Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Struggle Against Climate Change in El Corozal

This update was originally published in our eNewsletter on Earth Day 2011.

The small 60 family community of El Corozal, where SHARE counterpart REDES has been working since 2006, is so remote and tucked away into the hills outside of Berlin, Usulután, that they still do not receive running water or electricity in the community. The school only goes up to fifth grade and with only two teachers and one principal who is also teaching classes, there are two grades of students being taught by one teacher at the same time. Given the distance to the middle school in Berlin, very few students are able to continue studying after the fifth grade. In fact, when the mayor’s office of Berlin offered to train someone from the community as a health promoter with the condition that it be someone with a high school degree, the community realized, upon searching for an eligible person, that nobody in the community had obtained a high school degree.

However, upon meeting with the community leaders in El Corozal, the first thing we noticed was not the lack of resources. We were invited to meet in the newly inaugurated church of El Corozal. We sit down on chairs on the new tile floor and look at the posters that have been hung up on the while in front of us. “Welcome SHARE!” The sign says. “We are a community of 250 men, women, and children. Our biggest concerns are climate change and food security.” Next to the map is a neatly written chart which explains the organization of their community, including what institutions support them and how they have divided themselves into 11 different working committees.

Underneath the welcome sign and organizational structure graphic are two “community resource and risk maps” which detail all the risk zones in the area and all the community resources such as the school, the church, the seed bank, various wells, and the main roads. Every home is included in the map and the homes that are more vulnerable to destruction from natural disasters are drawn in red. Every area on the road from Berlin that is a potential risk area during the raining season is colored in red. As a community that was heavily affected by the 2001 earthquakes, Hurricane Stan in 2005, and Hurricane Ida in 2009, they have learned that preparation and organization is what can save a community from total destruction. The emergency response committee had been trained in first aid techniques and coordinated with the health committee in how to react in a disaster. We are looking at an amazing example of risk management and disaster preparation.

Beyond preparation for disaster, the community knows that the true culprit for the levels of disaster induced destruction in recent years has been climate change. After Hurricane Ida hit El Salvador in 2009 and dumped half as much rain on the country in one night that Hurricane Mitch brought in a whole week in 1998, people began to be more concerned. In El Corozal, people lost up to 40% of their crops for that year. As part of the Hurricane Ida recovery, SHARE sponsored a project through REDES that would teach communities like El Corozal about climate change to raise awareness about what is happening to our environment.

According to the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the temperature in El Salvador in the past forty years has increased up to 5 degrees. Recent studies reported in the Nature Journal connect human activity to an increase in temperature and precipitation. What does this mean in El Salvador? According to REDES, an increase in temperature causes drought and decrease in water sources. Yet, as warm air carries more precipitation, it also means that when it does rain, which can no longer be predicted as it used to be by Salvadoran farmers, it rains so heavily that crops are completely wiped out.

For the community of El Corozal, a community that lives off of agriculture, this can be devastating. In addition to climate change, neo-liberal policies put into place at the end of the Civil War that favor foreign imports have weakened local agriculture. Most farmers who depend on genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers find that the growing cost of these products make it nearly impossible for them to have any type of earning from their crop production. 

Taking all of this into account, the environmental team and local producers in El Corozal, together with REDES, have begun to experiment with organic seeds that would not have to be bough every year, but rather taken from the former year’s production. Genetically modified seeds are made so that they do not produce new seeds so that farmers have to continue to buy seeds each year. They have also begun a process of making their own organic fertilizer from compost and chicken manure. In an experiment that they did last year by planting different variations of organic corn seeds and chemical versus organic fertilizer, they learned that organic fertilizer worked just as well as chemical fertilizer. They were also able to identify one variation of corn that withstood the drought, heavy rains, and wind characteristic to these hills better than any of the others.

The community leadership in El Corozal continues to work towards solutions to how to deal with the effect of climate change on their crops and on their community. Disaster planning and preparation helps them to be ready for heavy rains and to mitigate risks as much as possible. Working toward organic production and food sovereignty should lessen their dependence on major businesses. “The community is in a state of emergency” says directive president Antonio Funes Campos, “we have to take action and do something.” And indeed the community of El Corozal is doing the best they can do given the gravity of the situation. 

Yet if there is one thing that community leaders have learned from their climate change training it is that much of what can be done is out of their hands. Countries like El Salvador are not the countries producing the high levels of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming. Its countries like the United States. More than ev poor in developing countries are suffering from the effects of actions taken by “first world” citizens. So as we celebrate this Earth Day 2011, SHARE, REDES, ander, the the people of El Corozal invite you to start thinking about how to act more as a global citizens and about what steps we can all take to promote global environmental justice.

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