Progressio development worker Maggie von Vogt has seen for herself the devastating impacts of the heavy rain that’s hit Central America this last week.
And in a hard-hitting interview broadcast today on BBC Radio 5 Live, she talks about how it’s the poor who are hit the hardest – and how the people of El Salvador and Central America have had enough of bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change.
She says “people say there’s no doubt that weather patterns are changing” – and they want the world’s rich countries, which are responsible for the emissions that have led to climate change, to face up to their responsibilities and help the world’s poorer countries to cope with the consequences.
Here’s some of what Maggie said:
It’s complete havoc
“The storms have caused extreme damage in all parts of the country, both urban and rural areas, although the most affected zones are along the coast and the western part of the country.
“Every part of the country has been affected by landslides of various sizes, and flooding. There’s lots of people being evacuated from the urban centre here in San Salvador. But the worst impacted zones are areas where there are villages that are completely flooded, and entire communities and people that are cut off. So it’s basically ‘worst case scenario’, and ‘bad’...
“It’s definitely complete havoc, and I’m completely in agreeement with both the Guatemalan and Salvadoran presidents’ declaration of a state of calamity because this is a very serious situation, what’s been going on here since the rains started a week ago.”
The rains are so heavy
“El Salvador has had a recent change of federal government. In 2009 it changed from the right wing party, which had been in power for 20 years, to the left wing party. And there’s definitely been a lot more of an initiative to do more work around mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
“But … despite what’s actually been recognised as a fast response on behalf of local and national government, … it’s impossible for anyone to be able to respond in time because the rains are so heavy. Just today it was confirmed by the National Territorial Study Service that the rainfalls that have occurred this past week are record breaking, even more than Hurricane Mitch which occurred in 1998 and was devastating.”
Poverty makes people more vulnerable
“So, no matter what people do here to mitigate and to adapt to climate change, really it comes back to the question of climate justice … and the urgent necessity for high emissions countries to lower their emissions.
“Because, as people here say, there’s no doubt that weather patterns are changing; and because, as we recognise, the origins of vulnerability, both on a community and national and regional level, are inequalities.
“Social and economic poverty make people more vulnerable; and histories of exploitation and colonialism in certain areas make people more vulnerable.
“So, no matter how much work they do to mitigate, this region is directly impacted by climate change.”
We need climate justice
“So a lot of what we are trying to do is to make the call not only for people in other countries to make donations and to be aware of what’s happening here, but to really link it to the issue of climate justice – because there’s no doubt in our minds here that that’s what's going on.
“There’s a willingness here not only to adapt but also to mitigate, [and] there’s a recognition that all countries are responsible for emissions and for reducing their emissions. But when we’re looking at the international negotiations, some of the political work [ie policy work] that UNES and the Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign [are doing] is to really pressure the high emissions countries to take responsbility for their history of emissions.”
The impacts of ‘climate colonialism’
“And [to take responsibility] for what people even claim is ‘climate colonialism’ – having taken over and ruined so much of the atmosphere, that then affects the most vulnerable countries.
“The impacts of this rain aren’t just going to occur this week. This is longstanding … all across the region there’s been a very dramatic loss of crops.
“And so many communities live off agriculture here, so this is going to have longstanding impacts not only to crops, but also infrastructural damage for these governments that have very little financial resources.”
This rainfall is not normal
“We are in what is naturally the rainy season – it actually should be wrapping up about now. But since this weather pattern has hit the area last Monday, it ebbs and flows in the urban area between light rain, occasionally stopping, and then very very heavy rains…
“And in different areas: on Saturday I went to the western department of Sonsonate, which is one of the heavily impacted areas, and it was more just constant, constant rainfall.
“After three or four days of this rain, [people] started saying ‘this isn’t what used to happen’. So even though we are in the natural rainy season, the amount, the volume of rain and the intensity of it, is not normal.”
People will need help
“The rains are forecasted to continue until Wednesday. Then it’s a question of waiting for things to dry out, which is also a concern for mosquitos and illnesses.
“And the cold front that’s coming, that is good so that the rain will stop. But also it’s going to be hard for people who have left behind their houses and have very little clothing.
“So there’s a lot of necessity here right now … Please keep us [the people in Central America] in mind.”
Maggie von Vogt is a Progressio development worker in El Salvador, working with UNES [the Salvadoran Movement for Ecological Unity]. Read more thoughts from Maggie about Tropical Storm 12E.
Photo: People walking through the flood. This photo was taken in San Francisco Menéndez, Ahuachapán, El Salvador, by former Progressio development worker Marcos Cerra. Read more about Marcos's work with Progressio in San Francisco Menéndez.