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Extreme floods 'the new normal' in El Salvador, minister says

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 17 Nov 2011 15:51 GMT
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LONDON (AlertNet) – For most of the last half-century, weather disasters have hit El Salvador at a predictable pace – about one or two a decade. 

In the last three years, however, the Central American nation has been slammed by three extreme rainy seasons in a row that have cost lives, left large parts of the country underwater and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and crops.

 “Previously this was something extraordinary. Now it is the new normal,” Herman Rosa, El Salvador’s minister of environment and natural resources, told AlertNet in a telephone interview from San Salvador.

That sobering realization is prompting El Salvador not just to integrate climate adaptation planning for the first time into a wide range of national ministries – agriculture, health, water management – but to lead an impassioned push for quicker international action to curb climate change and deal with its impacts. 

“Many people think of climate change as a problem that will crop up some decades from now, if we don’t do something urgently. And when you frame it that way, there is no sense of urgency at all,” Rosa said.

“But I think that dangerous anthropogenic (man made) climate interference is already with us,” said Rosa, who also serves as president of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development, and who will be at the upcoming U.N. climate talks in Durban to push for action on emissions reductions and funding for adaptation to climate change. 

‘DRAGGING OUR FEET’

In El Salvador, as in many parts of the world, “something seems to be happening that wasn’t happening before” in terms of changes in weather patterns, he said. But “we are still dragging our feet, thinking we have time”. 

“Everything else seems to be more important – the financial crisis, different problems we have around the world. But this is much more important than any financial crisis, because the consequences of this will not go away. A financial crisis will pass away, but we will have to live with the consequences of our collective inaction in this area,” he warned. 

At the Durban climate talks, which begin this month, reaching commitments to reduce emissions must be the first priority, Rosa said. “If we don’t do serious cuts, things will get much, much worse.”

These U.N.-led negotiations, he said, “have a lot to do with how bad we want the future to be, how much worse than it is already”. 

But ensuring that climate finance is put in place to help countries like El Salvador who are already suffering serious problems from shifting weather patterns is also crucial, he said. 

El Salvador faces a $2 billion reconstruction bill from its latest flooding and landslide disaster, which began in October and has destroyed 80 percent of the country’s crops, he said. The crisis has already slashed predictions for GDP growth in the country by a point, from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent this year. 

ADAPTATION AND LOSSES

“We need a mechanism to address loss and damage,” Rosa said. “We need serious climate finance. And we need the resources to support adaptation investment in the immediate future, because adaptation is now our top priority. If we don’t invest seriously in adaptation now, the losses in the years to come will be much, much greater.” 

The good news in El Salvador is that top politicians – right up to the president – now understand that climate change “is definitely happening to us” and that action is needed now, he said. 

Normally, “no politician will make an important decision that will bring change when he or she is physically or politically dead”, he said. As a result of that, and a still widespread belief that climate change is a problem of the distant future, bringing action to curb and adapt to climate change has been excruciatingly difficult, he said. 

“We are not up to the challenge because we think we have time,” Rosa said. “But we definitely do not have time.”

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