Vulnerability and Vision in El Salvador

Lisbeth Barahona

Sometimes, when talking about the environment, I imagine when our ancestors ruled this land. It’s like an image from our history books — the forests, jungles, precious metals and minerals, exotic animals, seeds and plants, and I associate that feeling with time spent in nature, a feeling of richness and peace, the way it feels at the very beautiful beaches in El Litoral and in La Costa del Sol, or at the top of the highest pyramid in Tikal, Peten Jungle in Guatemala.

Then I think of the differences between now and then.

In my nation — a small, highly populated developing country which has gone through so much — it is urgent to advocate for sound and coherent environmental practices.

We need to worry about air quality, water access, deforestation, solid waste management, and infrastructure risk prevention, considering El Salvador’s vulnerability to earthquakes.

The major source of emissions is vehicular traffic. An estimated 75 percent of autos are more than ten years old, generally carrying very deficient gas emission control systems.

The country is proving vulnerable to global climate change. Our winter season, normally characterized by rain, is slowly changing. Sometimes rain is delayed, and the summer or dry season may be longer than expected, or injuring crops and agriculture. There is the feeling of having no voice on the world stage regarding global warming.

But we are taking control of our own problems. After many years of war, a peace treaty was signed in 1992. five years later the office of ministry of Environment was created.

We had a previous history of environmental plagues — the widespread use of pesticides in cotton fields, health problems of workers in these fields, the devastation of lands during the armed conflict, and the loss of many lives to war. But after the peace treaty, our country started a new chapter in the restoration and care of the environment, a new struggle to achieve sustainable practices and environmental improvements.

The nation has taken a few small steps in approaching global warming, considering El Salvador is only 8,100 square miles (smaller than New Hampshire). It has adopted the united Nations Convention on Climate Change, the Protocol of Kyoto, the Vienna Convention regarding the Protection of Ozone Layer, the montreal Convention on Ozone Depleting Substances, and a Regional Convention on Climate Change.

The challenge for a small country is to move from developing to developed, seeking a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability, remembering the “environment” is not limited to natural resources, air, and water, but includes reducing poverty, increasing education.

The solution must include finding the will and conviction, a new sense of environmental commitment, a sense of world responsibility. We could lose the precious things God has given us on this earth to share responsibly.

Even though nature itself is diverse, nature’s cycles keep earth perfectly in balance. Shifts in temperature, outbreaks of epidemic disease, the loss of species and so many other familiar trends offer clear objective indicators that human beings have altered in many ways earth’s wise natural cycles.

If it continues, it is because our own misuse of power as human beings for all the wrong purposes, a lack of humility in realizing that we are in God’s creation, which in essence is rich and healthy, not poor and deteriorating.

Still there is hope – the will to do good things, new technology worldwide, new policies. God has provided the resources we need to have dignified and fulfilling lives. Surely God wants these resources to be more equally distributed between countries and their people.

Lisbeth Barahona is a chemical engineer in San Salvador, El Salvador, and a member of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network and the International Anglican Women’s Network.