Sunday, July 18, 2010

El Salvador's vulnerability during the rainy season

The headlines today in Salvadoran newspapers advised of a yellow alert as heavy rains threatened coastal areas of the country. The rains erode hillsides, cause flooding, and bring landslides. Some of the poorest communities in the country are the most at risk.



A prominent example of the vulnerability of El Salvador's housing stock is found in the neighborhood of Las Cañas in the municipality of Ilopango. Through the torrential rains from storms Ida in 2009 and Agatha in 2010, waters eroded a large and growing canyon, 25 meters deep in this urban neighborhood. Potable water service has been disrupted and 461 houses have been ordered evacuated for safety reasons, before the next landslide tumbles them into the trench. According to a report in El Mundo, this trench is growing four meters larger each day. Evacuated families have been given a grant of $430 for 4 months rent in some other location whicle the government tries to stabilize the situation. This cell phone video shows the moment when a house actually fell into the canyon:



You can see additional YouTube videos of the Las Cañas erosion problem here and here.

In an article in El Faro, a local architect put the responsibility on builders and local officials who allow building in areas where the land is unstable, without taking necessary mitigation measurers, in order to produce low price houses which are more likely to sell.

There are efforts going on in different parts of the country to help vulnerable communities mitigate the risks of flooding and landslides. One example is the Friends of Santiago Texacuangos, working in Joya Grande. My friend Beth's blog gives a great overview of the struggles of this community in a vulnerable area -- dealing with the disasters which come and trying to take steps to mitigate the risk of the next disaster. If you want to help Beth with her efforts, there is a link for donations from her blog. You can also support Beth through VMM, which provides some of the funding for Beth's time in El Salvador.

Another effort is illustrated in the following video, which illustrates an interesting project in which youth in a community were involved in the identification of areas of risk in their communities:

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