News & Media
News and Media
The torrential rains killed more than 30 people in El Salvador, displaced tens of thousands more, and devastated crops. Photo credit: Caritas Internationalis
SEI’s Lisa Schipper, who is supporting development of the country’s National Climate Change Strategy, says reconstruction must focus on the root causes of vulnerability.
Torrential rains in October, caused by a tropical depression in the Pacific Ocean, wrought havoc across Central America, killing more than 30 people and displacing tens of thousands more in El Salvador alone.
But while the rainfall broke historical records, extreme floods, landslides and other natural hazards are not new to El Salvador. And when disasters come, they hit extra hard, because of the country’s high population density and widespread poverty.
Aware that climate change is likely to exacerbate these risks, the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) has been developing a National Climate Change Strategy. Lisa Schipper, an SEI-US senior scientist and adaptation expert, is collaborating with PRISMA – the Salvadoran Research Program on Development and Environment – to support the effort.
Schipper’s work, supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), has only recently begun and will continue though the first half of 2012. But when the rains created an urgent need for a response plan, the Ministry asked Schipper to help prepare a reconstruction plan to be presented at an international policymakers’ meeting in mid-December.
Seizing the moment
“The Ministry recognises this as a window of opportunity for convincing the rest of the Government, as well as the citizens of El Salvador, that extreme events will continue to turn into disasters if the current approach to development is not rethought,” says Schipper, who spent several days in the country after the rains.
The Salvadoran people have a long history of enduring adversity, Schipper notes – not just from natural hazards, but from a long civil war whose impacts can still be felt. But to avoid a “vicious downward spiral of risk accumulation,” she says, they country needs “a profound transformation of attitudes, actions and development strategies.”
A DESTROYED BRIDGE IN RURAL EL SALVADOR / FLICKR-ZAMBOMBA
“While the history of dealing with these challenges demonstrates a culture of tremendous mental resilience,” she says, “the recurring damages caused by natural hazards indicate that the true roots of the problems have not been addressed by any of the many recovery processes set up after disasters.
“Instead,” she adds, “the plans have mostly focused on short-term reconstruction, with an emphasis on emergency relief and rebuilding, rather than a longer-term vision of changing the development paradigm in El Salvador. This suggests a lack of real understanding of what is driving vulnerability, and absence of political will to move towards a reduction of vulnerability.”
Schipper did her doctoral fieldwork in El Salvador, and thus knows the country well and has a deep affection for its people. By helping guide the Government towards a sustainable adaptation process, she hopes to minimise disaster risk over time.
The project focuses on five sectors: agriculture, water, education, infrastructure and health, with additional consultants whom Schipper will help coordinate. Fieldwork will also be carried out, in the lower basin of the Lempa River.
Read about PRISMA’s work on climate change (in Spanish).