San Salvador, October 16, 2001 – Today an international delegation of prominent environmentalists completed a three-day mission to assess the impacts of human-triggered environmental disasters in El Salvador. They are seeking to compare such disasters to those in other developing countries and highlight solutions to increasingly urgent environmental crises.

“The world’s attention is understandably gripped by the current conflict. However, we believe that natural disasters with unnatural origins are major contributors to global insecurity,” said Ricardo Navarro, a doctorate of engineering and Chair of the million-member environmental network Friends of the Earth. “We believe true international security can only be achieved if we live within environmental limits, and promote just societies and sustainable economies,” continued Navarro, a recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and Global 500 Award.

The number of people affected by human-triggered environmental disasters is massive and rising — and El Salvador is no exception. A January 2001 earthquake there killed 2000 people, 25 per cent of them buried by a mountain landslide.

“Preventing earthquakes is obviously beyond our control,” said Dr. Navarro, “But if not for deforestation and ill-conceived development of the type we campaigned against for eight years at La Cordillera El B·lsamo, I’m convinced the human toll would have been significantly lower.”

The El Salvadorian situation is echoed around the developing world. According to the 2001 World Disasters Report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a major cause of the rising number of people affected by disasters is the increase in the number of hydro-meteorological disasters such as floods, wind storms and droughts.

“Natural disasters, in many cases, are simply manifestations of deeper, structural problems, namely climate change, unsustainable development, and unchecked economic globalization,” said Dr. Otto Sieber, biologist and Director of Switzerland’s well-known environmental organization Pro Natura, part of the Friends of the Earth network. Natural disasters in 1998 created 58 per cent of the world’s refugees [1] , exceeding those displaced by war for the first time. In 2000, the number of people affected by disasters went up to 256 million, compared with an average from 1991 to 2000 of 211 million per year. [2 ]

Climate change increasingly contributes to natural disasters, including flooding from sea level rise, forest fires and extreme weather events. Climate research suggests that climate change makes El Nino events more frequent and severe. In El Salvador, the 1997 El Nino event generated serious droughts that adversely affected most agricultural areas. It resulted in forest fires that triggered soil erosion and air pollution, and even forced closure of the international airport due to reduced visibility from smoke particles. The 1998 Hurricane Mitch, though touching only briefly in El Salvador, killed 250 people and inundated homes and agricultural areas.

“We are sounding the alarm, but we also have solutions. Our challenge is to communicate them.” said Sieber.

In addition to visiting disaster sites in El Salvador, the delegation will examine solutions in the form of local and national environmental and social projects that include reforestation and erosion control, management of solid wastes, sustainable transportation, sea turtle conservation, use of medicinal plants and promotion of nutritious crops (including amaranth, a drought-tolerant grain packed with minerals and vitamins, all but eradicated by the Spanish conquerors but now undergoing a resurgence in its 7,000 year history of cultivation on the continent) .

“The projects we see here typify the Friends of the Earth network in its grassroots approach to finding and carrying out workable solutions to environmental and social problems,” says Elias Diaz, Director of Sobrevivencia/FoE Paraguay.

“These projects in El Salvador — and across the network — are living, working testaments that a sustainable future is possible,” said Milegros Ballesteros, Associate Executive Director of Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center/FoE Philippines. “They are beacons of hope for a troubled world.”

The environment delegation includes individuals from: the Philippines, Paraguay, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Ricardo Navarro phone: +503 220 0046, +503 220 6479 (office) +503 314 0819 (home)

For more information:
toward sustainable economies
foei 30th anniversary report outlining solutions

1 World Disasters Report 1999, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
2 World Disasters Report 2001, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.