its board of directors for all their determination and hard work.
Since last Saturday, El Salvador has been influenced by tropical storm Michael. The storm has caused heavy rains, mainly in the coastal area and northern Morazán, a situation that has led the Civil Protection authorities to issue a Yellow Alert in 31 municipalities in the east of the country and a Green Alert nationwide.
The authorities have reported three people killed, 10 injured, as well as 5 clogged roads, numerous trees knocked down by strong winds, overflowing rivers, landslides, flooded homes and more than 500 people displaced, mainly in the municipality of San Miguel.
Regarding the situation in El Bajo Lempa, considered one of the most vulnerable regions of the country, at the moment the only damage reported is a tree falling in community Octavio Ortiz that caused minor damage to the perimeter fence of the soccer field; nevertheless, the communities have been activated and remain vigilant of the rise and flow of the Lempa River, which is already presenting worrying levels.
Storm Michael has already become a hurricane and it is forecasted that rainstorms will continue intermittently throughout the country, with greater emphasis on the coastal strip, central and western areas. In addition, gusts of wind are expected between 40 and 50 kilometers per hour, especially on the coast.
Among the measures adopted by the government is the activation of the entire civil protection system, at the national level, as well as the suspension of classes for the next 48 hours in all educational centers, both public and private.
Huracán Michael Afecta a El Salvador
Desde el pasado sábado, El Salvador ha sido influenciado por la tormenta tropical Michael, que ha provocado fuertes lluvias, principalmente en la zona costera y el norte de Morazán. Situación que llevó a las autoridades de Protección Civil a decretar Alerta Amarilla en 31 municipios del oriente del país y Alerta Verde a nivel nacional.
Entre las afectaciones ocurridas, las autoridades informan de tres personas fallecidas, 10 lesionadas, así mismo de 5 carreteras obstruidas, numerosos árboles derribados por los fuertes vientos, ríos desbordados, deslizamientos de tierra, viviendas inundadas y más de 500 personas albergadas, principalmente en el municipio de San Miguel.
Con respecto a la situación en El Bajo Lempa, considerada una de las regiones más vulnerables del país, por el momento el único daño reportado es la caída de un árbol en la comunidad Octavio Ortiz que ocasionó daños menores a la cerca perimetral del campo de fútbol; no obstante, las comunidades se han activado y se mantienen vigilantes del incremento del caudal del Río Lempa, el cual ya presenta niveles preocupantes.
La tormenta Michael ya se ha convertido en huracán y se pronostica que las lluvias de temporal sigan de forma intermitente en todo el país, con mayor énfasis en la franja costera, zona centro y occidente. Además, se esperan ráfagas de viento entre los 40 y 50 kilómetros por hora, sobre todo en la franja costera.
Entre las medidas adoptadas por el gobierno está la activación de todo el sistema de protección civil, a nivel nacional, así como la suspensión de clases por las próximas 48 horas en todos los centros educativos, tanto públicos como privados.
Those of you who have been on a Voices on the Border Delegation to El Salvador in recent years have likely gotten to know our dear friends Marvin and Heidi. They live in Nueva Esperanza, which was underwater last week during the historic rains and floods.
During one of our flood updates we mentioned that Marvin and Heidi had been trapped Nueva Esperanza with 55 other people when flood waters were at their highest. Sunday October 16th, they were forced to spend the night in the bell tower of the church after currents got to strong for the boats to evacuate more people. They were rescued the next afternoon after the rains slowed and the water began to recede.
Yesterday we found a video of their evacuation in which they share their experience as they are boating down the main road out of town.
We also want to thank all of you who donated to the fundraising effort. Your support allowed us to provide material support for those who were forced to their homes and lived in emergency shelters for a week or more. We are continuing to raise money to engage in two post-flood activities 1) providing farmers with support so they can replant their fields and get back on their feet as fast as possible; and 2) supporting local advocacy campaigns for appropriate rebuilding of the levees and drainage system in the Lower Lempa.
Communities Organize Disaster Response & Demand More Government Collaboration
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador – As thousands of Salvadorans return to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives after last week’s historic rain and floods, many officials and civil society organizations in the region are blaming climate change for the catastrophe and calling upon the government to respond appropriately.
Last week, Tropical Depression 12-E and weather from Hurricane Jova poured more than 55 inches of rain over a seven-day period on Central America, far eclipsing Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the storm by which all others had been compared.
Though last week’s rain and flooding were more severe, local and national preparedness has improved dramatically since 1998, limiting the number of deaths in El Salvador to 34, compared to the 289 lives claimed by Hurricane Mitch.
Officials throughout Central American have attributed the extreme rain totals to climate change. Raul Artiga of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) stated, “Climate change is not something that is coming in the future, we are already suffering its effects.”
Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s Minister of the Environment, elaborated that the frequency of extreme rainfall events, defined by more than 100 millimeters (4 inches) in 24 hours, or 350 millimeters (14 inches) in 72 hours, in El Salvador has increased continually since the 1960s. Chávez said that until the 1980s, El Salvador “had never been affected by a Hurricane in the Pacific.” Since then, several of the worst weather disasters have resulted from Pacific weather patterns, including Hurricane Paul in 1982, Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and now Tropical Depression 12-E.
According to a recent reportreport by The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), climate change is expected to take a greater toll on the region in the future. “Studies agree on the upward tendency of costs,” says the report, “whether defined as damage to well-being or as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”
According to Roberto Valent, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in El Salvador, damages from last week’s extreme rain may reach more than US$1 billion.
The Lower Lempa region of San Vicente and Usulután has been one of the hardest hit in El Salvador. The region is supposed to be protected by earthen levees that line the banks of the Lempa River, the largest in the country. The levees, however, burst when an upstream dam released 9,500 cubic meters of water per second, for more than 12 hours – three times the flow the levees were built to withstand.
While community leaders in the Lower Lempa agree that climate change is responsible for the extreme rainfall, they have long argued that the Hydroelectric Executive Commission of the Lempa River (CEL, for its name in Spanish) mismanaged the dam and corresponding reservoir, prioritizing the generation of electricity over mitigating the risk of flooding downstream. In February 2011, Rigoberto Herrera Cruz, the Deputy Mayor of Jiquilisco, stated that
“We believe the CEL [Lempa River Hydro-electric Commission] who runs the dam do massive water releases because to allow the water out little by little means they would earn slightly less profit,”
On October 20th, El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes met with leaders in the Lower Lempa and promised support for reconstructing communities and local agriculture. Jiquilisco Mayor David Barahona stressed that the Central Government must also reconstruct the levees and restore the drainage system that helps channel floodwaters out of the region. Local development organizations have joined in this call, adding that the CEL must also manage its hydroelectric dams in a manner that prioritizes the safety of the communities downstream over their desire to maximize electricity production.
Minister Chávez added to the reconstruction conversation, “we cannot rebuild in the same vulnerable way. If we do not take the [changing weather] phenomena into account, we will be throwing that investment away.”
The undersigned group of international organizations works in partnership and solidarity with various organizations, government officials, and community boards in the Lower Lempa. We echo the concerns and demands expressed by our local partners and Minister Chávez, and will support them in the days, weeks, and months ahead as they advocate for their communities.
Over the weekend Voices staff was able to visit Salinas del Potrero and Nueva Esperanza in the Lower Lempa with our friends from Cristosal. Our initial reports from Salinas were that the flooding cut off the community from the rest of the region but that the damage was minimal. Our visit tells a different story. Many in Salinas continue to live in the community shelter, standing water still obstructs the road going into the community, and many of the community’s fisheries have been flooded out and damaged.
Our staff also visited other communities in the region – Ciudad Romero, Nueva Esperanza, and others and the news is not all bad. The majority of the people who have been living in the emergency shelters have returned home and are starting the arduous task of cleaning up. Electricity and water has been restored in most communities, and people seem to be in fairly good spirits considering the circumstances.
Jessie, voices field volunteer, and 35 youth from OSCA, a youth group in Morazan, traveled to Nueva Esperanza to help locals with the clean up. Read her report with photos here.
Later today we will provide a more thorough update on the survey of the damage.
Thanks to all who have contributed to the recover effort! Though this has been one of the worst disasters in modern Salvadoran history, everyone has worked together to minimize the impact on our local partners. We have a lot of work to do, but the response has been inspiring.