Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Articles highlight environmental challenges in El Salvador

Journalist Dahr Jamail has been writing a series of articles on environmental issues in El Salvador for Al Jazeera and IPS. In today's article he writes about the impact of climate change on El Salvador:

San Salvador - "We have a very clear position," El Salvador’s Minister of Environment, Herman Chavez, told Al Jazeera at his office in San Salvador, the capital.

"The President of El Salvador, last year on July 20th, in an extraordinary meeting of presidents that was convened here in San Salvador, launched the intervention process. We put Climate Change as the number one issue for the region."...

In January, new figures provided by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that Earth’s global average surface temperature for 2010 tied 2005 for the hottest year on record. The two agencies' figures also showed that 2010 was the wettest year ever recorded....

"Climate change for us is not a hypothesis,” Minister Chavez added. "It is a very concrete reality that strikes us. The disasters we've been having are very clearly linked to climate change."

El Salvador, like other countries in the region, has been dramatically affected by severe weather events including extreme rain events and flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes that are increasing in both frequency and intensity. (more)
Jamail's articles have also described how there is a growing grassroots environmental movement, organizing to combat the effects of climate changes and other ecologic perils. In an article titled El Salvador's Environmental Crisis he writes:
A few years later, in response to this, subsistence farmers and fishermen/women whose livelihoods depended on the viability of these local ecosystems threatened by both climate change and the unsustainable practices of the sugar cane industry formed The Mangrove Association. This group works to support a grassroots coalition of community groups called La Coordinadora, which today includes more than 100 communities.

This community organising has formed into a resilient social movement that has created both a new way of organizing and viable alternatives for environmental sustainability.

In direct contradiction to the monoculture farming of sugar cane that is so destructive to the environment, as well as a crop that is easily destroyed during the extreme weather events associated with climate change, an example of this new model is how the region is shifting to diversified farming.

In an area that was previously a monoculture area of corn, Jesus Fuentes now runs his diversified farm on two hectares.

"Our efforts to counteract this regions vulnerability to climate change caused severe weather events have resulted in this farm for me,” Fuentes told Al Jazeera, "So now, one species may be damaged by a storm or flood, but not all of them."

In that way, he grows grain, fruit, vegetables, raises cows and chickens, and grows cashew nuts to augment his income. His family is fed entirely by what they grow themselves. When the area floods, at least one of his crops, such as cashews or mangoes, survive to provide food and income enough for the family to live on.

Not far from Fuentes' farm is the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve that holds the nesting grounds for four species of endangered sea turtles. Commercial fishing coupled with their eggs being sold as a delicacy on the black market has caused a perilous existence. Recent studies show that between 70 and 90 per cent of all Eastern Hawksbill nesting areas are found in the Bay of Jiquilisco.

To date, the Mangrove Association, through working with local communities, has created turtle hatcheries that have released over 750,000 sea turtles.
In this emerging environmental movement, women often play a leading role, as Jamail notes in an article titled Women at the Forefront of Grassroots Organising.  Jamail profiles several women leaders of civil society groups, including Cristina Reyes of Ciudad Romero:
Reyes said one of the most important achievements of women's organising work in recent years has been "the confidence we have given each other."

She has helped build a shelter managed by her community, a service for women that includes psychological counseling, and a way for women to file confidential reports on domestic violence or sexual abuse, and to obtain support.

Reyes' busy life is indicative of the increasingly important and prominent role that women are playing in grassroots social movements in El Salvador.

"We're at a place where we're trying to figure out what else we can do to help women," Reyes said. "We look forward to the future and to more of this work."
Take some time and read these articles to learn more. You can also find these articles and more information on environmental issues facing El Salvador, particularly in the Lower Lempa region, at the site of EcoViva.

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