El Salvador church partners respond to 'unparalleled' flooding catastrophe

October 20, 2011

Severe flooding and mudslides caused by tropical rains throughout El Salvador have affected about 150,000 people, cut off dozens of communities and resulted in almost 40 deaths. It has been described by Anglican Bishop of El Salvador Martin Barahona as "a catastrophe unparalleled by other disasters" in the country in recent history.

Hurricane Jova made landfall on Oct. 11 as a Category 2 hurricane over Jalisco, Mexico, where it is responsible for six deaths, but El Salvador "has been the most affected country in Central America," according to the Rev. George Woodward, vice president of Fundación Cristosal, a church partner and nonprofit organization that is working with Episcopal Relief & Development, the local Anglican diocese and other organizations to respond to the disaster.

According to a report from Fundación Cristosal, as of Oct. 17 the flooding had forced 32,243 people to evacuate from 149 communities, caused the contamination of more than 2,200 wells and destroyed almost 3,000 acres of crops. The report said that 261 emergency shelters were operating to serve those in need.

Woodward, rector of St. Edmund's Episcopal Church in San Marino, California, wrote in an Oct. 19 email that the floodwaters have completely cut off access to two of Fundación Cristosal's four partner communities, as well as the international airport.

Woodward said that while the rains had eased off during the previous day, "the population is on edge as heavy rains continue and food supplies are scarce" in the flood shelters and in the many poor communities in which residents make a subsistence living and have not been able to work.

A report posted on the Episcopal Relief & Development website said that flooding has destroyed as many as 18,000 homes in El Salvador, and also has caused an estimated 65 deaths in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

On Oct. 17, El Salvador's president and national assembly declared the country in "a state of calamity that will last 60 days, allowing them to access a special $50 million loan from the World Bank designated for disasters," the report said. "The government has been effective in allocating resources to evacuate and shelter vulnerable populations, which has reduced the death toll in comparison [to] other recent storms."

According to Matt St. John, program officer at Episcopal Relief & Development, the entire region of Bajo Lempa, Usulutan state, is under water. Approximately 5,000 people have been relocated to 28 temporary housing units, according to the agency's website.

Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting a coordinated response through the Diocese of El Salvador and Asociación Mangle, a local organization. The diocesan effort is a collaboration with Cristosal and Asociación CREDHO, a Salvadoran agency.

The diocese is also coordinating the ground response with the ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance.

According to Episcopal Relief & Development, 10 communities in several states will be targeted with essential services such as food, water, temporary shelter, medication and transportation. A diocesan medical team will also begin responding when conditions permit. The program will directly support 2,025 people and indirectly benefit 4,050, including vulnerable populations such as orphans, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with HIV/AIDS.

Asociación Mangle will help transport communities to its shelter in Ciudad Romero and will monitor communications there and provide food for those displaced, according to St. John.

"It's an 'all hands on deck' situation in El Salvador, worse than [1998's] Hurricane Mitch," St. John said. "In addition to the loss of human life, thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods. Animals have drowned and crops are underground. Please pray for all those affected, and for our church partners as they reach out to Salvadorans who will need to begin rebuilding their lives."

Fundación Cristosal is monitoring the situation and organizing to provide urgent relief, to distribute food and medical care to affected communities," said Woodward.

The foundation also will focus on reconstruction "by offering microloans and grants to families who have lost their homes or sources of income," Woodward said. "We do our work by 'walking alongside' people as they assess the damages to homes, property, and crops, and partnering in the long, slow work of recovery."

Fundación Cristosal was created in 2000 to support human development in El Salvador. It has worked with the Episcopal Church and Episcopal Relief & Development to help communities in El Salvador recover from an extended civil war and a devastating earthquake in 2001.