Last week, El Salvador’s first lady, Vanda Pignato, met with members of Congress in Washington D.C. to try to secure more funding for her country’s rehabilitation following last month’s devastating floods. As a result of her meetings, a five-member bipartisan congressional delegation will be visiting flood-affected communities in El Salvador this week.
Below this article from the Washington Post covering the first lady’s visit is a letter submitted to the Congresspeople participating in the delegation on behalf of the Washington Office on Latin America and EcoViva, which emphasizes the importance of flood mitigation measures and sustainable agriculture .
By Luz Lazo, Published in the Washington Post on November 4
Failure to help the victims of last month’s floods in El Salvador could lead to poverty, violence and more immigration to the United States, according to El Salvador’s first lady and secretary of social inclusion, Vanda Pignato.
Pignato visited Washington last week to plead for humanitarian aid for her rain-battered country.
“If we don’t respond immediately to those families, helping them rebuild their homes, giving them food and assisting them with preparing the land for new crops, they will leave,” she said. “They won’t have another alternative than to migrate. . . . We need to stop that now.”
Ten days of heavy rains in October destroyed crops and towns in Central America, hitting El Salvador particularly hard. The Associated Press reported that 105 people were killed in the deluge, which topped 60 inches.
A tropical depression affected more than 300,000 Salvadorans and about 70 percent of the country, damaging 80 percent of the country’s roads and destroying 250,000 acres of crops, according to government officials there.
Salvadoran officials say the rain was twice the amount of that brought by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Thirty-four people have died in El Salvador, they said.
On Monday, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes reported that the losses totaled $840 million, or 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The Salvadoran government estimates the cost of reconstruction at $1.5 billion.
“We can’t deal with this alone,” Pignato said in Spanish. “We need the international help.”
Pignato, a native of Brazil who moved to El Salvador in 1992, leads the country’s Department of Social Inclusion, which watches over family and human rights.
Known as a promoter of gender equality, Pignato said her mission in this crisis is to inform the world about the devastation in El Salvador.
During her visit last week to members of Congress, she asked them to consider making an allocation in the 2012 budget for her country’s rehabilitation. As a result of her visit, a bipartisan congressional delegation is expected to visit El Salvador this week to see the damage and meet with Funes.
Pignato has also recently met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former president Bill Clinton and various corporate officials to request help.
Pignato said El Salvador needs more than money, including machinery such as helicopters, tractors and speedboats. She also encouraged Salvadoran natives in the United States to lobby government officials for help.
In the Washington region, the Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran communities have been collecting cash, new clothes and medicine to help flooding victims in Central America.
The United Nations, the United States and other countries have responded with emergency aid.
The Salvadoran government last week made a request to the State Department for $50 million to provide humanitarian aid to farmers and small businesses affected by the flooding and to relocate families in high-risk areas. The Central American countries as a region have also requested aid from the United States.
In addition, El Salvador has asked the United States for an extension of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans who are in the country illegally. The government wants the Obama administration to reduce the number of deportations to El Salvador.
The country is moving toward recovery, Pignato said, but she fears the devastation could hinder the country’s progress — and some of her initiatives.
Pignato proudly talks about Ciudad Mujer, a center where women get specialized services, including health care and financial coaching. It opened in March. She has been recognized by the international community for that effort, and her goal is to open six more centers across the country before her husband’s tenure ends.
But that might be slowed down, she said, lamenting the current need to fix the country’s infrastructure and agricultural base. The tragedy, she said, has exposed El Salvador’s environmental, economic and social vulnerabilities.
“Together those three can be more devastating than the war,” she said.
About 75,000 people were killed in the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.
Letter to Congresspeople participating in delegation to El Salvador from WOLA and EcoViva
Dear Congressional representative,
This week you will travel to El Salvador to see first-hand the devastation wrought by Tropical Depression 12-E. As you know, the storm poured over 55 inches of rain in a one-week period causing an estimated US$840 million in losses. The Salvadoran government estimates that it will cost $1.5 billion to rebuild the country.
The most affected sector is agriculture, with losses estimated at more than $300 million. Approximately 277,000 producers, principally small farmers, have lost or are at risk of losing their crops of corn, beans, and rice—all staples of the Salvadoran diet. Already a food-insecure country, El Salvador faces an immediate and long-term food crisis because of the damage to this sector. We offer the following suggestions for helping El Salvador rebuild.
While levees and roads will have to be rebuilt, El Salvador desperately needs to invest in sustainable agriculture that favors small, rural producers. Studies have shown that investing in small-scale, sustainable agriculture increases a country’s resilience to extreme weather events, increases food security, and contributes to economic development in the rural sectors. (Lack of economic opportunities is one of the driving forces for out-migration to San Salvador or the United States). In her visit to Congress last week, First Lady Vanda Pignato stressed the need to restore El Salvador’s agricultural base along with rebuilding infrastructure.
Furthermore, the Obama administration’s “Partnership for Growth” initiative signed with the Funes government just last week must prioritize building resilience to disasters. Officials in El Salvador are attributing the recent deluge to climate change. Raul Artiga of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development recently stated, “Climate change is not something that is coming in the future, we are already suffering its effects.” Increasingly, severe weather events pose serious constraints on El Salvador’s potential for economic growth; President Funes has stated that 4 percent of G.D.P. has been affected by this latest climate event.
El Salvador’s minister of the environment, Herman Rosa Chávez, is calling for a reconstruction process that takes the changing weather patterns into account, in order to mitigate the effects of future disasters and prevent the waste of limited financial resources. Investing in small-scale, sustainable agriculture can do this.
Finally, what you will see in El Salvador will be a stark reminder of why U.S. foreign assistance in terms of emergency and development aid must not be reduced any further. In FY 2011, the International Affairs Budget absorbed nearly 20 percent of the total spending cuts. Any additional cuts will limit the United States’ ability to support sustainable, long-term development for one of our closest neighbors.
If you have any questions on the importance of sustainable rural development in confronting the numerous challenges facing El Salvador, please do not hesitate to contact any of the signers below.
Vicki Gass, WOLA
Nathan Weller, EcoViva