It is official: According to the BBC, El Salvador is now dealing with over 4 feet of rainfall over the last 10 days. That’s more than Hurricane Mitch in 1998, an event that defined much of that country’s civil protection policies and response to date. Currently, government officials estimate that there are over 48,000 people crowding into a system of over 500 flood shelters and seeking food and medical aid. Overcrowded conditions are putting a strain on vastly insufficient emergency resources, and officials now fear that unless conditions improve, water and vector-borne illness will spread. As of the morning of Wednesday, October 19th rains continue to pound most of the country.
A meeting was convened on Tuesday between the leadership of EcoViva’s partner organization, the Mangrove Association, the Minister and Vice Minsters of Agriculture (Lopes Suarez and Hugo Flores), the Mayor of Jiquilisco David Barahona, and the president of the Hydroelectric Executive Commission of the Lempa River (Comisión Ejecutiva Hidroeléctrica del Río Lempa —CEL). The CEL is a public-private enterprise responsible for developing and managing El Salvador’s hydroelectric power plants along the Lempa River. The presence of the president of the CEL is an unprecedented occurrence. They have been heavily criticized by local communities for years for releasing excessive amounts of water out of the dams without providing sufficient warning.
After the meeting, all the parties involved went out to assess the damage in the area, particularly at some key, accessible points along the levee system on the Lempa River, which is around 17 km long. The delegation documented the crop and cattle losses in the region. The governmental visit has generated a space to continue strengthening the coordination between local communities, the Minister of Agriculture and the CEL.
The CEL has also asked that the Mangrove Association send them a list of necessities at flood shelters, which includes food, water, medical supplies, mattresses, etc. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture has sent 50 tons of beans to use for food in the shelters. The Mayor’s office only has enough funding for two more days of response to the problem. What is lacking right now are basic goods (diapers, infant formula, mattresses, toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine products, medicines). Wound infections, conjunctivitis, dermatitis, and ear, nose and throat infections are quite common, and cases are mounting. The potential for the spread of water-borne illnesses like leptospirosis, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms, grows by the day.
Other government entities that have been coordinating with the communities and the municipalities include the National Police, Naval Forces, and Civil Protection. All of the coordination has been happening at the Flood Operations Center, located in Ciudad Romero, and now in San Nicolas Lempa at the offices of the Mangrove Association. So far, the work of the Mangrove Association and EcoViva have provided 12,500 bags of water, 1,000 medical kits to treat skin problems common during these types of disasters, and staff time to facilitate coordination among 28 shelters in the area.