Organizations Denounce Lack of Planning, Dismantled Protection Agencies in Wake of Death and Destruction From Storm 'Julia'

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Satellite image shows tropical storm Julia gathering over Central America. Photo credit: NASA/Terra-MODIS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

On Monday, October 10, tropical storm Julia passed over El Salvador, pummeling it with heavy rains and winds, and leaving in its wake at least 10 people dead, many others injured and displaced, with extensive damage to homes, agriculture, and infrastructure. Although the intensity of the storm mirrors those seen around the world in the context of spiraling climate change, social movement organizations say the Bukele administration’s lack of preparedness “has revealed, once again, the vulnerability of the country as a result of little or no planning in terms of risk management, prevention, and mitigation, and the minimal capacity to react or attend to socio-environmental events.”

The most heavily hit departments of the country include Usulután, Morazán, San Miguel, San Salvador, La Libertad, Cabañas, La Paz, Santa Ana, Sonsonate, and Ahuachapán. Beyond the loss of life, the country is experiencing overflowed rivers, extensive road closures due to mudslides and fallen trees, collapse of the walls of homes, loss of crops and farm animals, blackouts and loss of potable water supply, and lack of emergency medical attention.

There are no natural disasters, organizations say; there are only increasingly severe weather hazards and government responses to those hazards that either protect people from, or expose them to, disaster.  In that context, the Foro Nacional de Salud (National Health Forum), issued a statement Monday, denouncing the following policy decisions and failures of the current administration that have resulted in the latter:

  • The dismantling of the National Civil Protection system at the community, municipal, departmental, and national levels.
  • Disjointed or nonexistent communication between communities and institutional plans and actions.
  • Lack of organization, training, and equipment of community and municipal Civil Protection Commissions.
  • Limited economic resources for emergency response at the municipal level, despite the unlimited allocation of emergency funds.
  • The indiscriminate approval of environmental permits for construction projects that put communities at risk and affect ecosystems.
  • The politicization of the emergency and the use of institutional resources for partisan purposes; this includes establishing official shelters in the headquarters of political parties and the use of communication resources for propaganda purposes and not to support official channels with information and timely guidance on what to do before, during, and after the emergency.
  • Opening of shelters without conditions, equipment, or clear guidelines for their operation.
  • No agency to articulate the implementation of the Law of Civil Protection, Prevention, and Disaster Mitigation.
  • No or limited access to official information on the inventory of damages or needs of the population.
  • Centralization of decisions and resources and blocking the timely action of local and national institutions and of the National Civil Protection system to guarantee the right to health, food security, and the like, in an emergency.

Social movement organizations further denounce the meager budget allotted to the Environmental Ministry this year: $254,230 vs more than $22 million for Defense spending on equipment and infrastructure alone.

They demand that, in light of increasingly intense climate risks and emergencies, “the government must guarantee the human right to life” and employ risk management policies that “minimize the negative impact on vulnerable communities.” Further, it must provide “unrestricted access to information that will allow citizens to make better decisions and supply resources and equipment to guarantee functional communal and municipal committees and shelters.”

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