Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, U.S. Relations

Climate Change Education in the Schools: El Salvador and the U.S.

The climate change debate has made its way into U.S. classrooms, as school boards and legislators try to force teachers to present “both sides of the issue.” In El Salvador, however, schools are taking a different approach. Government officials and educators have moved way beyond questioning the reality of climate change and are implementing a curriculum that teaches the science behind the resulting extreme weather patterns and how to mitigate the associated risks.

In January, a writer for the Wall Street Journal Law Blog posted about “a new battle brewing in America’s classrooms” – climate change. As U.S. schools have begun teaching climate change to their students, state legislatures and school boards have reacted by requiring teachers to also present the other side of the debate.

In Texas and Louisiana, state boards of education now require classrooms to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. In Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Kentucky, state legislators have proposed bills that would require teachers to dedicate equal time teaching climate change and climate change skepticism.

In El Salvador, however, schools have adopted a climate change curriculum that goes beyond an academic discussion about whether or not it’s a reality. Salvadoran teachers, instead, are now tasked with the more serious task of preparing their students for future extreme weather events caused by climate change.

According to an article posted on Alertnet, the government now mandates that all public and private schools in El Salvador teach the science behind climate change as well as how students can deal with the increased risks caused the extreme weather.

In October 2011, Tropical Storm 12-E dumped 55 inches of rain on El Salvador in 10 days, causing the worst flooding in the country’s history. The storm and its aftermath were a wakeup call for many Salvadorans. Communities along the coast, especially those in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután and San Vicente, have experienced regular flooding for the past several years. Tropical Storm 12-E, however, was the first storm since Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that affected multiple regions throughout the country. In the days after the storm, government officials, including the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, attributed the storm to climate change and warned that because of it, these weather events are the new norm.

The Salvadoran schools system is responding by joining the effort to teach more than the science of climate change. Government officials are using the schools to teach environmental safety. According to the Alertnet article, “in math, biology, and physics, students will undertake exercises that estimate potential damage from climate-linked extreme weather, and explore how to counteract and reduce its effects.”

The article quotes a 12-year-old student who believes “the teaching approach will be well-received in the classroom, particularly as so many families in El Salvador have had first-hand struggles with the country’s recent extreme weather.”

Since Hurricane Mitch, government agencies and civil society have prepared communities to deal with extreme weather events. Since President Funes took office in June 2009, the government has strengthened the Civil Protection network, which they elevated to a government Ministry. Their success over the past few years are measurable. Hurricane Mitch, the previous high-water mark, claimed over 240 deaths. Tropical Storm 12-E produced more rain and more severe flooding, destroyed more crops, and affected many more communities, but the loss of life was limited to 34 people.

If predictions are accurate, El Salvador will see more storms like Tropical Storm 12-E, and efforts to prepare the population is a matter of life and death. In theory, there is still time to reverse or decrease the impacts of climate change over the long-term, but that would require principal polluters such as the U.S. and China to reduce their emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Its hard to imagine how the U.S. will ever cut emissions voluntarily, considering that the teachers can’t even talk about climate change without interference from politicians.

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

Climate Change Blamed for Historic Flooding in El Salvador

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.

Don Lencho with some of his cattle in Zamorano

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.

Signed:

EcoViva – http://eco-viva.org/  (Contact: Nathan Weller, nathan@eco-viva.org)

Voices on the Border – http://votb.org/ (Contact: Rosie Ramsey, rosie@votb.org)

The Share Foundation – http://www.share-elsalvador.org/ (Contact: José Artiga, jose@share-elsalvador.org)

U.S. Sister Cities – http://elsalvadorsolidarity.org (Contact: sistercities.elsalvador@gmail.com)

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.