Thursday, February 18, 2010

Working to Alleviate AND Prevent Natural Disasters

Published on our SHARE e-newsletter, February 18, 2010. To subscribe to our e-newsletter, email Laura at laura@share-elsalvador.org

A phrase that can be heard here in El Salvador is that there are "no natural disasters," rather there are natural phenomenon, but that disasters are a result of human error. An example of this is when in
places like El Salvador, heavy rains hit, and it is the poorest who lose everything due their poorly constructed homes that are built in the riskiest places. We saw this in Haiti when a 7.0 earthquake killed over 200,000 people, while the 6.9 earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 killed 63 people. Planning for disasters and prevention can make high-risk areas less vulnerable. However, like Haiti, El Salvador is incredible vulnerable to natural disasters. People live in constant fear of another hurricane like Mitch, Stan or Ida, or another earthquake, like the ones that hit in 2001.

On November 7th, 2009, disaster struck again when torrential rains from Hurricane Ida swept over El Salvador, destroying homes and crops in some of the most marginalized communities. SHARE responded as quickly as we could and with the support of individuals and groups in the United States, we were able to provide relief to communities in the departments of San Salvador, La Paz, San Vicente and La Libertad.

Yet we know that the most holistic and sustainable way to support these communities is not through disaster relief alone, but in combination with "gestion de riesgo" or "risk management." Risk management is a concept that is well known in El Salvador, and is taught in popular education workshops across the country. One way of managing risk is through prevention such as building sturdier homes out of cement and not aluminum sheets or adobe. Or organizing the communities to demand that their government fixes the roads, builds the damns and works to do everything necessary to prevent that these natural disasters will have less horrific consequences. That is one of the reasons that we at SHARE feel that it is so important to focus on organizing communities year round, so that when things like the heavy rains occur, communities can quickly start working with their local governments and NGO's to start to rebuild. We were amazed as we saw the differences between communities with active Directive Boards and those with no or little organization. It was so much easier to coordinate donations and work plans with communities who were organized. Another important aspect of risk management is quick and effective response to disasters, so that people don't start dying of dehydration and injury after the disaster has occurred. For that reason SHARE is part of the SPHERE Project, which is an international network of organizations that are trained to provide the quickest and most effect response in situations of humanitarian aid.

(volunteers clean up after flooding in Aguilares)

Through emergency relief, long term rebuilding efforts and risk management, SHARE hopes to support the rural communities as they work towards stability and sustainability. Thanks to all of our generous donors, we have been able to provide the following provisions to communities in El Salvador:

  • 150 gas stoves in Aguilares and El Paisnal, San Salvador

  • 50 Christmas baskets containing basic necesities such as beans, rice and oil in Aguilares and El Paisnal, San Salvador

  • 300 food packages in Verapaz, San Vicente

  • 86 food packages in Santiago Texacuangos, San Salvador

  • Basic food relief to 270 families in Aguilares and Southern La Libertad through the World Food Program

We hope to continue to support those communities in the long term rebuilding process such as replacing destroyed crops, rebuilding damaged wells and latrines, mental health initiatives and relocating homes to a safer location. We also want to support the process of risk management through supporting community organizing initiatives and stronger citizen participation. To support these efforts, you can make a donation to SHARE on this link here.

(A family receives their new stove)

We would like to extend a special thanks to those who have donated to disaster relief: the Salvadoran Community in Houston, Texas, the Salvadoran Community in San Francisco, Good Shepherd Parish in Wisconsin, Good Shepherd Parish in Kansas City, the Detroit Sister Community, St. Sebastian's in Wisconsin, Friends of El Salvador, Liz and Mike Hanna and all the other individuals and groups who donated to the relief effort. We are grateful for your generous support and solidarity with the people of El Salvador.

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