Water scarcity in the face of record rain fall

Photograph source: World Food Programme


Tim of Tim’s El Salvador Blog recently posted a summary of the water situation in El Salvador that is striking.

“The availability of healthy water continues to be a serious challenge for El Salvador, and the Deluge of 2011 has only made it worse.”

The rest of the post outlines facts that affect the water situation in El Salvador such as:

  • 10,186 wells were destroyed or contaminated by the flooding
  • 28,862 latrines were damaged in the flooding
  • “…water supply in El Salvador is hovering on the threshold of 1,700 cubic metres of water per person per year, the upper limit for the definition of water stress. ” IPS
  • “…only two percent of the rivers contain water that can be made fit for human consumption, or used for irrigation or recreational activities.” IPS
  • “…92.9 percent of the urban population has piped water, but the proportion in rural areas is only 63.9 percent.” IPS

The fact that a high amount of rain falls on El Salvador every year yet there is a shortage of water for Salvadorans in their homes seems like an opportunity to incorporate rainwater catchment strategies. There are several ways for people to capture water for safe use in this climate.

  • Infiltrate water that falls on impervious surfaces such as roofs and patios.
  • Capture water in a tank or cistern that falls on impervious surfaces today for use tomorrow.
  • Use untreated rain water to irrigate plants, wash cars or flush toilets
  • Filter and treat water for use in showers and sinks outside the kitchen
  • Treat water for use in the kitchen and for drinking
  • Capture large amounts of water during the rainy season for use during the dry season

climate change

registered rain fall during 168 hours of tropical depression in El Salvador - source SNET

registered rain fall during 168 hours of tropical depression in El Salvador - source SNET

Source: SNET

Now, more than ever, it is time to take the environment seriously. All of Central America has suffered during the last week of unprecedented rains. More than 47 inches of rain has fallen on the country during the last week and it is still raining. This is a record amount for El Salvador and it is greater than the 39 inches that fell during Hurricane Mitch in 1998. As a comparison, Minneapolis receives an average of 32 inches of rain per year.

There are preventative measures in existence today that can help mitigate environmental risks. It is time to start using them!

According to the article entitled Lluvias sobre América Central son efecto del cambio climático (Central American rains are an effect of climate change), the rain fall phenomenon in Central America during the last week was caused by climate change:

“Climate change is not something that is coming, we are suffering it, this rain storm is more evidence of the vulnerability that is bringing us to unknown levels of being affected, with which our society are going to have to live through.” , declared Raúl Artiga to the AFP, technician of the Central American Commission of environment and development (CCAD).

La Prensa Gráfica

Herman Rosa Chavez, the Minister of Environment in El Salvador said,

“We have climactic disorder, the 60s and 70s had the impact of one atmospheric phenomenon in every decade, then in the eighties there were two, in the 90s four, between 2000 and 2010 and were seven events and this new decade we have the first event and the question is how many are going to be?”, explained Rosa Chávez.

La Prensa Gráfica

la Málaga

La Málaga, a location in San Salvador that is highly vulnerable to floods has been affected by the storms this week. Here is a photo of la Málaga on Monday, October 10th at about 4:40 p.m. The photograph of the cover of Más was taken on Saturday, October 15th.

la Málaga, San Salvador on October 10th, 2011

la Málaga, San Salvador on October 10th, 2011

la Málaga, San Salvador on October 15th, 2011

la Málaga, San Salvador on October 15th, 2011

La Málaga is a fairly densely populated community that is unfortunately located at a hydrological bottle neck in San Salvador. Runoff coming down the San Salvador volcano from the Santa Tecla area fills streams as it gathers speed. La Málaga is a bend in those rivers and is quite narrow considering the quantity of water that needs to flow through there during a storm surge.

Bad or good timing?

Tutinichapa II - a three year old landslide

Tutinichapa II - a three year old landslide

I am fortunate enough to be in El Salvador right now gathering information to inform my thesis. Although it stopped raining today around 4:00 where I am, it has been raining for more than 48 hours in El Salvador.

I came to El Salvador because I am interested in a metropolitan-wide sinkhole condition that is caused by human-made water systems. There are three types of systems: potable water, sewer and storm water systems. Right now the storm water systems are overflowing and causing new sinkholes to form, tearing down bridges and flooding communities.

The emergency has thrown a wrench into some of my plans because my guides are busy attending to the emergency and it isn’t exactly a great idea to go to a community that is prone to storm water related disasters. I will say that is is eye opening to see this quantity of water fall in person. I hope that people are able to stay out of harm’s way.

Tim of Tim’s El Salvador Blog has a well written post about the storm in English.

ELEA 2011 – El Salvador

I will be presenting research regarding sinkholes in the Metropolitan Area of San Salvador at the ELEA 2011 conference in San Salvador. Here is the very brief brief of the project:

San Salvador, a city of 1.6 million inhabitants, is the capital of El Salvador. Rapid growth, volcanic soil conditions, natural and human made hydrological systems, seismic activity and aging infrastructure contribute to an endemic sinkhole problem that is consuming the city. Pre-settlement geological and hydrological conditions allowed storm water to flow in braided rivers that changed course throughout the rainy and dry seasons. Human development in San Salvador increased impermeable surfaces, decreased flexibility in surface water ways and created human-made, underground water systems. These systems are the pipes that carry water to and remove water from buildings. The current social practice of using water in buildings is causing the city to sink.

Redesigning and rebuilding San Salvador’s water use network is not enough to prevent the city from sinking. Individuals, businesses and families will need to change how they use water in order to make a systematic change that will save the city. Rainwater harvesting and waste composting are systems that can slow the damage. The largest question is, How will the cultural revolution gain momentum to convince people to change their way of life?

My Master of Science in Architecture, Sustainable Design thesis topic will investigate strategies to mitigate the sinkhole disaster in San Salvador using existing technologies to capture, treat and distribute water at the building level. San Salvador is a city that is faced with the very real danger of sinkholes and they are well poised adopt more sustainable practices in terms of water and energy in their buildings. What can we learn from Salvadorans that can apply to cities that are not in eminent danger in order to encourage mass adoption of more sustainable practices?