Red alert after months of erratic rains

The drought that started in June has caused havoc in eastern El Salvador and other parts of the Dry Corridor in Central America

It should rain much more at this time of year, but some places have faced severe or extreme drought instead. Photo: WFP/Rocío Franco

In previous droughts, the longest period without rain was 31 days in La Unión department,” says Luis Bran, coordinator for the World Food Programme (WFP)’s project for resilience against climate change in El Salvador. “During the current drought, we registered 34 days without rain in some regions.”

When the national authorities declared orange and red alerts in July in the parts of the country most affected by the drought, they reported the total or partial loss of maize crops in some areas, which affected more than 77,000 producers whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. The authorities also noted crop damage in 143 municipalities, more than half of which had suffered extreme drought. Temperatures recorded a historic high for the month, reaching 41.1℃ on 20 July.

Maize is a staple in the Central American diet. The drought has caused total or partial crop loss in affected areas. Photo: WFP/Rocío Franco

After 34 consecutive dry days it finally rained, but in the following months rains have been scarce due to the El Niño phenomenon. More than two months after they were declared, alerts remain in place in 143 municipalities.

Mitigating the damages

There are techniques that help manage agricultural risks: reforestation of priority areas where water is available; building infiltration ditches; using plants or inert materials as barriers against erosion; adopting organic and green fertilizers; storing water in reservoirs; and focusing on having a variety of seeds and diversified, irrigated crops.

Reforestation: “An area of one million hectares is not much for a country like Brazil, but in El Salvador this is almost half of the national territory.”

The Government aims to reforest close to 50 percent of the country by 2030. Angel Ibarra, Vice-minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, puts the ambitious plan in perspective: “One million hectares is not much for a country like Brazil, but in El Salvador this represents between 45 and 47 percent of the national territory.”

Trees help fight climate change, preventing soil erosion and lowering temperatures, among other benefits. Photo: WFP/Rocío Franco

Achieving this goal would mean “changing the country’s landscape to a reforested one that can address the growing impact of climate change,” says Vice-minister Ibarra.

Communities most affected by climate change are working together to improve their present and future. They have implemented changes to adapt to the new reality.

Community tree nurseries (left) and irrigation ditches are a couple of activities that allow rural communities in El Salvador to mitigate the impact of climate change. Photos: WFP/Rocío Franco

WFP guides communities on this path with support from the European Union and working jointly with the Government and municipalities.

The WFP project focuses on producers in the eastern part of the country, which is most affected by droughts and other natural events. The aim is for them “to adapt to the current and real situation,” explains Andrew Stanhope, WFP Country Director in El Salvador. “The El Niño phenomenon has been affecting their livelihoods for many years and the forecast is that it will continue to do so.”

Stanhope emphasizes that participating communities are learning to manage their resources. They’re looking at alternatives to traditional corn and bean crops, for example, and are improving water management and soil conservation.

Communities have built water reservoirs and drip irrigation systems to be used mostly for vegetable production. Photo: WFP/Rocío Franco

These activities, explains Bran, “have allowed filtering more than 300,000 m³ of water and contributed to ensuring that water, especially for human consumption, does not run out.”

“Communities realize that land recovery will allow them to produce again and increase food security.”

So far, communities have built 100 water reservoirs and 100 drip irrigation systems that families can use for up to 20 days mostly for vegetable production.

Communities are learning to manage resources to offset the effects of climate change. Photos: WFP/Rocío Franco

“El Salvador is a small country, where land has been degraded a lot due to agriculture,” says Erik Kristensen, the European Union’s Cooperation Attaché in El Salvador. “Communities realize that land recovery will allow them to produce again and increase food security.”

Kristensen says this premise applies to other countries in the region: “The drought problem does not stop at the border. It must be tackled jointly at the regional level.”

Thanks to the support of the European Union, WFP works to build the resilience and secure the livelihoods of 900 Salvadoran families in the Dry Corridor. This article is part of a series produced by WFP and the social media team of the United Nations.

Learn more about El Niño Response in the Dry Corridor of Central America (PRO-ACT)




Insight by The World Food Programme

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Norha Restrepo

Norha Restrepo

Comunicadora Regional del WFP para América Latina y el Caribe / WFP Regional Communications Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean

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