CISLAC responds to Salvadoran quakes

Issue 

By Lara Pullin

CISLAC has launched an appeal for funds to help El Salvador recover from the damage and ongoing aftermath of three earthquakes and numerous aftershocks which have hit El Salvador.

In a period of one month El Salvador has been devastated by a series of quakes which have left 1.5 million people homeless, tens of thousands injured and around 1500 dead. The country was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Material costs were estimated at over US$3 billion prior to the third quake but, more importantly, international relief agencies report shortages of water, milk, food, plastic for shelter, and medicines. Salvadoran Red Cross spokesperson Carlos Mendoza has pleaded for blood donations as supplies including hospital reserves were exhausted during the aftermath of the second quake.

Hundreds of kilometres of major roads have been destroyed and more covered by landslides. Damage to social and productive infrastructure is enormous, with communications, water and electricity supplies out of order for days and still irregular, supermarkets and businesses closed, petrol shortages and general chaos and panic as smaller tremors continue to rock the country.

On January 13, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale triggered a massive landslide that completely covered the suburb of Las Colinas, a new estate outside the capital of San Salvador. Another 128 municipalities around the country were also affected, with entire villages left uninhabitable in many cases.

As food and water shortages caused massive price hikes in what little was available (with one litre of bottled water selling for US$1 in a country with an average wage of US$140 per month) the government was forced to enact a 90-day emergency measure. This fixes water, electricity and public transport rates as well as the prices of staple foods like beans, corn and rice. Retailers face prison terms for stockpiling or overcharging.

Prior to the second quake on February 13, which measured 6.6 Richter, progress had been made in the larger towns with electricity restored and work underway to make essential buildings such as hospitals and medical centres habitable, however, many areas had still not even received basic assistance with emergency supplies.

With temporal weather striking many of the areas affected by the second quake, there is no longer a shortage of water, however, people are reportedly drinking directly from muddy puddles, increasing the risk of disease.

Rescue efforts for survivors under landslides caused by the second quake were suspended as the ongoing rain and tremors put rescuers' lives at risk. Only hours after operations were suspended the third quake of 6.2 Richter struck, on February 17. Given that there were many still missing from the second quake, the death and injury toll is as yet unknown.

Emergency aid and politics

The European Union sent an initial amount of US$11 million along with its humanitarian package. Spain set a positive example by wiping El Salvador's debt following the first quake.

But 80% of the money so far delivered to El Salvador has come from expatriate Salvadorans around the world. Perhaps prompted by the huge proportion of the economy contributed by Salvadorans in the US sending money home, and partly by the huge task ahead of re-accommodating the population, the Salvadoran government has called on the US to suspend for 18 months its deportations of undocumented Salvadoran nationals.

The politics of aid distribution has emerged as a serious issue. President Francisco Flores, leader of the ruling right-wing coalition government, has excluded all social and political forces, including his own party members, from participating in the “Reconstruction Plan” for El Salvador's disaster recovery.

In response to attempts from the opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) — which has the largest representation in the Legislative Assembly and forms the municipal government in many of the worst affected areas — to seek inclusion in the development of the plan, Flores has dismissed consultation with the FMLN and the other five parties holding seats (including his own party) as unnecessary.

“This process is not about political negotiations, but international aid,” Flores has said.

Many protests have broken out in different areas to call attention to their plight, with a general feeling of dissatisfaction at the way the emergency was being managed and concerns over corruption as Salvadorans ask where the international aid money is being directed.

CISLAC appeal

CISLAC's emergency appeal will send aid directly to the poorest of the communities affected by the quakes, for use in sustainable, long-term reconstruction projects.

Donations can be sent by cheque or money order or with Visa/Mastercard/Bankcard details to the CISLAC aid account:

Nicaraguan Assistance Fund, PO Box A431, Sydney South NSW 2000;

or deposited directly at any Commonwealth Bank branch to:

Nicaraguan Assistance Fund, Broadway branch, 062-003 910922;

or via the CISLAC web site <http://www.cislac.org.au>.