El Salvador: death toll from torrential rains rises

Monday, October 17, 2011

By Thomas Ekelund

Torrential rains in Central America have killed 81 people in the past week, with 25 lives lost in El Salvador alone since Saturday.

The deadly downpour has swamped some of the poorest countries in the Americas, in the belt running from southwestern Mexico in the north through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the south. Many of those killed in El Salvador have died in mudslides, while arterial roads, vital for bringing help and moving people to safety, have been cut off by the water.

"This emergency is potentially on the scale of Hurricane Mitch", says Eva Ekelund, Regional Representative of ACT member the Lutheran World Federation from the Salvadorian capital.

Along with the risk of further mudslides and waterborne diseases, the country faces devastating food shortages in the months ahead: in two weeks the crops of maize and beans were due to be harvested. Now they are all lost under the water.

The chaos has been wreaked by a giant cloud known as Tropical Depression 12E, which has parked itself above Central America. Rainfall, which has reached nearly 2.2m in the past week, is expected to continue until Wednesday.

Considered by the United Nations to be one of the most vulnerable regions to natural disasters, climate change and man-made threats in the shape of environmental degradation, Central America is home to some of the most unequal societies on earth.

In El Salvador, where over 150,000 people are affected, 15,000 are in shelters and people are fleeing from their homes en masse, ACT member the Salvadorean Lutheran Church is running a shelter for people displaced by the floods. The LWF is starting an immediate emergency response in the country following a needs assessment of the most vulnerable areas – those that receive little or no state help. LWF has distributed hygiene kits and food in the metropolitan areas of El Salvador and the Rio Lempa, reaching almost a thousand families.

ACT forums in each country are assessing the needs of affected people and supporting them by setting up shelters, and providing food, hygiene kits and some medical attention. The forums are coordinating with relevant government bodies, local humanitarian networks and with community networks in order to increase their effectiveness.