Friday, October 21, 2011

El Salvador Flood Update

Wednesday it poured rain all day.  While I remain dry and safe my colleagues and I all looked at the rain and felt the misery that this precipitation is adding to people’s lives.  In the past nine days, over  1.4 metres or 4 feet of rain has fallen.  Thursday when the sun rose around 5 am, we could all see it.  There was blue sky and it was clear that people’s mood was better.   

Thursday I was lucky enough to get a ride in a pick-up truck (avoiding the bus) with other ADES staff from San Salvador to Guacotecti  (where the ADES office is located.)   For part of the trip we use the Pan-American Highway.  It is 4 lane paved road with a wide median with a normal speed of around 60-80km/hour.  Speeds are generally lower as there are always lots of people along the side of the road.  In our part of El Salvador, this highway is doing well.  In other areas main highway is closed because it is flooded.   When we turned onto the two lane paved road that takes us to Guacotecti, the storm damage was clearer.  The road has been damaged by the water.  There were a lot more huge holes in it.  Trees were down along the side of the road and there was clear evidence of small mudslides.   It was good that there was not a lot of traffic as Alex skilfully weaved all over the road avoiding the biggest holes. 

 Now, around 4pm the clouds have moved back in and people are bracing for more rain.  This week I bought a t-shirt that has a great big sun on it.  I am wearing it around the office and telling people that it is like the “Bat Signal”.  I am calling to the sun.  There is so little that I can do in a practical way to help with the crisis here that I wanted to do something to help to rally the spirits of my colleagues.    Many people have commented on the t-shirt.  We shared a laugh – the office is strangely serious today.  Everyone feels the weight of this disaster. 

Much of the news is very grim.  As is always the case, the people with the most precarious housing and very little resources are the most affected.  Their lives are incredibly difficult on a daily basis and now they have even less.   Tropical Storm 12 E has covered 10% of the national territory in water, done damage to 20,000 homes, over 50,000 people have been evacuated, 585 emergency shelters have been activated, it destroyed 75% of the annual bean crop and 35% of the annual corn crop.  Beans and corn are the basic staples for the Salvadoran diet, and the subsistence diet for approximately 40% of the country.  Many of that same 40% live hand to mouth, earning just enough to survive on informal employment.  They have not been able to work for the past 2 weeks. 

One of the things that has impacted me greatly is the way in which people are helping one another.   I am told that Santa Marta organized a pick-up load of food for a nearby community in need.  Santa Marta is a very poor community, but they recognize that others have needs that are greater than their own.  There are many examples of this.  A small community of people who live in essentially  “shacks” located near my Church delivered over 100 bags of clothing to an affected area.  The people who we would say have “nothing” are giving very generously to those who have even less. 

There is really not an expectation that the “government” will sort out things.  There are certainly structures in place in terms of Emergency Management.  I am told that there is a lot more cooperation and coordination than has happened during other disasters. This has been an area where much work has been done since Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Hugo in 2000.  This disaster has surprised the damage and severity of Mitch and Hugo.  Every corner of this country (and in fact, Central America) have experienced wide-spread damage, although the LA Times reports that El Salvador is has been the hardest hit.    Every social agency is working to coordinate aid in the area where they are located.  Those with international contacts are all reaching out to the larger world for support and supplies.    ADES,  the main agency I am with,  has created a detailed budget for the communities that they work with.  They  estimate that they need $25 000 for immediate food aid to help the affected communities near to this office.  This is only the budget for immediate food aid.  All of the other longer term needs have yet to be calculated.   This is an area of El Salvador that in the scope of this disaster is not “particularly badly hit”.  This area is very rural and there are many very small communities that have experienced extensive water and landslide damage. 

At this moment, I am asking you, my friends and family to get out your cheque books and give what you can to support the relief efforts campaign.    The needs are overwhelming, urgent and immediate.  There are just so few economic resources here.  There are a few ways you can donate. 

1.       If you want to help in general with this disaster you can donate through the United Church of Canada.    Money they raise will be shared with partners in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.  For more information visit their  website  Please note the information on this webpage is out of date as things change quickly.  However, the payment information is correct.  If you donate this way, you will receive a tax receipt.

2.       If you want to make sure that the donation comes to the part of El Salvador where I am working then you need to make an informal donation that will not generate a tax receipt. You can do this in two ways.  My friend Susan Routliffe has agreed to collect money at Westminster United Church.  You can give her cash or a cheque.  Cheques need to be in my name – Lynn Macaulay.     She will deposit it in my bank account and I will be able to withdraw it and pass it on ADES to help with immediate food needs.  You can also mail a cheque to Westminster United Church, who will forward them on to Susan:
543 Beechwood Drive
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
N2T 2S8
Cheques need to be in my name – Lynn Macaulay.  Do not write cheques to the Church or to Susan.   On the memo line please write El Salvador Relief.

Please share this with others who you think might be able to help. 

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