Tropical Storm Stan hit El Salvador on October 3, 2005. Even though it was only the tail of the hurricane that hit El Salvador, it left 71 dead and countless houses lost along with 70% of the basic grains and crops that 30% of the population depends on for subsistence and survival. One might ask how it is that Cuba was hit with full scale hurricanes and no lives were lost, while in El Salvador, with only the tail of the hurricane, many lives were lost. The following is a brief analysis of the impact of Tropical Storm Stan, the vulnerability of the Salvadoran population, the transformative efforts from communities and more specifically the efforts of the communities that the CIS works with.
Some facts regarding the effects of Tropical Storm Stan in El Salvador:
- Tropical Storm Stan came through El Salvador from October 3-7, 2005.
- 70% of the crops, basic grains, and vegetation were lost.
- 5% of the coffee crops (50% in the area near the Ilamatepeque volcano) were lost.
- Officially, 72,000 people were evacuated to shelters. However, this statistic does not include those who stayed in unregistered shelters or those who were evacuated and went to stay with family members or neighbors.
- 71 registered deaths were directly related to the storm.
- Countless homes were destroyed and there are still areas of high risk where people cannot return.
- Hundreds of mudslides blocked highways and other access roads. There are still isolated, predominately poor communities without vehicle access.
- Throughout the country there were/are problems with the lack of water supply and cleanliness, made worse by the collapse of latrines and causing threats of hepatitis, dengue, and other epidemics.
- The Santa Ana volcano continues to accumulate gases and it is predicted that there will be another large eruption.
Hurricane Katrina helped demonstrate a lack of investment in infrastructure and human needs, which is typical within the current economic model whose main goal is to assure the profits of a few instead of guaranteeing the wellbeing of all. Nobody realized that the principle advocate of the capitalist model (USA) was not taking care of its own territory or its citizens, even though we are accustomed to the exploitation of natural and human resources in other parts of the world.
After Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Stan came to Central America and Mexico and an earthquake hit Pakistan and neighboring countries that was more devastating than the tsunami that affected 11 Asian countries in December 2004. It is becoming more obvious that if we do not listen to these calls of Mother Earth, humankind has little chance of continuing to inhabit the earth.
Hurricane Stan not only demonstrated the poverty and injustice of the economic model, something shown on several occasions, but it also showed neglect and evidence of aggression against the environment, one consequence of the implementation of the capitalist economic model. If we continue deforestation and constructing buildings without a plan or investigating the impact on the environment, these natural phenomenons will continue to worsen. Water remains above the subsoil and causes stronger rain due to evaporation when land has no vegetation (e.g., concrete buildings instead of a forest). For the same reason, the torrential rains will become greater and cause further flooding, not to mention that we will be left without potable water and the natural processes of air purification and climate control.
In El Salvador, the attack on the environment is most evident in the case of the destruction of the El Espino Coffee Farm, the construction along the Balsamic Ridge and the construction of the Super Highway around San Salvador. We have seen the results of this destruction of nature with huge landslides in Las Colinas during the earthquake of 2001 and now with the massive flooding in the area of the El Espino Coffee Farm during Tropical Storm Stan. In the midst of the tragedy, they announced the decision to construct a 60 manzana golf course, the new headquarters of the Foreign Relations Ministry, the use of nearly 200 manzanas of the Dueñas family property to build a new subdivision, and the construction of the Boulevard Diego de Holguín, all within the El Espino Coffee Farm.(1)
Economic Impact in El Salvador
Agricultural: According to the country's main newspapers and community surveys, approximately 70% of basic grains, corn and beans, were lost due to Tropical Storm Stan. A typical Salvadoran family normally lives off of these basic grains from October until August of the following year, when the first crops are ready. It is also important to note that many families owe credit that they took out in order to plant the crops in the first place. With the loss of crops, it will be impossible for them to pay the debt, thus limiting their possibility of receiving further credit for the following year's crops.
Impacts on Coffee: 50% of the coffee crops in the area of the Ilamatapeque volcano in Santa Ana were destroyed due to the ash from the volcano eruption, approximately 5% of the national coffee crop. There is still an accumulation of gases in the volcano and they continue to announce that there may still be a large eruption. This creates a threat of imminent danger for the coffee workers. Therefore, in order to not lose more income the owners of the coffee plantations in the area are putting pressure on the workers to go to harvest the coffee despite the dangerous working conditions.
Disaster Relief?: Even though it does look like the Salvadoran Government is planning on investing in projects for disaster relief for the first time, these investments are unfortunately focused on the economic interests of the wealthy elite instead of the general and marginalized populations. The relief programs Elias Antonio Saca's government are focused in two areas: 1. The Santa Ana volcano, in order to provide a grace period for the coffee owners; and 2. The area of the Balsamic where the rich families have large investments in homes for the middle and upper class, to protect the shopping centers and other infrastructures that have been constructed without considering their environmental impact. This government aims to assure that the richest families can continue to make large financial gains without having to use their own money to reconstruct. At the same time, the poor families of El Salvador, which constitute the majority, will continue to live in high risk, without dignified housing and employment, with little access to health and education services. There has been no mention of project to build retention walls around the principal rivers that have a tendency to flood and near where the poor live, such as the Lempa, Grande, Jiboa, Paz and Goascoran rivers.
On October 4th the government named a commission called COREDAM, formed with representation from the National Association of Private Business (Asociacion Nacional de la Empresa Privada, ANEP) and other private institutions such as ASI and FUSADES, along with members from the Treasury Ministry and the Ministry of Government, with the purpose of receiving and channeling donations. Private enterprise in El Salvador is not known for helping poor communities or knowing their conditions or necessities; and their principal objective is to generate profit. One example of this was that the major supermarket chains promoted buying canned food to donate to those in need, saying that the food was already prepared and therefore more useful. However, the reality of Salvadoran culture is that the people, especially in the communities, are not accustomed to eating canned food and therefore many cans at the supermarket were about to expire, which is why the supermarkets were promoting these items. Canned food is also more expensive and creates a threat to the environment as it produces more trash, and people in the communities do not have the means to treat this kind of waste.
On October 5th, the Armed Forces assumed control of the emergency shelters, militarizing the distribution of goods. This militarization only brought bad memories to many of the affected communities, and also created further conflict due to the force used by the Armed Forces.
After 6 days of crisis, when the help from the private sector had not yet arrived in many of the affected areas, the coordinator of COREDAM, Federico Colorado (also the president of ANEP) stated that the help would go directly to the local governments of the communities. This appears to have been a strategy to save their image and to wash their hands of the responsibility for relief and reconstruction efforts.
There are reports of little assistance that did come to the communities, but most went to communities with a local ARENA government. For example, in Comasagua, community members reported that the local government received 2 wagons of help; however, they did not provide food to the 4 shelters located in the municipality. The community members are assuming that the government is saving these goods for the electoral campaign. The political parties used this crisis as a way to campaign politically, especially, but not only, the ARENA party. In many cases, the ARENA candidate for the mayor's office, along with other members of the party, dressed in ARENA vests while distributing international donations, so that the community would make a connection between the assistance given and the ARENA party.
Since private enterprise named by the central government ministry could not distribute the assistance in an effective and efficient manner, the communities, churches and NGOs assumed the responsibility by the means of solidarity donations -- donations from solidarity groups, churches, universities and other individuals and non-governmental organizations. At the same time, the government reported having received donations of millions of dollars from other countries and international agencies.
While the government was being criticized and urged by the communities to provide food, medicine, clothing, and other basic needs, the Salvadoran government rejected medical help that was offered by Venezuela and Cuba (some were even already at the Comalapa airport when rejected, ready to work). However, the government later invited doctors from Israel after rejecting the above, demonstrating their ideological restrictions in the area of humanitarian assistance.
The majority of mainstream media dedicated its time to the 3 daily press conferences of the Ministry of Government, giving the impression that the government was responding to the crisis, even though the media itself also pulled numbers out of the air and assisted in creating further alarm in the general public. But, little or no media coverage was given to the efforts by the communities, NGOs, and churches. The government response was propaganda, more than anything else, which included multiple press conferences.
Irregularities in the distribution of goods:
- In Tamanique, the local government did not offer cots to the shelters of the families from Cantón la Cruz, who did not vote for their party in the past elections. The officials distributed the food wearing ARENA vests. (Reported by habitants to CIS)
- In the bajo Lempa, the shelters were militarized. They did not receive food or help from the government even though it was one of the most affected zones. The church donated one cot per family, but as the families left the shelter, the soldiers attempted to take the cots from them (Reported by habitants to CIS).
- In Olocuilta, the assistance did not come to the local government, instead to the local Public Health Clinic. The director of the Public Health Clinic, Ulises Rodríguez, is the ARENA candidate for the mayor's office. (Diario Co Latino, October 18, 2005, p. 3)
Lessons and Alternatives:
It is important to emphasize that community organization was essential in response to the crisis. Where community organization exists, there was an immediate response from within the same community, fomenting solidarity, organization and relationships, without assuming an assistentialist stance.
The communities organized the tasks of food preparation and cleaning. Community organizations were able to visit isolated communities that were blocked from vehicle entry due to mudslides, often without food or water in precarious situations. Volunteers from the communities went on foot in the rain, in dangerous situations, in order to investigate the situation and bring food, water and blankets.
The community organizations not only went to see the families and communities that were most affected, but they also sought and received assistance from families that were less affected. Keeping in mind that everyone lost some of their harvest and the majority of houses in El Salvador will need new roofs after 6 weeks of rain, this act of sharing the little that they did have with others was truly an act of solidarity.
Now, the communities are organizing protests asking the local and national governments to fulfill their obligations of distributing the donations, to give a response regarding the food crisis that will come due to the destruction of crops, along with a plan to combat sicknesses, relocate families living in high danger zones and reconstruct houses for the families who lost everything.
These are the community demands:
- Distribute the assistance to those affected based on necessity, without discrimination based on political opinion, religion, sex, etc.
- Allow any help offered into the country. We denounce the governmental rejection of the Venezuelan and Cuban medical brigades.
- To forgive the micro-credit granted through the Banco de Fomento Agropecuario (Farming Development bank) in agricultural inputs to the agricultural sector, through the Cerealero Program 2005 [in effect a $120 bag of fertilizer was given to small farmers as credit], not just to the coffee plantation owners.
- Open the access roads to poor and isolated communities.
- Relocate the families who live in high risk and request that government lands be used to relocate them.
- Construct dignified housing for families whose homes were lost or damaged.
- Invest in the development of a plan to reduce the impact of natural disasters. Implement the current law and approve reforms that will help strengthen the law.
- Stop the construction in the Bálsamic Ridge and in all areas of risk.
- Study and research the environmental impacts prior to giving permission to builders.
- Develop a new economic development model that puts human needs and the environment in the center instead of the interest of large businesses and international companies.
CIS accompaniment in the communities:
First, we would like to thank all of the people and institutions that responded to the situation in El Salvador. Your assistance has guaranteed that the CIS grassroots organizers could respond in the crisis, and mobilize their communities to demand their human rights and continue to strengthen their communities. The following paragraphs share how donations were used and show some of the more current and long term needs.
- The CIS gave $800 to the Emergency committee of San Francisco Chinameca (consisting in the following organizations: Asociación Cultural de San Francisco Chinameca, the National Civilian Police, and the Catholic Church). They organized two shelters where they provided refuge to 192 people. They used the money for evacuating, food, and fund-raising (travel, phone calls, etc). They also collected food and clothing within the municipality from the less affected families.
The Emergency committee of San Francisco Chinameca continues to organize and is looking for means to relocate 7 families that lost their homes and property. The CIS is considering their request for $8,700 to purchase property for the families and to provide land for the development of community crops.
- The CIS donated $600 for food baskets for 30 families in El Zelitre, Nueva Concepción.
- The CIS provided $800 to the Tamanique Community Development Coordinator (CORDECOT) for emergency assistance for displaced families, transportation, food, and other necessities. The CORDECOT members and the CIS organizer mobilized in strong rains, on foot, in order to reach 15 communities that were unreachable due to the mudslides.
- On October 31, the CIS organizer, along with CORDES/CRIPDES organized a protest in front of the mayor's office to demand attention for the homeless.
- The CIS gave $1000 to the Asociación de Bienestar of Comasagua, which was used to purchase food for 36 families in the communities of Zacatales and Arcoiris and provided support to the shelters by means of donated food and clothing.
- The first week of November the CIS provided $5200 worth of aluminum, wood, nails and other construction materials so that 21 of the most affected families within the various communities of Comasagua could construct provisional housing.
- The CIS gave $200 in drinking water to communities in Juizucar.
- On October 18 the communities from the department of La Libertad decided to take their cause to the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador. They provided a written correspondence condemning the micro credits that the government was providing to the well-off land owners. The foundation CORDES organized the written correspondence that was given to the Legislative assembly, while CIS supported the costs of transportation for the communities of Tamanique and Comasagua
- The CIS provided $500 to the Voice of the People Association in Estanzuelas for emergency needs, including aluminum, food, sleeping cots for the community Puente de Cuscatlán. The Association also went out in the rain in order to collect goods and distribute them to isolated communities.
- The Association for Reconstruction and Development (ARDM), the Cinquera youth committee and the Cinquera City Hall collected and delivered, at the CIS's request, rice, beans, oil, pampers, and sanitary napkins to affected families in San Rafael Cedros through the Citizen's Round Table Organization. They provided this assistance while the storm was still strong.
- The CIS provided $500 to the Citizen's Round Table Organization in San Rafael Cedros to assist in buying aluminum and transportation during the emergency.
- The CIS provided $500 to the Citizen's Round Table in San Pedro Perulapán for the purchase of aluminum and food for the families most affected. More than 1900 people were displaced in San Pedro Perulapán. The community of El Espino has asked for assistance for a water project as a basis to combat poverty.
- The CIS donated $100 for medicine during the emergency to the municipal shelter in Cojutepeque.
- On October 27th, the CIS accompanied the communities of Cuscatlán in several mobilizations, including blocking the Panamerican Highway in three places -- the department was organized to demand governmental assistance, dignified housing and assistance in relocating families from the high risk zones.
In the next 9 months the CIS organizers and their community organizations are focusing on the following efforts:
- Strengthening the community organization with a plan to reduce the impacts of disasters and to build alternatives to the neoliberal economic model from within their communities. This work includes education, consciousness- raising, and mobilizing and organizing the people in order to transform their reality.
- Coordinating mid to long-term projects in order to confront poverty: provisional housing, small businesses, purchasing land, water projects, among others.
- Fundraise with development agencies in order to build permanent housing for those who lost their homes.
The communities have stated that without education and organization the vicious cycle of poverty will continue. They need assistance and support to develop their own solutions for community survival.
Donations are welcome and will be used to contribute to community efforts. Please send your contribution for the disaster relief and community organization, tax-deductible: CIS; P.O. Box 17025, St. Paul, MN 55117-0025.
(1) Miguel Ángel Alvarado, Asociación de Comunidades Afectadas por el Anillo Periférico (ACAP) y Ing. Mauricio Sermeño, Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña, UNES, carta dirigido al Banco Interamericana de Desarrollo. Fecha: 11 de Octubre de 2005. http://www.unes.org.sv/