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.

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

Flood Update – Saturday, October 15th

Rain continues to fall in El Salvador and our partners in the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután are flooded out. They face a double threat: 1) massive rainfalls that have no where drain, and 2) the Lempa River which has busted through and is flowing over the levees.

Here is a short slideshow of photos taken Thursday night and Friday in the Lempa.

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Here are the latest numbers from the community evacuation shelters:

Ciudad Romero – 82 people
Zanmorano (mostly evacuees from Nueva Esperanza) – 150 people
El Marillo – 78 people
Amando Lopez – 150 people
Jiquilisco – 99 people
Las Mesitas – 114 people
Isla de Mendez – 47 people
Comunidad Octavio Ortiz – 8 families

The September 15th Dam, which is just upriver from the Lower Lempa, is currently releasing water at a rate of 3000 cm/sec, which is lower than the 5500 cm/sec earlier in the week, but still high. Civil Protection officials are warning that the release rate may go back up above 5000 later today because of the large amounts of rain that continues to fall throughout El Salvador and Guatemala and drains to the Lempa River.

There are four large holes in the levees that protect the communities, so even with the lower flow rates from the dam, water continues to pour inland.

The good news is that all of the work over the past two years to better coordinate rescue efforts has paid off and all of the different government agencies and international organizations are working closer together to serve the needs of those affected.

But the needs are great and Central Command has asked that we help take care of the needs at community shelters such as the one Amando Lopez. The other day Voices set out to raise $3000 to help the shelters and so far we raised only $1300, $800 of which we just used to purchase small mattresses for the Amando Lopez shelter where people have been sleeping on the floor. We are also buying general supplies for the shelters.

The $1300 we’ve raised so far is providing great benefit, but the needs are tremendous at this point, and we ask that if you haven’t already given, please go to our website (www.votb.org) or blog (www.voiceselsalvador.wordpress.com) and click on the Donate Now button. Even easier – here is the URL for our Network for Good page – cut and past that into your browser… Its easy and just takes a second.

We ask one other thing – please send this update to your friends and family and ask them to also make a donation – no contribution is too small.

Your donation is not going to a large Institution with high overhead – it going directly to the communities where the needs are.