El Salvador is pained by low levels of economic growth. From 2010 to 2016, real economic growth averaged only 2.6 percent, which makes El Salvador the nation with the lowest GDP growth in Central America. In 2016, 31 percent of the population lived in poverty, and the World Food Program estimates that 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty.
Poverty and Environment in El Salvador
El Salvador is vulnerable to several climate risk issues. According to a USAID-supported platform called Climate Risk, El Salvador has witnessed a consistent occurrence of extreme events — storms, floods and droughts — within the last 30 years. Deforestation and land degradation have also negatively impacted agricultural lands, increasing the country’s vulnerability to climate change.
Thirty percent of the El Salvadoran population lives on the coast. El Salvador’s Pacific coastline is highly vulnerable to the combination of sea level rise and El Niño events. In fact, it is expected that 10 to 28 percent of the Pacific Coastline will be inundated permanently by the end of the century.
El Salvador’s current economic and political climate is predominantly shaped by the war on drugs, civil war and multinational corporate resource exploitation. EcoViva, a California-based community building organization, supports grassroots movements in El Salvador to alleviate the effects of these legacies in its partnered communities.
Thankfully, the organization EcoViva generates stability through community-led initiatives. Since its inception in 1996, EcoViva has worked with communities in the Lower Lempa River Estuary on the precipice of sea level rise. This at-risk location is in El Salvador’s northern mountain range and the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.
EcoViva envisions works to create thriving ecosystems and communities in Central America by supporting community-led initiatives that support environmental harmony and ameliorate the effects of poverty. EcoViva serves more than 100 villages, reaching roughly 35,000 people. EcoViva and their partners are forming a green rural economy, addressing climate change, educating young people and ending gang violence in EcoViva’s partnered communities.
Shaping a Green Rural Economy
The Diversified Agriculture Program was created by the Mangrove Association, a partner of EcoViva, to reduce hunger and malnutrition experienced by communities in southeast El Salvador. The program provides free training and technical assistance to 120 farmers over a five-year period. The Mangrove Association also distributes 120,000 free organic vegetable seeds and fruit tree saplings to small-scale farmers each year.
The farmers are trained in permaculture, embracing practices that increase yields, diversify production and improve soil quality. These same practices protect the groundwater from chemical pollution and safeguard one of El Salvador’s last intact mangrove ecosystems in the nearby Bay of Jiquilisco, combatting a steady stream of chemical pollutants into the bay from industrial agriculture.
Empowerment and Education of Young People
Since 2002, EcoViva has supported youth programming in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador, reaching a total of 500 youth. The programs reflect the needs of local youth so as to include leadership training, capacity building and educational opportunities.
Recently, youth have become entrepreneurs, putting their education and leadership training into practice by creating economic opportunities for themselves and other members of their community.
Ending Gang Violence
In 2001, EcoViva drew up three initiatives to bring about a gang truce in the partnered communities. One of the initiatives saw EcoViva help reintegrate former gang members into their communities by giving them the ability to remove their tattoos.
This initiative reduced the risk of former gang members becoming targets for gang violence and police repression; fortunately, 12 years have passed with virtually no gang-related violence in EcoViva partner communities.
EcoViva Generates Stability Through Community-Led Initiatives
EcoViva has been quite successful in its programs with partnered organizations and communities in El Salvador. In fact, 4,735 acres of mangroves are currently protected by community patrols; villagers and volunteers have build 94 composting toilets to decrease groundwater pollution and life-threatening illnesses; and 84 communities are equipped with an Early Warning System for disaster response. EcoViva generates stability through community-led initiatives, and other nations and organizations would do well to follow in its admirable footsteps.