Flood Prevention in the Lower Lempa Region
Since the repopulation of the Lower Lempa Region of El Salvador in 1992, the Lempa River has continuously flooded due in part to the hydroelectric dam located further up the river. Much of the devastation to river flooding could have been prevented by constructing levees on both sides of the river. Despite demands from the affected communities and organizations like SHARE working in the region, the ARENA government refused to take any type of action until Hurricane Mitch hit El Salvador in 1998, devastating the Lower Lempa Region.
With the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Central American countries were invited to Switzerland to submit a report on the destruction done in their countries in order to receive aid from developed countries. Due to lack of trust of the official government report, the Salvadoran social movement sent community leaders to present their own report on the situation in the country, in addition to the official government report. SHARE helped organize and send those community leaders to Switzerland to speak for the Salvadoran people. As a result of this summit, the government of Japan committed to funding the construction of levees in the Lower Lempa Region. The U.S. government committed to paving the roads on both sides of the river as another barrier to the rising waters as well as an elevated place for people to seek refuge in the event of a flood.
Despite this great victory for the communities in the Lower Lempa Region, the process of constructing the levees was still a struggle between the government and the communities. On the western side of the river, in Tecoluca, SHARE worked with CRIPDES San Vicente. On the eastern side of the river, in Jiquilisco, SHARE worked with United Communities of the Lower Lempa. In the years following Hurricane Mitch, the communities continued to monitor the construction of the levees and push for its completion. During this time, SHARE coordinated with Engineers Without Borders to provide technical assistance and monitoring in the construction of the levees.
Though the levees were completed in 2001, the struggle against flooding continued. As a result of the 2001 Earthquake, the land on the Jiquilisco side of the river shifted and the levees sunk below 5 meters, the minimum height needed for the levees to be effective. What followed was a dispute between the government and the company that had built the levee on who was responsible for repairing it. The dispute lasted years, during which time the flooding continued to affect the communities.
SHARE continued to support the communities of the Lower Lempa by advocating for upkeep of the levees and for open communication with the Hydroelectric Executive Commission of the Lempa River on when the dam would be opened and how much water would be released.
The construction of the levees was a great victory for the rural communities in the Lower Lempa Region, though they continue to work for their upkeep. The advocacy efforts and organization that was strengthened in the process of demanding the levees, serves the communities today as they continue to work for sustainable development in the Lower Lempa.
In April 2010, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Public Works, accompanied by local government and community representatives from the Jiquilisco and Tecoluca sides of the river, inaugurated the reconstruction and repair to the levee and drainage systems (Community Organizing and Local Advocacy for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation in the Bajo Lempa). Although communities continue to organize and struggle to ensure the completion and quality of these works, this was a huge victory for extremely vulnerable communities.