El Salvador is the smallest country located in the Southern part of Central America. With a population of almost 6.5 million people, the country has the largest population density for its size in the region. The country is famous for its exports, primarily coffee and sugar, which are ideal crops for a tropical climate. The gorgeous weather also makes it an alluring vacation spot and draws tourists seeking sweeping palm trees, breathtaking views and glistening beaches from across the globe. However, just outside the paradise of the resorts is a much different world. Here are five facts about poverty in El Salvador.
5 Facts About Poverty in El Salvador
- The poverty rate was improving. From 2007 to 2019, El Salvador experienced some economic progress, with its poverty rate dropping from 39% to 22.3%. However, it will be a challenge for the country to maintain those numbers considering how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the economy and the exports the country relies on.
- The impoverished often live in overcrowded areas. Poorer neighborhoods, referred to as slums, tend to be located in undesirable areas that have a landscape more susceptible to danger. Many families live in small, overcrowded quarters, which can pose a major public health risk. Houses are usually built very close to each other and are sometimes adjoined in order to share materials. For many, the only choice for housing is makeshift structures that do not protect from the elements and cannot withstand the force of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes or even heavy rainfall. These communities often lack basic services such as electricity, plumbing and sanitation sewer plants. This makes for unsanitary conditions and very limited access to clean water.
- Schools often have a lot of empty desks. The country struggles to maintain a sufficient education system, which one can largely attribute to a high rate of dropouts. Of all the children nationwide, around 34% do not attend the elementary grade levels. Furthermore, more than 60% of children do not finish high school. As a result, around 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. The education deficit perpetuates the cycle of unskilled laborers joining the workforce as minors, which hinders the economy’s growth.
- Good job opportunities are not widely available. Much of the country’s poor population work in the manufacturing, agriculture and tourism industries. These jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours due to flimsy work laws and standards that are relatively unregulated by the government. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with a staggering 1.8 million children currently employed. The lack of a welfare program and the government’s failure to enforce child labor laws enable this practice. For many families living below the poverty line, this is the only way they can afford to get by.
- Violence and crime plague communities. El Salvador has one of the highest crime rates worldwide, directly endangering many of its citizens. Most of the crime committed is gang-related and, with the involvement of an estimated 60,000 members, gangs run rampant in practically every community. Feeling they have no other option than to flee, those vulnerable to gang activity migrate to other countries in order to find refuge and employment in a safer area. One of the gangs’ main targets is business owners, as they look to get a cut of their revenue. The loss of income severely impacts job creation and business survival.
These five facts about poverty in El Salvador are grim, but also solvable. Fortunately, Habitat for Humanity, an organization that strives to improve living conditions for the impoverished, has committed to helping. The organization has built homes for around 25,000 Salvadorans. To support the community, the volunteers also build public structures such as new schools, health centers, business suites and much more. In addition, the volunteers teach citizens job skills, money management and disaster preparation in order to give them the tools needed to thrive. With continued relief efforts by humanitarian organizations, a better future can emerge for current generations and generations to come.
– Samantha Decker