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As El Salvador faces the double impact of hurricanes and COVID-19, NGOs step in

30 Dec 2020


After Tropical Storm Amanda in June, some 110 families from Tacuba received hygiene kits and tarpaulins from Oxfam, PROVIDA and CORDES with funds from ECHO. © Oxfam/Valerie Caamano Fondeur

By Veronique Durroux-Malpartida, Head of the Information Unit in OCHA ROLAC

Early forecasts warned that the 2020 hurricane season in the Atlantic would be very active, and for El Salvador, the impacts were felt early in the season.

In June, tropical storms Amanda and Cristóbal generated landslides and floods throughout the country, killing 30 people and causing significant material damage. More than 149,000 people were directly affected. As a result, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that more than 330,000 people were facing severe food insecurity.

Then on 29 October, a landslide left 9 people dead and 105 affected families in Nejapa in the department of San Salvador. And on 2 November, Civil Protection issued a national red alert due to the formation of Hurricane Eta, which sent more than 2,200 people to shelters.

These countrywide consecutive events have exacerbated the needs and vulnerabilities generated by COVID-19. If the Humanitarian Needs Overview had identified some 643,000 people in need in the country before the start of the COVID pandemic, the coronavirus emergency raised the total number to 1.7 million.  

The main challenge met by humanitarian responders during the double emergency has to do with the strict mobility restrictions that made it difficult to access communities and families, while adding all the necessary distance and hygiene measures to prevent COVID-19.

Mobility restrictions not only affected aid delivery; they also presented a challenge in assessing damages and needs, and in targeting and selecting the most vulnerable people for assistance. To overcome that challenge, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Save the Children relied on local partners to carry out the damage and needs assessment and trained them on the eligibility criteria of the families.

The NGO provided humanitarian assistance to some 71,000 people in prioritized areas in response to the double impact, focusing on supporting the national health and protection system, especially of children and adolescents, and helping vulnerable families as they were losing their livelihoods. To do so, they worked with national authorities, and UN agencies and NGOs from the Humanitarian Country Team, providing hygiene kits and cash transfers, non-food items, as well as psychological support and agricultural technical assistance.

Save the Children carried out joint actions with other organizations that make up the Humanitarian Country Team. Along with PROVIDA, World Vision, Plan International, Catholic Relief Services and Oxfam, they activated the Start Network funds twice, once in May to respond to an increase in gender-based violence as a consequence of COVID-19, and again in June as a first rapid response to the impact of Tropical Storm Amanda that helped 15,600 people.

Fumigation for vector control with the participation of the communities. © Oxfam

World Vision also mobilized to respond to needs related to food, shelter and personal hygiene and protection to prevent the spread of COVID-19, among other diseases. Through the Start Fund project, they provided assistance to 650 families. “The benefits to the affected families represented an aid for those who suffered material losses and were even left without food. Because of the quarantine, many were left without their jobs or income,” said Marco Mena, Start Fund project facilitator and now project coordinator of Emergency Response Wash COVID-19 of World Vision El Salvador.

The multipurpose funds delivered through the Start Fund allowed families to stock up on food products and some were even able to repay loans they had purchased for some needs generated by the emergency. They also received personal protection equipment against COVID-19.

In the region called the Dry Corridor, Oxfam has been providing humanitarian aid to affected families, including technical assistance and inputs for short-term agricultural production, as a follow-up to drought response programmes. Many families are already harvesting their own food, which means a valuable contribution to their economy and food during quarantine because of COVID-19.

El Salvador received an allocation of US$3 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in response to the tropical storms, which have allowed the NGOs to implement their projects.

Thanks to the collaboration between Save the Children, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and WFP, the funds enabled some 2,800 families to receive a corn farming kit and another 2,370 families to benefit from unconditional cash transfers.

Esperanza and her children were among the families from the communities in the departments of La Paz and Sonsonate, who benefited from the delivery of housing improvement kits by Save the Children after they were affected by Tropical Storms Amanda and Cristobal. © Save the Children/Martin Sánchez

Save the Children was also able to distribute educational material on protection to children, women and other vulnerable groups. The NGO also helped families rebuild their damaged houses by providing them with home improvement kits. Esperanza, a mother of two in the department of La Paz, lives in a small house with dirt floors and tin walls and roof. After it rained for eight consecutive days, the slates fell.

“We just felt like we were going to drown and didn’t know what to do. After the storm passed, the house was flooded for about 15 days,” she explained. “It took a while for it to dry up. Now I am happy, because we were able to fix it.”