Size of El Salvador: 21,000 sq. Km; or 8,106 sq. mi.
Population Density: 264 inhabitants/sq. Km; or 683 people/sq. mi.
Background:In 1993, after the signing of the peace accords between the government and the guerilla groups, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteer entered El Salvador to aid community development in 3 areas: AgroForestry, Water, and Small Business. In 1995, the AgroForestry/Soil Conservation 1995-2000 Plan was approved. In 1999, Environmental Education was identified by volunteers as a potential work area.
Deforestation:is a severe problem. Fuel-wood consumption is greater than the sustainable biomass production within the country. Total fuel-wood consumption/year = 4,184,222 metric tons; Total fuel-wood supply = approximately 3,884,298 metric tons; Resulting deficit = 574,968 metric tons/year.
Deforestation has a negative impact on other natural resources. Erosion lowers soil fertility and water retention, causing low productivity and scarce water sources. Total forest area in El Salvador = 13%-14%. According to a Salvadoran study by PRISMA, agroforestry and reforestation can rehabilitate the infertile hills.
Erosion: 80% of the national territory has erosion problems, leading to low soil fertility and the overuse of agrochemicals.
Overuse of Agrochemicals: High levels of DDT have been found in beef and dairy products, mothers milk, ground water, soil, and fodder.
Forests:In 1989, the Natural Resources Department (DGRNR) reported a forested area = 1,903 Sq. Km. But in 1990 forested area = 1,290 Sq. Km. The areas included conifers, broad leaves, mangroves, and forest plantations. The numbers show a diminishing forest area. But also, forest areas are only 13% of El Salvador, much less than in other Central American countries.
Biodiversity:The Ministry of Environment (MARN) calculates that the rate of species extinction is 50-100 times faster than natural occurring rates. Also, the Mesoamerican area = only 0.5% of the total landmass, but holds 10% of the total biodiversity.
Environment: In mid 1997, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources was created. Their responsibility is to regulate and coordinate environmental policy. The Environmental Law of March 1998 took five years to be approved. Also, the Civil National Police created an Environmental Division in 1994.
Water: Potable water is in shortage, and making water potable is expensive. 90% of surface waters in El Salvador are polluted to the point of being unsafe even to water vegetables. Polluted water causes gastrointestinal illnesses, leading to the death of approximately 12,000 children under 5 every year.
Air:Between 1990 and 1997, the number of vehicles doubled. Government allowances favor the use of Diesel, which is very contaminating. City air averages 50 micrograms/cubic meter, which is higher than what the WHO allows. The use of household fuel-wood and the number of forest fires caused by farmers for agricultural purposes worsen air pollution. Air pollution causes approximately 11,000 children to die annually due to severe respiratory illnesses.
Addressing the problem:In 1992, US and Canadian governments condoned the interests of the Salvadoran Debt with both countries. These funds created 2 agencies: FIAES & FONAES, charged with managing funds for the “debt for nature”. Funds are for soil conservation, reforestation, protected ares management, environmental education, etc, and they are given annually to NGO’s, ADESCOs (community associations), or municipalities willing to work in the described activities. According to USAID/El Salvador, FIAES gave $27.7 million to 376 projects between 1994 and 2000.
In 1997, the Salvadoran government (GOES) acquired a $30 million loan to be used with a national contribution of $3.9 million to carry out the Salvadoran Environmental Program. PAES’s goal is to decrease the deterioration in the upper watershed of the Lempa river and to ease the poverty of the peasants in the area. All is to be accomplished through sustainable development. The watershed encompasses 50% of the country’s territory.
An $18 million loan from the US allowed the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) to begin an Agricultural Development project aimed at improving the socioeconomic level of the peasants. This project involved Peace Corps volunteers in various capacities (tech assistance, community infrastructure, marketing, etc).
The Ministry of Education (MINED), added “Health and Environment” as a new subject to the curriculum of all grade levels (Elem-H.S.). In 1996, USAID and GreenCOM financed the publishing of 3 Environmental Education didactic guides. Teachers expressed that although MINED approved and included this subject in the curriculum, close to 30,000 Salvadoran teachers did not receive adequate training in the subject matter. Also, the teaching methods are non-participative and lack interaction. Peace Corps volunteers are also involved in this area.
In 1999, USAID El Salvador began the AGUA project to improve access to potable water in rural communities in an environmental sustainable way. The project is to provide clean water, and watershed management with farming and industrial practices that will improve water filtration and decrease pollution sources. Project cost = $18 million; to be completed in 2003. Peace Corps volunteers were also involved in this.
Project Goals: 1) To promote the use of agroforestry and soil conservation practices in order to reduce environmental deterioration and create sustainable income for the population; 2)To promote the protection, use and management of existing natural and environmental resources in a sustainable way with gender equity in rural communities.
Info taken from the Peace Corps El Salvador AgroForestry/Environmental Education Project Plan 2002-2007.