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OPINION: El Salvador builds resilience in the face of a stormy future

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Recognising its extreme vulnerabilityVulnerability. Refers to the magnitude of harm that would result from a particular hazardous event. The concept recognises, for example, that different sub-types of a receptor may differ in their sensitivity to a particular level of hazard. Therefore climate vulnerability defines the extent to ... to climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or ..., El Salvador has made great strides in developing a National Strategy for Climate Change. Carolyn Fry and Gabriela Villamarin report.

El Salvador faces acute vulnerability to climate disasters. According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, almost 90% of its land area is at risk from such events, 95% of its population live in risk zones and 96% of its gross domestic product (GDP) is produced in risk zones[1]. In three years alone, climate-related events caused losses and damage amounting to US$1.3 billion[2]. The nation’s annual GDP is around US$23 billion.

In an effort to increase the resilience of its economy and people to climate-related events, El Salvador commissioned a projectProject is an intervention designed to achieve specific objectives within specified resources and implementation schedules, often within the framework of a broader program. (Glossary Monitoring and Evaluation Terms; MERG Monitoring & Evaluation Reference Group and UNAIDS) in 2011 to develop and implement a National Policy and Strategy for Climate Change, which culminated with the launch of the National Environmental Policy in June 2012 and the National Environmental Strategy in June 2013, both incorporating climate change goals. The government is now preparing Action Plans for putting the strategy into practice. CDKN’s support of local stakeholder dialogues, underpinned by studies undertaken by international experts, laid the foundations for this.

“The big achievement of this project has been to engage with different Ministries, such as Education, AgricultureCultivation of the ground and harvesting of crops and handling of livestock, the primary function is the provision of food and feed., Infrastructure and Treasury, and […] each of these Ministries has owned the development of [its] own climate change strategy and plans,” explains Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s Environment and Natural Resources Minister. “In the beginning there was a risk that all these strategies would require a huge and sole effort from MARN [Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales – the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources], which was not the case.”

With an area of around 20,000km2, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. It has steep topography, with many slopes exceeding 30 degrees, and short watersheds. Its one main river, the Lempa, has its headwaters and part of its course in neighbouring countries. Severe deforestation and soil erosion have made the landscape vulnerable to landslides and forest fires. These characteristics, coupled with severe fiscal constraints, make the nation highly susceptible to the impacts of extreme weather eventsExtreme weather describes weather phenomena that are at the extremes of the historical distribution, especially severe or unseasonal weather. (UKCIP). In 2010, losses to agriculture from floodingThe overflowing of the normal confines of a stream or other body of water, or the accumulation of water over areas that are not normally submerged. Floods include river (fluvial) floods, flash floods, urban floods, pluvial floods, sewer floods, coastal floods, and glacial lake outburst floods ... exceeded USD100 million, while those resulting from drought were USD38 million[3].

Since the 1990s, there has been an increase in the frequency and duration of storms, as well as a marked change in the pattern of their occurrence. Hurricanes used to strike El Salvador infrequently, only came from the Atlantic and were limited to the months of September and October. However, since the mid 1990s, such storms have occurred more frequently, originated in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and have struck in six different months of the year.

The El Salvador government created MARN in response to the increase in extreme weatherWeather refers to the state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind, and other meteorological conditions. (UKCIP) events and began promoting the integration of climate change into national policy. Initially this was aimed at fulfilling the country’s obligations after ratifying the UNFCCC and the Kyoto protocolThe Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, at the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC. It contains legally binding commitments, in addition to those included in the UNFCCC. Countries .... However, since Hurricane Ida in 2009, the government’s stance had shifted towards integrating risk reductionReduction of the likelihood over a specified time period of severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects ... into all areas of policy, including financial.

The findings from CDKN’s work contributed to a base document that laid the foundations for developing a National Strategy on Climate Change (NSCC). This NSCC was incorporated in the National Environment Strategy (NES), which comprised four strands: climate change; biodiversityThe total diversity of all organisms and ecosystems at various spatial scales (from genes to entire biomes). (IPCC); hydrological resources and environmental sanitation. Launched in June 2013, the NES stated that the main effort for the NSCC was “to reverse environmental degradation” in order to “reduce vulnerability to climate change.”

The ministry is now in the process of preparing Action Plans to implement its environmental strategies, which will involve a major landscape restoration effort. This has been provided for in the ministry’s flagship program, the National Program for EcosystemA system of living organisms interacting with each other and their physical environment. The boundaries of what could be called an ecosystem are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the focus of interest or study. Thus, the extent of an ecosystem may range from very small spatial scales to, ... and Landscape Restoration (PREP), which is currently being implemented. Bringing the programme to fruition requires MARN to enter into political agreements at inter-ministerial and sub-national levels, and significant funds will be needed to fulfil this massive transformation.

Ecosystem-based approachesCore to livelihoods approaches are a set of principles that underpin best practice in any development intervention: *People-centred *Responsive and participatory *Multi-level *Conducted in partnership * Sustainable *Dynamic of this type often introduce reforestation and conservation agriculture techniques. These contribute to mitigationMitigation refers to actions that reduce our contribution to the causes of climate change. This means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), through energy efficiency and using alternative forms of transport and energy.(UKCIP) by increasing carbon storageA process consisting of separation of carbon dioxide from industrial and energy-related sources, transport to a storage location, and long-term isolation from the atmosphere. (IPCC), while bolstering adaptationAdjustments in human and natural systems, in response to actual or expected climate stimuli or their effects, that moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. (IPPC) by reducing the scale of floodingsee flooding and landslides. MARN is now actively promoting the idea of linking PREP to international goals and commitments, for example, the Bonn Challenge, REDD+ and the 2020 Aichi Targets.

CDKN was originally commissioned to provide in-depth support to the National Strategy for Climate Change by providing research and analysis on waterClimate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass ..., agriculture, education, health and infrastructure. This brief was later widened to make it more flexible, so the team could respond to events occurring during the course of the project. The reality was that the start of the project coincided with a national emergency prompted by Tropical Depression 12–E; initial work was therefore aimed at helping Minister Rosa to develop a reconstruction plan.

This event placed issues of managing risk, reducing vulnerability and adapting to climate change on the national agenda at the highest political level. CDKN was subsequently able to carry out an in-depth investigation into the institutional capacity of MARN and SINAMA, the country’s inter-ministerial and inter-municipal platform for public environmental management and policy-making.[4] Although the government had made progress in improving its emergency response and reducing deaths from natural disasters, the team found that much work was needed to improve how it managed risks, particularly those associated with climate change. In particular, it found there was a need to strengthen the social, political and technical skills of the staff.

“Besides the traditional environmental operations of MARN, such as providing meteorological forecasts and issuing environmental licences, the Ministry needed to play a strategic role, linked to the Presidential Cabinet, and to coordinate SINAMA, which encompassed different ministries and over 250 municipalities,” explains Isabella Souza, CDKN’s former Project Manager. “This context required MARN and SINAMA to develop new institutional structures, and ensure its staff were prepared to deal with new situations. A technician, for example, should not talk only in technical terms when trying to negotiate an agreement with the mayor of a municipality severely impacted by extreme weather events. Climate compatible developmentClimate compatible development is development that minimises the harm caused by climate impacts, while maximising the many human development opportunities presented by transitions to a low emissions, resilient future. Charting a path towards climate compatible development will be a major ... and disaster risk reductionDenotes both a policy goal or objective, and the strategic and instrumental measures employed for anticipating future disaster risk; reducing existing exposure, hazard, or vulnerability; and improving resilience (IPCC-SREX, 2014). goals demanded that all stakeholdersThe stakeholder is a person, group, or entity who has a direct or indirect role and interest in the goals or objectives and implementation of a program/intervention and/or its evaluation. (Glossary Monitoring and Evaluation Terms; MERG Monitoring & Evaluation Reference Group and UNAIDS) develop new soft skills, as well as technical skills.”

With these needs in mind, CDKN has begun work on a second phase of support, which is now in progress. It has two aims. First, on an organisational level, the team hopes to strengthen MARN and SINAMA’s institutional coordination capacities so that they are more able to develop and implement policies that make El Salvador’s society and economy more resilient to climate change. Second, on an individual level, it aims to strengthen MARN and SINAMA’s human resourcesHuman capital includes household members, active labor, education, knowledge and skills.R&D expertise; Agricultural practices experience, Management practices / management experience (IFC, 2010) and to define staff competencies around roles in climate change development and disaster risk managementProcesses for designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies, policies, and measures to improve the understanding of disaster risk, foster disaster risk reduction and transfer, and promote continuous improvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery practices, with the explicit ....

Additionally, at a regional level, CDKN is helping to disseminate El Salvador’s dual mitigation and adaptation approach. The aim is to share the lessons learnedLearning from experience that is applicable to a generic situation rather than to a specific circumstance. (UNDP)Generalizations based on evaluation experiences with projects, programs, or policies that abstract from the specific circumstances to broader situations. Frequently, lessons highlight ... and benefits of combining mitigation efforts with adaptation approaches with other Central American countries, as an example of climate compatible development in practice.

As well as laying out clear ambitions for MARN and SINAMA, El Salvador’s government has put its money where its mouth is by the Ministry of the Treasury’s explicitly including climate adaptationAdjustments in human and natural systems, in response to actual or expected climate stimuli or their effects, that moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. (IPPC) as one of the major concerns when developing the national budget. A national priority confirmed in the 2013 Budget Policy is: “Halting environmental degradation and promoting climate change adaptation” (Ministerio de Hacienda (Ministry of Finance), 2012). In time, the hope is that El Salvador’s mitigation and adaptation efforts will stand as an example to other countries in Central America and beyond, of the benefits of placing climate change at the heart of government policy.

 

 


[1] Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, 2010: 96. Cited in Winds of change for facing climate change in El Salvador: Foundations for a National Strategy, 2012.

[2] Winds of change for facing climate change in El Salvador: Foundations for a National Strategy, 2012.

[3] Winds of change for facing climate change in El Salvador: Foundations for a National Strategy, 2012.

[4]The Environmental Law established SINAMA: the National Environmental Management System, with the purpose of “establishing, operating and maintaining the principles, standards, programming, direction and coordination for State-run environmental management in in public sector agencies.” To comply with the Environmental Law, all ministries, municipalities and autonomous institutions should have environmental units that make up the SINAMA operational level. The units respond directly to senior management of each entity or institution.(Described in the National Environmental Policy, section 7, p. 30)

 

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