Disasters, Hydro Electric Dams, News Highlights

Flood Alert in El Salvador!

This week El Salvador has been feeling the growing effects of two low-pressure systems.  By this afternoon Tropical Depression 12 E, which sits off the coast of Guatemala on the Pacific Ocean, is expected to be upgraded to a Tropical Storm.  So far, the heaviest rainfall has been registered in the Western provinces of the country, as well as the coastal region.

Dr. Jeff Masters, from Weather Underground, describes further possibilities for tropical depressions next week.  In his blog he says:

“Many of the computer models continue to predict that a strong tropical disturbance capable of becoming a tropical depression could form in the Western Caribbean or extreme southern Gulf of Mexico early next week. Some of the spin and moisture for this storm could potentially come from Tropical Depression 12-E, which formed in the Eastern Pacific this morning, just offshore of the Mexico/Guatemala border. TD 12-E is expected to move inland over Southeast Mexico and Guatemala over the next few days, bringing very heavy rains of 5 – 10 inches capable of causing life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides.”

Civil Protection in El Salvador has declared the Orange level alert for the coast and volcanic corridor.  There have been reported mudslides and flashfloods as well, with one reported death in a mudslide in Ayutuxtepeque, near Mejícanos.  A Mayor of one of the most affected municipalities in Ahuachpan was rescued after being swept away in his pick up truck while trying to alert locals of evacuation efforts.  About 240 people are in shelters in La Paz, and another 24 families in San Vicente.

In the Lower Lempa, Jiquilisco many communities are experiencing minor flooding due to the accumulated rainfall.  These include Amando López, El Marillo I and II, Monte Mar, Octavio Ortiz, Los Lotes, Babylonia, Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, among others.  Currently, the CEL reports discharges of 1,200 cubic meters per second, and according the Community Association ACUDESBAL, the Lempa river basin can absorb up to 2,500 cubic meters per second.  This is less than prior years due to the deterioration of the already patchy levee and drainage systems.  No one has evacuated yet, but the Early Warning System is fully activated.

Follow developments on our FaceBook page or on Twitter @VoicesElSal



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Corruption, Food Security

Tropical Storm Matthew

We are watching Tropical Storm Matthew, which is currently located about 12 hours off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. While forecasters do not believe that the storm system has the time or energy to develop into a hurricane, they are concerned that it will weaken and “become part of a nearly stationary broad area of low pressure over Central America.” They are concerned that “such a weather pattern would likely produce dangerous torrential rains in Central America over the next few days.”

We are particularly concerned about this storm because our partner communities in the Lower Lempa Region of Jiquilisco, Usulután have already experienced consistent, heavy rains for the past few months and their properties are already saturated. The heavy rains that forecasters are predicting could result in severe flooding.

In terms of food security, most farmers in the Lower Lempa have already lost their corn crops this year. Those who have access to irrigation systems have not even planted corn this season and are waiting for the dry season to plant when they can better control the conditions.

We will keep monitoring this storm and provide updates as we get them.

Tuesday the 28th Update

Tropical Storm Matthew was down graded to a low pressure system on Sunday and is now lingering over northern Honduras.  Rains continue intermittently and communities throughout El Salvador have reported slight flooding and minor landslides.  The Lempa River has not gone over the levees in the Lower Lempa, but several communities are flooded from swollen creeks and excess rain.  Some families from Nueva Esperanza, Los Lotes, and El Marillo have sought temporary shelter in Ciudad Romero.  The rain is expected to continue through out today.

Persistent Rain in the Lower Lempa
Advocacy, Environment

The Second March for Life / La Segunda Caminata por La Vida

Below is the press release for the 2nd March for Life (Feb23-27), organized by the National Movement of Communities Affected by Flooding.

A todos los hermanos y hermanas solidarios/as a los organismos nacionales e internacionales por medio de la presente les comunicamos lo siguiente:

Las 250 comunidades habitadas por 12,000 familias y más de 65,000 personas que vivimos en las zonas bajas de los ríos Lempa, Paz, Jiboa y Grande de San Miguel, este lunes 23 de febrero iniciamos La Segunda Caminata por La Vida, desde el Puente de oro a la altura de San Marcos Lempa con destino a San Salvador para dar a conocer lo siguiente:

1 Que fenómenos como el Huracán Mitch, la tormenta Stan y otros, han provocado serios impactos económicos, medio ambientales y sociales de los cuales aún no terminamos de reponernos.

2. Que nuestras parcelas, viviendas, escuelas, pozos o fuentes de agua, calles y otra infraestructura existente es el único patrimonio que tenemos.

3. Que las amenazas de inundaciones siguen vigentes durante la época de lluvia, ya que las “obras de protección” realizadas son insuficientes, defectuosas e inconclusas y sin ningún mantenimiento, y esto hace a nuestras comunidades altamente vulnerables.

4. Que cuando las inundaciones se presentan soportamos la pérdida de nuestros cultivos agrícolas, animales domésticos, enseres del hogar y herramientas de producción, lo que incrementa la crisis económica y el hambre de nuestras familias, estancando nuestro proceso de un verdadero desarrollo, además de tener serios impactos en la salud, principalmente de niños, niñas y personas de la tercera edad.

Y ante esta realidad, respetuosamente demandamos al gobierno:

a) Que la Comisión de Economía y Agricultura supervise el trabajo de construcción y mantenimiento que se ejecuta con el préstamo 1102-OCE-ES, por un monto de 8 millones de dólares, con el acompañamiento de una comisión del Movimiento Nacional de las Comunidades Rurales Afectadas por las Inundaciones.

b) Que los resultados de la ejecución de las obras sean dados a conocer en un informe a las comunidades en forma directa y a través de los medios de comunicación.

c) Que en el presupuesto de la Nación se establezca una partida especial para que el Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería cuente con recursos para finalizar las bordas, sistemas de drenaje y caminos internos de las cuencas bajas de los ríos: Lempa, Paz, Jiboa y Grande de San Miguel.

d) Que se asegure el mantenimiento permanente de las obras reparadas o construidas.

e) Que se haga un manejo responsable de las presas hidroeléctricas ubicadas sobre el río Lempa, priorizando la protección de las personas y comunidades ubicadas en las riberas de dichos ríos.

f) Que se evite la construcción de nuevas represas, así como la implementación de proyectos mineros

Movimiento de Comunidades Afectadas por Inundaciones

24 de febrero de 2009

Advocacy, Elections 2009

Pre-Election Advocacy in the Lower Lempa

Yesterday the Diario Co-Latino highlighted the United Communities’ initiative to organize the communities affected by flooding and advocate for government action.  The president of United Communities, José Santos Guevara is quoted denouncing the governminent’s claims that they have completed the levees along the Lempa River. The levees  remain incomplete and the corresponding entities have yet to begin repairs of areas damaged by last October’s flooding.  (See post from October 2008)


The article comes on the heels of a 5-day march to San Salvador organized by the communities of El Salvador’s four river basins – all of whom are affected by flooding year after year .  Community representatives will present their demands at the Presidential Palace on Friday February 27th.

To see the article in Spanish click here.

Advocacy, Disasters

Levee Break on Front Page

The levee break in the community La Babilonia made front page news yesterday in La Prensa Grafica. The Red Cross volunteer in the foreground is Felix from the community El Marillo and the one behind him is Nerry from Nueva Esperanza. To see it click here.

In Spanish you can also read here about the advocacy campaign being led by United Communities and the impact of the recent flooding on 2,600 families in the Lower Lempa.

Advocacy, Disasters

More Advocacy, More Floods

The communities of El Salvador’s four river basins continue to struggle to be heard at a national level. Recent TV and newspaper interviews express their frustrations with federal entities and representatives.

The national budget goes before the Legislative Assembly next month, with no concrete proposals for the communities left vulnerable to flooding year after year. Despite an aggressive campaign to allot resources for levees and drains in the nation’s four coastal river basins, neither the Legislative Assembly nor the Ministry of Cattle and Agriculture have taken the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of these communities.

The grass-roots initiative for such resources began advocating in the Legislative Assembly this year after the Ministry of Cattle and Agriculture refused to heed their complaints. The Ministry said they would only continue piece-meal repairs of existing levees due to lack of resources. They also refused to produce reports of past accounts, such as the 2006 FOPROMID 4 million dollar fund for emergency response and infrastructure, money donated by foreign governments after Hurricane Stan.

At the Legislative Assembly, the communities were well received by representatives from all of the major political parties, but were unable to move forward with a concrete proposal. The Ministry of Agriculture is the entity responsible for presenting any projects, while the Legislative Assembly is only able to suggest and/or approve the proposals.

Therefore, the organizations are back at the table, working on a new demand for the Assembly and the Ministry. The piece asks the Ministry of Agriculture for explanations as to why they refuse to include comprehensive projects in their annual budget. And since it is the government’s responsibility to protect these communities, they also demand retribution for lost crops as a means to reactivate the region’s agriculture.

Meanwhile, the families of all four river basins are struggling through a second bout of flooding this year and the further degradation of the few existing levees left to protect them.


We Need Levees!

Every year, communities throughout El Salvador suffer the consequences of preventable disasters such as flooding. But when community leaders and citizens approach their local or national government with proposals to mitigate the risks of such disasters, they are often met with the same refrain: “It’s not in the budget.”

Communities in the coastal areas of four of El Salvador’s major rivers (Rio Lempa, Rio Grande, Rio Jiboa, and Rio Paz) are taking a more proactive approach by getting involved in the budget-making process. Earlier this year, leaders and representatives from these flood-prone regions are leading a campaign to ensure that government officials make sure the funds for levees and other infrastructure projects ARE in the budget. Their timing is pretty good – with local and national elections just months away, politicians are in the mood to pander.

At an open meeting in July, representatives from communities in the four river basins compared their levee systems and what their communities need to minimize the risk of flooding. They reported the following:

Rio Grande (Usulutan):

In 1935, the Salvadoran government built 9 km (5.6 mi) of levee, all of which is currently in a state of serious deterioration.

In 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle (MAG) built only 1 km of levee; divided between the two shores.

Rio Lempa (San Vicente and Usulutan)

Tecoluca, San Vicente (Western shore)

In 1998, MAG built 27 km (16.7 mi) of levee, which have all deteriorated.

In 2006, MAG repaired 150 meters (492 feet) of levee washed out after Tropical Storm Stan in 2005.

In 2008 MAG repaired another kilometer near the mouth of the river, but failed to rehabilitate several drains as had been planned.

Jiquilisco, Usulutan (Eastern shore)

In 1998, the government built 27.5 km (17 mi) of levee, which has deteriorated. The contractor was also to construct another 9.9 km (6.6 miles) in the central area of the levee system, but never did. MAG successfully sued the contractor for breach of contract, but they have not reported whether they have recovered the lost funding, and they have yet to allocate funds to complete the undone work.

In 2006, MAG reconstructed approximately 150 meters of the levee washed away by Tropical Storm Stan.

In 2008, MAG reconstructed 1 km of deteriorated levee and constructed another km of levee of the 9.9 km section in the Namcuchiname forest that was left incomplete in 1998. The ministry also rehabilitated several drains.

Rio Jiboa (Usulutan)

In 2008, MAG built 5.7 km (3.5 mi) of levee.

In June 2008, Mayor Carlos Ramos filed suit against a private contractor for illegally hauling sand and rock from the riverbed and shores of Rio Jiboa, making the area more prone to flooding. Un-regulated excavation has caused much destruction and instability for several years despite community efforts to prevent it.

Rio Paz (Auachapan)

In 2005, Tropical Storm Stan caused great damage to the levees.

In 2008, MAG rebuilt 1 km of the levee, but did not repair or rebuild any other sections.

Local communities will be at a much higher risk of flooding if proposed hydroelectric dams along the tributaries are constructed.

These accounts highlight how little the government has done over the years to address the very basic but necessary infrastructure needs of these marginalized and vulnerable communities. The government’s actions to date have been limited and done little to mitigate the risks of disaster. If their inaction was not enough, government officials have permitted the construction of hydroelectric dams that often collect and release water in a manner that causes unnecessary flooding in downstream communities. The government has also failed to enforce environmental laws against private companies such as Cessa – the largest cement producer in Central America – that excavate sand and rock from riverbanks, taking away the first line of defense against flooding.

Past advocacy efforts have proven successful. The communities of the Lower region of the Lower Lempa have been consistent in their demands that the government complete their system of levees. Their efforts have paid off; communities in the Lower Lempa have benefited from more infrastructure projects than any of the other regions now in the coalition. Among their efforts, communities organized the March for Life in 2003, in which citizens marched 70 miles from the Lower Lempa to San Salvador in five days to draw attention to the government’s failure to complete their levees and drainage ditches. The March for Life drew international attention and was successful in pressuring the MAG to continue its work on the levees.

The coalition is organizing another march for November 2008. This time they are marching not on behalf of one region, but for all four river basins vulnerable to flooding in El Salvador. The march will be a national call to action, serving notice to government officials that they must serve all Salvadorans or risk losing their office in the upcoming elections.