Securing livelihoods in the Bajo Lempa river delta of El Salvador

Like most of Central America, El Salvador is highly exposed to natural disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and landslides are recurring events. Climate change will increase their frequency and severity even more. The Bajo Lempa river delta in El Salvador’s south is particularly vulnerable, with local communities among the poorest in the region. Securing their livelihoods through better disaster response and improved healthcare is at the heart of a humanitarian project supported by Swiss Re and the Swiss Red Cross.

The River Lempa is the largest and most important waterway in El Salvador. Besides supplying large parts of the country with drinking water, it is also a key source of water used for crop irrigation and energy production. But the river’s economic exploitation is increasing environmental pressures on communities across the country, and natural disasters regularly lead to the loss of human lives and large-scale damage.

Communities along the Bajo Lempa river delta in El Salvador’s south are particularly vulnerable. Home to around 30,000 people living in 90 villages, the region is one of the poorest in Central America. Weather extremes such as heavy rains and drought increasingly threaten the livelihoods of the local population, with floods, crop failures and sewage-polluted water causing more physical destruction and fuelling the spread of infectious diseases. Climate change will increase the risks even further.

To improve living conditions for residents in the Bajo Lempa region, Swiss Re is partnering with the Swiss Red Cross in implementing a local disaster response system. The project comprises 32 villages in El Salvador’s Jiquilisco district and promotes both disaster prevention and preparedness activities. These include setting up local emergency committees, mapping disaster risks, developing early-warning systems, providing shelters and strengthening primary healthcare through training and medical facilities.

The project forms part of a wider climate adaptation initiative supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation that aims to reduce the effects of natural disasters in Central America. Swiss Re is financing other similar projects in Honduras and Guatemala.

Published 27 April 2011

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