El Salvador: Recovery after the earthquakes
With the onset of the rainy season, Salvadorans who lost their homes in the earthquakes of January and February have new cause to fear for their safety. "We're on the brink of a potential third disaster here, said Rick Jones, CRS Country Representative in El Salvador. "As the rains get heavier, flooding and landslides pose imminent threats to the population. And, just as we saw with the earthquakes of January and February, those who are most vulnerable are the poorest Salvadorans."
The earthquakes destabilized large areas of earth on hills and mountainsides, which could lead to landslides as the ground gets soaked, while blockage of waterways by rubble and debris left by the quakes makes flooding a serious concern. As the country faces the massive task of reconstruction, many poor Salvadorans are still living in temporary shelters, where they will be even more susceptible to illness as the rainy season progresses. Meanwhile, localized tremors continue to shake the country, causing landslides, bringing down previously damaged buildings and setting off widespread alarm in a population traumatized by the series of shocks they have experienced since January.
Catholic Relief Services Responds
Catholic Relief Services has a twofold challenge in El Salvador: preparing to respond quickly to the possibility of a new emergency, while addressing the challenge of reconstruction in a way that will help the greatest possible number of the neediest Salvadorans. On the emergency side, CRS El Salvador's emergency team has developed an immediate response strategy aimed at reaching victims of any new disaster with food, blankets and family hygiene kits containing necessities including towels, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Meanwhile, the main focus of CRS work in El Salvador is on its long-term program for recovery from the earthquakes. Within days of the first quake, even as staff distributed tons of the emergency food and other items needed when families are struck by disaster, CRS began working to craft a strategy to build secure houses for those in the greatest need, houses strong enough to withstand the seismic shocks which are common in the region. The result is a reconstruction project, carried out in partnership with CRS' sister agency and local partner, Caritas El Salvador, building 1,000 homes for families in the hardest-hit areas of El Salvador: 400 in the department of Usulután, 300 in the department of San Vicente and 300 in the department of La Paz. The program integrates several key aspects of social as well as physical recovery, addressing far more than the construction of buildings.
- The community health component of the project works with the families building project-funded homes, as well as with their neighbors and communities, offering both preventive health training and psychological counseling for children and adults traumatized by the earthquakes.
- The human development component works toward building stronger communities, helping families to become more engaged in community life and more involved in their local citizens' groups and municipal governments.
The idea is to give Salvadoran families the support they need to break out of the cycle of poverty, which has made them so vulnerable to earthquakes and other disasters.
In order to offer help to the greatest possible number of Salvadorans, CRS has sponsored a series of "cascade effect" workshops, training those who will be carrying out training on the local level. This technique is being used for the disaster mitigation program which enables people in small communities in the countryside to keep an eye on problem areas and to take all possible steps to identify areas where landslides or flooding are about to occur, notify the appropriate authorities and help clear up the trouble spots before they turn into major problems. Similarly, workshops have given health promoters the training to teach social workers and others involved in health and community work.
Through many smaller efforts, CRS is supporting creative initiatives, helping Salvadorans to rebuild and helping U.S. contributions get to those who need it most.
- Communities in the La Paz area have been provided with picks, shovels and hoes for clearing away the rubble and debris left by the earthquakes.
- In Chirilagua, San Miguel, the CRS farmers' credit cooperative "Acoguadalupana" has made its savings and loan fund available to receive and administer a $20,000 contribution from the Diocese of Cleveland to build houses for earthquake victims in that area.
- In the departments of Cuzcatlán and La Paz, CRS is providing Food-For-Work packages to families participating in making bricks, which are then fired in kilns they built themselves. The food packages (containing rice, beans, oil and corn flour to make tortillas) free families from the poorly-paid work they would otherwise have to do to earn money to purchase food, so they can devote time to making the bricks they need to rebuild their houses.
Visit to Washington
CRS co-sponsored a visit to Washington by Bishop Gregorio Rosa, president of the associated Caritas of Latin America and auxiliary bishop of San Salvador. Bishop Rosa, who was assistant to El Salvador's beloved Archbishop Oscar Romero, has become a key spokesperson for a broad spectrum of citizens' groups, advocating their inclusion in the national process of reconstruction. He carried that message to policy makers in the U.S. Congress, the State Department, the National Security Council and the InterAmerican Development Bank, and met with Washington's Salvadoran community to thank them for their hard work and the money they send to El Salvador, which constitutes the most important sources of economic support for Salvadoran earthquake recovery.
The day after El Salvador's earthquake of last January 13th, Bishop Rosa said in his Sunday homily: "It is of urgent importance that we move beyond short term perspectives and dream of a different future, especially for the very poor. . . . It is time to go from indifference to commitment, applying our energy to making the noblest proposals we can for the country all of us must construct together."
Two large earthquakes struck El Salvador in January and February, followed by thousands of aftershocks, some large enough to be considered minor earthquakes in themselves. The first occurred on January 13 and measured 7.6 on the Richter scale. The country was still in the process of assessing the damage when a second quake, measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, hit on February 13. The earthquakes caused hundreds of landslides and destroyed approximately one fourth of the country's housing, leaving over 1.6 million Salvadorans homeless.
Catholic Relief Services stands in solidarity with the people of El Salvador. By the end of March the agency had committed $2.668 million for relief and rehabilitation activities. The planned CRS earthquake response, including projects in reconstruction, health, disaster mitigation and microfinance, is expected to total over $11.5 million dollars. In addition, Caritas partners from countries all over the world, including Catholic Relief Services, have pledged $18 million dollars to the Caritas El Salvador Global Plan.
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