Tropical Depression 12E Causes Estimated $840 Million in Damage and Loss
The Salvadoran government published the results of their evaluation of damages and losses provoked by Tropical Depression 12E in October 2011. This evaluation was done with the technical support of CEPAL (Economic Comission for Latin America and the Carribean). Here, we share some of the most relevant findings and results of this study and a final reflection.
Climate Patterns are Changing and Becoming More Extreme in El Salvador
In just two years, El Salvador has been affected by five extreme climate events: Topical Storm Ida in 2009, Agatha, Alex and Matthew in 2010, and Tropical Depression 12E in 2011 (see chart below for more comparisons between these extreme climate events).
“Tropical Depression 12E is the largest event registered in the history of the country,” Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Herman Rosa Chavez described.
With Tropical Depression 12E, 747 mm (29.4 inches) of rain fell. With Hurricane Mitch, the most devastating storm until now, 472mm (18.5 inches) of rain accumulated. In 2011 in only 10 days, it rained the equivalent of what it rains on average in one year in the United States (735.5mm) and 15% more than the expected rainfall in Spain (636mm).
Average rainfall in El Salvador is 1800mm annually. This year, 2011, became the second wettest year on record, followed only by 2010. In 2010, 2549mm of rain fell, while in 2011, 2378mm were measured, both well above the previous average. This recent history shows “a change in climate behavior, a product, according to the experts, of the adverse affects of climate change.”
Impacts of Tropical Depression 12E
Of 262 municipalities in the country, 181 municipalities were effected. Nearly 2,000 km2 were flooded, or approximately 10% of the national territory. In total, 34 Salvadorans lost their lives to Tropical Depression 12E. Over 56,400 people were evacuated.
Non-stop rains led to the saturation of the soil, causing the majority of rivers and streams to flood. The most important rivers in the country reached extraordinary levels, well above their previous averages.
It is estimated that some areas of the country may have .3 meters of standing water even three weeks after the rains stopped, and in the most critical points, like the Bajo Lempa and parts of the Rio Grande in San Miguel, standing water could remain for five weeks.
Many mountain ranges were under serious threat of mudslides and landslides. The largest mudslide occurred in Comasagua, just outside of San Salvador. The mudslide was 40 meters wide, 200 meters long and had a depth of 20 meters.
Estimating the Economic Damages
CEPAL estimates that the most recent climate event has caused more than $840 million in damages and losses, representing almost 4% of the GDP. Production and infrastructure were the two sectors most heavily struck (see chart below for further details). The agriculture sector alone faces losses of over $105 million.
“This change in climate behavior is a product of the adverse affects of climate change.” There was also significant impact on the enviornment, including loss of soil, increased levels of sediment in river beds, and deep impacts on ecosystems. Coastal and marine ecosystems were the heaviest hit, including bio-diverse mangroves, which will have a long-term impact on artesanal fishing and shrimping.
CEPAL estimates that Tropical Depression 12E will lead to a reduction in GDP growth, from 2.1% to 1.4%, and to accelerate inflation from 6.8% to an estimated 8% over the next year.
Planning for Climate Change
This report underscores what we have heard so often from civil society organizations in recent weeks: it is indispensible that significant amounts be invested to raise resilience to climate disasters, especially taking into account that these extreme climate events are likely to increase in nature and frequency. Not only are solutions with a preventative focus necesarry, but projects that take mitigation and resilience-building seriously.
Climate Change: Some Food for Thought
According to the UN Millennium Development Goals Indicators, El Salvador ranks 149th in carbon dioxide emissions per capita, with 1.1 metric tons. Other Central American countries are in this same range. Because of their geographic location — between two major oceans, on top of numerous active fault lines, and peppered with active volcanos and large mountain ranges — Central America is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate diasters and climate change.
According to this same study, the United States ranks 12th in the world, only following oil-producing countries in the Middle East. Other figures hold the US responsible for one quarter of the world’s carbon emissions, even though the US represents only 4% of the global population.
International solidarity is just as important as ever if the poor majority in places like El Salvador are to survive climate change and future climate events.
All photos and charts courtesy of Salvadoran government and CEPAL report.