Commitment for Life – March 2016 – Stories for Change – El Salvador



‘Salvadorans know what it means to struggle. Civil war lasted 12 years here, between 1979 and 1992, and almost everyone has a tale of a relative lost or killed. Many witnessed unspeakable acts of violence and were forced to reintegrate into a system that is still divided between the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’.

Jump forward to present day and this event, and its memory, still dominates Salvadoran society. Escalating violence has led to headlines that El Salvador is now the most violent country in the world, with an average of 22 deaths a day[i], a rate that is almost on par with major conflicts like Iraq and Syria. Today’s marginalised urban communities must co-exist in this hostile space and contend with local authorities where impunity reigns and corruption talks.

In this setting it’s hard to imagine that you’re represented or have a choice. Then there’s climate change. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, El Salvador was the world’s most at-risk country for climate change in 2009[ii] and, alongside its Central American neighbours, features prominently in the rankings in years since.[iii] In fact, its CV makes for bleak reading:

  • Natural storm buffers such as mangroves have been heavily deforested in the country and it has the second highest rate of deforestation in Latin America.
  • The Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) estimates that El Salvador will lose somewhere between 10-28% of its coastal territories as a result of rising seas in the next century. According to our partners, some of the effects are already being felt. Temperatures are rising, the number and intensity of hurricanes are increasing and rainfall is becoming ever more erratic.

One of these potential effects is wave-surges which may increase in frequency in the coming years. At the time of our visit, huge waves triggered by intense Australian storms hit the Salvadoran coast line and in some places pushed inland up to 150 metres.

We visited the area of San Francisco Menéndez, close to the Guatemalan border, where more than 300 families had been affected by the waves. Many of these families already live with the threat of deforestation to nearby mangroves, whose natural bounties serve as a source of income, food and wood for homes.   These families face an uncertain future and they’re not alone.

Local shrimp-farmers recognise the threat too. Rising sea temperatures and changes in salinity levels threaten to halt their shrimp business. Their story serves to show that climate change can compound an already acute state of poverty.

However, people are fighting back. We met people who are bouncing back against the odds and making change on their own terms.

It’s people like Alvaro of the Istaten Association who volunteer their time to protect mangroves from deforestation and people like Manuel mobilising his community in the face of natural disaster. The word that comes out is ‘resilience’; and Salvadorans have bucket-loads of it.’

[1] Huffington Post via Associated Press (July 2015):

[1] Citied by LSE, Grantham Research Institute:

Author: David Wiggs

I am the webmaster for Purley United Reformed Church and have been involved with the church since my late teens. I work in Croydon and live in Caterham.

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