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Monday, September 27, 2010

Effects of Tropical Storm Matthew

Rain Rain Go Away!

Rivers are overflowing, and the country is in a state of yellow and orange alert. Tropical Storm Matthew went off to Belize, yet created a lot of atmospheric disturbance in Central America. Most worrisome is the low pressure system created off the coast of Honduras, which has a 40% chance of developing into another Tropical Storm according to the National Hurricane Center. El Salvador's meteorlogical service, Snet, keeps track of overflowing rivers, and there are warnings for nearly every river basin in the country including San Miguel, Jiboa, and Lempa.

The national stats as of this morning report one person killed and 934 sheltered, 5 houses damaged, and 47 landslides.

CEIBA was out in Santiago Texacuangos this morning, after receiving calls from communities all over the area whose houses had flooded, or whom has lost a wall. Mercedes, community organizer for CEIBA, and I met with the mayor this morning to discuss the emergency and how we can collaborate if the situation gets worse. Most concerning is the community of Los Cruces, 17 families stacked on a hillside with sheet metal. The photo (taken in during Tropical Storm Agatha in May 2010) is of the house in question. Under the blue tarp (which CEIBA gave to communities to slow erosion back in March 2010), a large concave hole has formed under the house.

The house is now SLANTED, ready to fall on top of the 2 houses below, each of which hold families of 12 people, nearly all women and children. If the rain holds out and the hole gets larger, this house will undoubtedly collapse, the force of which could cause landslides on the entire hillside. What will these families do?

Mercedes and I coordinated with the emergency committee of a nearby community, El Sauce, where we built a hurricane shelter last month with the help of the US Army (picture of construction).  The house is complete with 80 mattresses and a kitchen to facilitate its use as a shelter. The people of El Sauce agreed to open their shelter to those in need, and feed them the best they could under their own situation of poverty.

As we urge the mayor and the authorities of Civil Protection (El Salvador's Fema) to evacuate the people of Los Cruces and supply the shelter with food, they turn to me and say, "Why can't CEIBA do it? Don't you have tons of money?"

Sigh. We don't have tons of money. And besides, it is not our responsability! It is legally the responsability of the Salvadoran government to take care of its people in disasters. Especially in such a "light" disaster, one would think the food warehouses OXFAM has built for the Salvadoran government would be utilized!

CEIBA is here to connect the dots, to support communities, and encourage citizen participation. We are not here to replace the government's function! Even if CEIBA has enough money, to encourage this type of dependancy would erode the Salvadoran Democracy, and its a mistake that unfortunately, too many NGOs make.

and the Civil Protection tells me we should just wait out the situation. Wait!?!?! One house is falling over! Do we want until the house falls to evacuate? Do people have to die for the government to react?

So Mercedes and I go to Los Cruces, give up on the mayor's office for now and rely on community to community solidarity. 9 times out of 10 in El Salvador, and probabaly 10 out of 10 in Santiago Texacuangos, it is the poor who will save themselves. Thank you, the poor of El Sauce,  for responding to your brothers and sisters in Los Cruces.

If anyone is interested in donating, CEIBA could use about $100 to buy food to cook for sheltered families from Los Cruces for the next few days.

When the rain lets up though, these families will return to their vulnerable houses. and the family living in the slanted house? The best we can do is try to pressure Ministry of Housing to move them up on the priority list. However, this entire community needs to be relocated. Every NGO and institution I have brought here (including the US Embassy) has denied to help these people because it is not worth investing in.

So Los Cruces, without electricty and running water, with collapsing houses, with nursing mothers and teenage girls working in sweatshops, remains on the waiting list. Like hundreds of other vulnerable communities in this teeny tiny vulnerable nation.

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