Uncategorized, Voices Developments

Matching Grant Opportunity!!! Please Donate Today

Reality: it’s easier to raise money during emergencies (like floods and droughts) when the damage already is done.

Reality: It’s much more difficult to raise money between emergencies when preventative measures can be taken to mitigate damage.

Your support during past emergencies has helped Voices on the Border provide aid in shelters and assist with recovery efforts. But it’s what we (you and I) do between emergencies that has the greatest impact.

Everyday we work side-by-side with communities in Morazán and Usulután to mitigate the risks of disaster. As climate change results in even more extreme weather, these efforts become more and more important.

Mitigating risks, however, is not just making sure the local rescue squad is trained and equipped – we have done that. It is also ensuring that our community partners are able to achieve economic sustainability and preserve their natural resources so that people are more resilient and extreme weather has less of an impact.

After a lot of dialogue about how we can best serve our partner communities in Usulután and Morazán achieve their goals of achieving economic sustainability and protecting their natural resources, we decided to re-focus our efforts on building local capacity.

In January 2013, Voices will launch a Grassroots Resource Center that will help empower our community partners to achieve economic sustainability and better protect their natural resources. We will do so by implementing two programs – a Civil Society Training Center and a Research Institute.

The Training Center will offer local leaders workshops and other opportunities to local leaders to increase their capacity in strategic planning, project management, and others. We will also provide workshops on land use, public health, education, and sustainable agricultural.

The Research Institute will gather and disseminate information and analysis about issues that impact economic sustainability and mitigating risks associated with climate change and other issues. The information will allow citizens and local leaders to have a stronger voice in the policy decisions that affect them.

Rosie with the Amando Lopez Community Borad
Rosie (Voices’ Field Director) with the Amando Lopez Community Board

With your support, Voices has been engaged in this kind of empowerment for over 20 years. But as free trade agreements, tourism, and aid programs like the Millennium Challenge Corporation create new barriers to economic sustainability and threaten natural resources, we have to be more efficient in our response.

To launch the Resource Center in January, we need to raise $12,000 by December 31st. We have a generous donor willing to match donations up to $6,000, meaning that if you donate $100 today, we receive $200.

It’s just a matter of time before our partners experience more extreme weather. Your contribution today will help us ensure that it does not become another tragedy.

So please click on the Donate Button at the top of the page and contribute to Voices’ important work! Thank you and Happy Holidays


Earthquake off the Coast of El Salvador

An earthquake shook parts of El Salvador last night around 10:30. The USGS and media at first reported a magnitude of 7.4 located just off the coast of Usulután, roughly the same location of the January 2001 earthquake that caused so much damage and loss of life.

This morning, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) is reporting that the earthquake was more like a magnitude 6.7 and that the epicenter was about 250 km (155 miles) south of the coast of Usulután. There were supposedly several aftershocks and earthquakes that finally ended around 2:00 am.

We are hearing that communities along the coast felt the earthquake but that it wasn’t strong. La Prensa Grafica said that others around the country didn’t feel it at all. Similarly, we have not heard any reports of damage.

Immediately after the earthquakes, the Tsunami Alert Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning, but it was called off around midnight. There was a report of a small wave, around 4 inches high, reaching the coast, but no damage was reported. During a conference call last night, Jorge Meléndez, the Director of Civil Protection, denied the threat of a Tsunami and said that it was the result of a miscalculation.

El Salvador is located on the Ring of Fire; a fault line circles much of the Pacific region. As a result, Salvadorans experience earthquakes on a regular basis. Every now and then there strong quakes that cause real damage. Some of the most notable are the January and February 2001 earthquakes that killed more than a thousand people and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. In most recent history, there were significant quakes in 1986, 1982, 1965, and 1951.

If quakes weren’t enough to worry about, El Salvador is entering the most dangerous time of year for flooding. The most serious flooding events in recent history have all occurred between the end of August and early November – the last half of hurricane season. It’s been raining pretty heavily lately and this morning there are reports from around the country of landslides blocking roads and causing problems.

agriculture, Climate Change, El Salvador Government

Salvadoran Government Catching up to Communities on Climate Change

Yesterday we issued a press release reporting that Salvadoran government officials attribute last week’s record rainfall and flooding to climate change.

This morning Hernán Rosa Chávez, the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, told La Presnsa Grafica that El Salvador is about to “begin the process of shielding itself against climate change.” He wants El Salvador to be a model country for the international community on how to live with climate change.

He said, “we have to prepare ourselves for this [the rains] to occur every year. We have to make changes in agriculture so that [farmers] will not lose their crops. We have to build an infrastructure thinking about vulnerability, and develop the country without needing to destroy it.”

While these statements are an important recognition of the problem, they are also another sad reminder that the time for the United States and other industrialized nations to change their greenhouse-gas emitting ways is running out. And its countries like El Salvador that are suffering as a result.

With regards to Minister Chávez’ plan to change the agriculture sector so farmers won’t lose their crops, communities long-ago recognized that extreme weather patters would affect their crops. In the Lower Lempa region of Usulután, one of the most affected during last week’s historic rains and floods, farmers have been converting some of their fields to rice which is more flood resistant. That have also been installing irrigation systems that will allow them to plant corn in the dry season when the risk of flooding is low. Local development organizations and farmers talk openly about climate change and how to better protect their crops, and increase their food security.

Levee Break
Rio Lempa flowing through a levee break on October 13th, days before the flooding got really bad

If the Salvadoran government really wanted to help, they could work with local farmers to protect domestic markets for their crops instead of allowing cheap imports from heavily subsidized US farmers to run them out of business. In September, President Funes was in the Lower Lempa to announce an $18 million aid package for the region that will in part help farmers convert to “exotic crops” such as cashew nuts that they can sell in the US. Such crops are even more sensitive to climate change and would subject Salvadoran farmers to the ups and downs of US markets. And if locals are not growing corn and beans, it creates a greater market for US farmers. If the Funes administration really wants to help the domestic agricultural sector respond to climate change, they should help provide farmers access to simple technologies that give them more control over their crops, and protect domestic markets for domestically grown products.

Minister Chávez also said the government will improve the nation’s infrastructure to decrease vulnerability. That’s great, but communities in the Lower Lempa and other river basins around El Salvador have been asking for better levees and drainage systems for more than 10 years. The levees have failed in several of the most recent storms, and since 2003, communities have marched from the Lower Lempa to San Salvador to demand they repair them. It’s great that the Minister supports these efforts now. Imagine if he and other government officials had supported these efforts last year or the year before. Maybe Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano, Nuevo Amanecer, Salinas del protrero, and hundreds of other impoverished communities would have faired a little better last week.

Climate change is a reality. And with all due respect for Minister Chavez, if there is a silver lining to last week’s rains its that the government and international community may begin supporting communities that have been trying to deal with it for years.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters

Phase II: Rehabilitation

According to the Environmental Minister, more than 1500 millimeters (59 inches) of rain fell between October 10th and October 20th, almost double the rain accumulation of any other weather disaster in El Salvador since 1969. Now the rainfall is coming to an end, or at least diminishing, as a cold front moves in from the southwest. Rivers are expected to remain high, but gradually start to fall. The Environmental Ministry reports that the September 15 Dam is releasing 1800 cubic meters of water per second and that the water level of the Lempa river remains above river banks.

However, even the short-term problems are far from over. The ground remains supersaturated with water. Civil Defense authorities report that approximately 2,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent of the national territory is flooded. 4 bridges have collapsed and another 14 are damaged on key routes, limiting accessibility.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) reports that there are 38,682 Salvadorans evacuated to shelters. Although Civil Defense authorities announced today that some evacuees might begin to return home, approximately 12 percent of evacuees will need temporary housing for 4 to 6 months, according to the PAHO.

In the Lower Lempa many families have at least gone to visit their homes, but most are not yet ready to return until there is potable water.  The shelters are urging people to stay until water is restored, especially families with young children.  The water project, the collectively owned and administered water service in the Lower Lempa, said that the tubes were damaged in three different places, and one of the ruptures is still submerged in flood water.  Two different community associations and Oxfam are working to install different water tanks throughout the communities in the mean time.

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

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!

Advocacy, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Hydro Electric Dams

Monday Flood Update!

Rain continues to fall over El Salvador and is forecast to do so for the next 48 hours. Last night the September 15th Dam was releasing water at an incredible 9000 cubic meter per second. To put that in perspective, at 2500 cm/sec the communities down river brace for flooding. The dam has not released at such high levels since Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the region in 1998. In fact, the total rainfall has now exceeded what fell during the infamous storm.

As a result, the Lempa Rivera is now pouring over the levees and into the communities. Our partners in the Lower Lempa report that there is 3.5 feet of water standing in Nueva Esperanza, Zanmorano, Ciudad Romero, and other communities.  The water is so high that the shelters in these communities have flooded and are being evacuated. Los Lotes, Babilonia, El Angel, Conventos, Las Arañas, Marillo, La Casona, and Marillo II are also evacuated.

The Camandos de Salvamentos are reporting this morning that last night they were trapped in the community of El Marillo until 3:30 this morning trying to evacuate 32 people. They were successful in getting this group to the shelter in San Marcos Lempa, but another 300 people remain trapped in El Angel and El Marillo. One of the trapped is a 62-year old woman who has a fractured spinal chord caused when a tree fell on her during the storm. Salvadoran media are also reporting that rescue teams, including those from the military and Comandos de Salvamento are trapped with evacuees in communities cut off from the rest of the region by raging flood waters.

According to La Prensa Grafica, rescue squads evacuated 2000 people last night in the lower lempa, bringing the total number of evacuees in the region to 4000, a number that is likely grossly underreported.

Life in the shelters is not good. We spoke with one of our friends who had been in the shelter in Amando Lopez but was moved yesterday to a shelter in Jiquilisco. She said that they have no blankets or mattresses, and spent the night on a cold, wet concrete floor. With funding from Voices (i.e. those of you who have contributed so far), she is going to local store this morning to purchase underwear for elderly women in the shelter who have diarrhea and were unable to bring a change of clothes when they evacuated.

Nationwide, 32 people have died as a result of the storms that began last Tuesday.  Tens of thousands are in shelters, and the entire country remains on red alert. Roads have been buried in landslides, bridges have been washed out, and much of the country is a disaster area.

Last night we received an email from our friend Cristina Starr who summed up a lot of the national efforts well:

“Government ministers and workers at all levels are laboring around the clock, the president comes on with messages every night and other officials during the day, journalists are working pretty much non-stop as well, you can see the stress accumulating.

Just a few weeks ago the Japanese government donated a bunch of little and big bulldozers and what good timing that was, they are all running around the country opening up roads.

In february the government got a loan from the world bank for 50 million dollars to be released when there are emergencies and apparently half of that will be coming shortly.”

There is some good news. For several years, Voices and many other international and domestic organizations have invested significant time and resources into preparing for disasters like this. And it seems to be paying off. The level of organization and coordination between the different government agencies and organizations has saved lives. But for these investments over the years, the death toll and impact on human life would be far greater.

We are continuing to support efforts in the shelter and will be taking more materials down to the communities today.

In previous posts we’ve call on you to support our efforts. So far you’ve come through with a bit over $5000 that is already buying mattresses, clothing and food. While this is a great start, the needs in the shelters are growing exponentially. Many readers of this blog have donated, but many more have not. Every little bit helps at this point, so please click on the DONATE NOW button and help now. We’ll likely be making wire transfers every day, so your support will arrive in the communities within 24 hours of your contribution.

And please share this post with your friends and family, and ask them to make a contribution.

Advocacy, Disasters

Crisis in El Salvador! Please Help Now

The situation here in El Salvador has become truly critical in the past 24 hours.  The number of evacuated persons has risen to at least 13,878 and Civil Protection continues to call for more.  In the past 12 hours over 200 ml (approximately 8 inches) of rain fell nation wide, and the death toll has risen to at least 27 people.  Many roads are now impassable due to flooded rivers and creeks, as well as land slides.  Civil Protection has registered 590 land slides, 472 damaged or destroyed homes, and 998 homes in grave risk.

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We cannot stress enough the devastation that has occurred over the past 72 hours.  The entire country is on red alert, frantically trying to get basic necessities to shelters and communities around the country.

In the Lower Lempa the CEL is currently releasing 8000 cubic meters of water per second, levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.  The levees are already seriously compromised and the Mayor  of Jiquilisco is calling for a complete evacuation of the Lower Lempa, as ordered by Civil Protection.  The Salvadoran Navy and Armed Forces has dispached boats and vehicles to help facilitate evacuations.

We at Voices are working with the Civil Protection Central Command out of Ciudad Romero. They have asked us, for right now, to provide support to the shelters in Amando Lopez and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, which we are doing. This afternoon, Civil Protection is evacuating the Amando Lopez Shelter, which is at capacity. As the Rio Lempa continues to rise through the afternoon and into the evening, we expect that the numerous families that have so far not evacuated to make their way to the Amando Lopez shelter, and they will need our support. We will also continue assisting the evacuees as they move to the shelter in San Marcos. Right now we are focused on the basics: food, clothing, and shelter.

Again, if you have not donated for this emergency, we urge you to do so.  This weather is projected to last into the coming week, and any and all aid is urgent and necessary.  Also we have noticed that there is a lack of coverage in the international press – please help spread the word!

We are making a wire transfer to the communities tomorrow morning, so please help tonight by clicking on the Donate Now button to the right of this page. No amount is too small or big.

And please share this bolg post with your friends and Family on Facebook

Advocacy, Disasters

Flooding in the Lower Lempa of Jiquilisco, Usulután – Help Now

Voices just received an update from our partners United Communities, and news is that communities are beginning to flood. As we reported early in the day, a tropical depression is stalled just off the coast of Guatemala, causing flooding and mudslides in Auchuapan and communities along the coast, including those in the Lower Lempa region of San Vicente and Jiquilisco, Usulután.

According to our partners, the problem so far is the constant rainfall. The ground is saturated and the drainage ditches are full. As a result, communities are starting to flood. They include: Nueva Esperanza, El Zamorano, El Marillo I, Marillo II, La Casona, Montemar, Los Conventos, El Ángel, La Plancha, San Martín, Las Arañas y El Presidio. So far the only evacuations have been in El Ángel, where 37 families are in a shelter.

The Lempa River may soon become a problem and contribute to the flooding. At 1:00 this afternoon the September 15th dam began discharging water at a rate of 2300 cubic meters per second, just under the 2500 cm/sec the regions levee system can stand. At 4:00 pm the dam began releasing at 3500 cm/sec, and they increased it 5:00 pm 4000 cm/sec.

At the time of the last update, water from the dam had not reached the Lower Lempa, but our partners are expecting that the amount of water being released will cause severe flooding in Los Lotes and La Babilonia, communities that are the first to suffer when the river floods. If the release from the dam were to increase to 5500 cm/sec they speculate that the already weakened levees would fail and have deadly results in many other communities.

Beyond the immediate impacts that flooding will have, United Communities fears that severe flooding will devastate the economies of San Juan del Gozo, Las Mesitas, La Chacastera, and others that depend on traditional farming in the mangroves for their livelihoods.

At the moment the needs are basic – caring for the needs of those displaced and staying in shelters. The forecast is for the rain to stick around so we expect the needs to become much worse in the immediate future.

Please help us raise $3000 by this time tomorrow so that we may provide immediate assistance to those in need.

In 2009 readers of this blog helped us raise $9000 in support of communities in La Paz who were suffered when their communities were flooded. Please help us today by clicking on the Donate Now button in the top right-hand corner of this page. We will make a wire transfer at the close of business tomorrow.

Thank you