Community-Led Initiatives
In 2017, El Salvador, a country of 6 million people, was one of the deadliest countries to live in that was not inside a war zone —  the country saw on average 10 homicides every day.

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.

-Sasha Kramer

Photo: Pixabay

It’s no coincidence that there is a new natural disaster in the news every day around the world — the earthquake and tsunami that just hit Indonesia; Typhoon Mangkhut in East Asia; Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas; monsoon flooding in Bangladesh; and Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle are just a few of the storms that saturate our daily media sources.

Scientists agree that rising sea levels and sea temperatures as a result of climate change are increasing the frequency and intensity of such disasters. Research shows that climate-change-related natural disasters will disproportionately affect the world’s poorest countries and citizens. These environmental events are just one example of the many ways that sea changes are hurting the world’s poor.

Rising Sea Levels Hurt Agriculture

According to a 2015 World Bank report, “agriculture is one of the most important economic sectors in many poor countries. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most sensitive to climate change, given its dependence on weather conditions: from temperature, sun and rain, through climate-dependent stressors (pests, epidemics, and sea level rise).” This effect is felt by farmers — usually the poorer citizens of poor countries — who find their livelihoods threatened by natural disasters and the heavy flooding that wipes out their crops.

When agriculture suffers, the price of food skyrockets. This change then leaves families who already struggle to acquire adequate nutrition in an even more dire situation. Statistics show that poor families already spend a huge percentage of their income on food, and the World Bank predicts there may be 73 million people pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 from the rising costs of food alone.

Rising Sea Temperatures Breed Disease

The World Bank report says a small rise in sea temperatures “could increase the number of people at risk for malaria by up to 5 percent, or more than 150 million more people affected. Diarrhea would be more prevalent, and increased water scarcity would have an effect on water quality and hygiene.”

People who don’t have access to clean water, generally people living in poverty, would be at the greatest risk of developing diseases and they often lack the resources to treat infectious or bug-borne diseases once a family member is infected. The report, which called for climate-informed development, concludes by saying that poverty reduction and climate change can’t be treated separately, as the two go hand-in-hand.


There are over 1600 confirmed deaths in Indonesia after an earthquake and tsunami hit the island of Sulawesi on October 5th, 2018. In fact, the U.N. stated that over 190,000 people are in need of urgent help — aftershocks have caused the destruction of 2,000 homes due to mudslides and makeshift refugee camps are being set up. At the most basic level, these events are pushing already poor people into extreme poverty through the destruction of their homes, forcing them to resettle elsewhere.

A 2017 Cornell study found that rising seas could cause 2 billion refugees by the year 2100 (these are truly climate change refugees).  This means that around one-fifth of the world’s population will be made homeless by climate change. The effects will be felt most strongly by people living on coastlines, and those in the world’s poorest countries will suffer the most.

As the seas warm and rise, research shows that the frequency and intensity of these disasters will rise as well, forcing more and more people to abandon their homes.

Sea Changes and the Poor

Rising sea temperatures are a result of global warming’s effects on ocean habitats and the human communities that depend on them.

The authors of an article about how poor countries and fisheries are the most negatively impacted by warming seas found that, “despite having some of the world’s smallest carbon footprints, small island developing states and the world’s least-developed countries will be among the places most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts on marine life.”

Actions for the Future

Andrew King, a climate researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia and the author of a study from the AGU on global warming, argues that: “The results are a stark example of the inequalities that come with global warming…the richest countries that produced the most emissions are the least affected by heat when average temperatures climb to just 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] while poorer nations bear the brunt of changing local climates and the consequences that come with them.”

There are ideas for how to better protect these places in the future to be prepared for these sea changes. Long term, the solution will be tackling climate change head-on.

-Evann Orleck-Jetter

Photo: Flickr

One of the many effects of climate change concerns the rising of the world’s oceans. As both climate scientists and one country’s president realize, Kiribati, a low-lying nation in the Pacific Ocean, will likely become non-existent within the upcoming decades.

Kiribati is home to some 100,000 people. Located in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii, it consists of 33 small islands and atolls scattered over an area the size of India.

On average, the nation loses 3.7 millimeters of land a year due to rising water. President Anote Tong said the country could be completely uninhabitable within less than 60 years.

In fact, the county has already purchased nearly 6,000 acres of land in Fiji to address economic and food security issues. The government said in a May press release that the land is “an investment by the government to explore options of commercial, industrial and agricultural undertakings.”

Since 1880, global sea levels have risen nearly 10 inches. By the end of the century, scientists believe the seas could rise nearly three feet.

One of the islands in the country is Tarawa, known by most of the world as a World War II battle site among the Japanese and Americans. Because so much of the population lives on top of the island’s main water lens, where fresh drinking water lies, it is difficult for the island’s inhabitants to find a place to defecate. Health officials estimate that nearly 60 percent of Tarawa residents defecate outdoors.

Since the nation may soon be completely submerged, the government has found it difficult to find any substantial investors. In fact, the U.S. does not have an ambassador for the country. Instead, the U.S. ambassador of Fiji also serves Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Moreover, for the Kiribati residents who may choose to evacuate the country in the coming years, the situation may become difficult.

In the past, New Zealand permitted 75 Kiribati citizens into the country each year so long as they met the necessary visa requirements. However, the country recently ruled against a Kiribati man who requested to become a refugee in the country on the grounds of climate change.

Yet, much of the country is increasingly skeptic of climate change due to religious purposes. In a census several years ago accounting for over 90,000 Kiribati citizens, only 23 stated they did not follow a religious practice.

In an interview conducted with Businessweek, Tong said the Western world has not focused enough attention on effects of rising oceans and climate change.

“Ecoterrorism is equal to terrorism,” he said. “This is a kind of terrorism that is more dangerous in one way, because it is treated as legitimate and acceptable. Maybe 10 years ago, they didn’t know what they were doing. But it’s not an excuse any longer.”

– Ethan Safran

Sources: Net Nebraska, Business Week, NPR, NY Times, Kiribati Climate Change
Photo: Net Nebraska