PHOTO CREDITS: JILLIAN BAKER

Climate Change & Climate Justice

 

Flooding on the Lempa

The world’s leaders have so far been unable to come to agreement on how to reduce the continual emission of greenhouse gases that are leading to changes in our world’s temperature. Major disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ida in 2009 have helped the public understand that often it is the poorest communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 

 

Climate justice is the concept that these communities should be prioritized and supported to protect them from the disasters that they will inevitably face as our planet continues to warm. What is less commonly understood is that in many cases, those same populations already have much to teach the world about how to adapt to climate change.

 

 

People living in the low-lying coastal areas have, in many cases, been subjected for many years to flooding, droughts, and hurricanes. They have confronted these problems for decades, and in many cases have come up with innovative and effective ways to adapt to them. Our partner communities in El Salvador are a primary example of such a population.

 

 

The Lower Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco are considered Ground Zero for extreme weather events in El Salvador. A major motivation for community organizing there in the 1990s was the flooding that seemed to get worse each year. The floods brought together former enemies –ex-combatants from both sides of El Salvador’s brutal civil war – to create disaster prevention programs as a means for basic survival.

 

 

The first victory was to set up an Early Warning System: a two-way radio system in 13 different strategic areas to warn communities of impending floods and evacuation routes. The early warning system eventually grew into Mangrove Radio, and has solidified into disaster prevention committees in every local community. In addition to establishing their own disaster response strategies and building two large flood shelters, these committees effectively lobbied for government support for disaster prevention support. After years of lobbying and alliance-building, community members worked with the government to build 17 kilometers of retaining walls along the Lower Lempa River -- a major victory which has drastically reduced the vulnerability of villages near the river banks to flooding.

 

Flooded Cornfield

 

Despite these victories, local communities remain vulnerable to the changing climate. Most are subsistence farmers who rely on small-scale agriculture to survive. But longer periods of drought, coupled with more intensive storms during the rainy season, threaten to wipe out crops each year.

 

 

Our sustainable agriculture programs are working to “climate-proof” local agriculture through the increased use of agroforestry (intercropping of trees to prevent soil erosion and increase biodiversity), adaptation of native seeds to weather extremes, installation of drip-irrigation systems for the dry season, diversification of crop species so that no one crop is wiped out completely by a drought or flood, and improved moisture conservation through organic soil inputs.

 

 

In order to survive the agricultural damages wreaked by extreme weather events, it is critical for local communities to have other sources of income besides purely subsistence-level farming. As we build a green economy, we help communities find other income sources such as small livestock projects, ecotourism, sustainable fisheries, cooperatives, and the bolstering of regional markets for such products.

 

Mangrove Ecosystem

 

Wetland and mangrove ecosystems are inventoried worldwide to capture as much carbon as there is currently in the atmosphere, and up to four times more carbon per acre than rainforests. The protection and restoration of mangrove ecosystems is critical for reducing the impact of hurricanes, sequestering carbon, deterring erosion, and improving livelihoods: shellfish, crabs, fish and shrimp all depend on mangrove roots for their nesting grounds. We are currently planning a pilot project in ecological mangrove restoration through studying native species and their interaction with tidal flows, and then reintroducing appropriate hydrology.


Community education about the importance of environmental conservation is critical. Local community members trained as Wetlands Rangers currently patrol the Bay of Jiquilisco Protected Area offering information about environmental regulations. Additional information is spread through community radio, youth theater campaigns and the Rays of Light visual arts program.