Environmental Problems in El Salvador

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With a total land mass of just 8,124 square miles, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. Like many of its’ neighboring countries, it possesses very few natural resources. Since the nation’s economy is based predominantly on agriculture, it’s no surprise that its’ citizens often experience “resource roller coasters”. In addition, its’ long history of inappropriate land tenure and ownership practices date all the way back to colonialism. Even more strikingly, “sixty percent of El Salvador’s population is expected to live in the capital by 2010.” As a result, El Salvador has to deal with continuing environmental problems. The fact that the nation lies along the Pacific Ring of fire doesn’t help either, which subjects the country to frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. The environmental problems that El Salvador continually struggles with are deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, contamination and lack of bio-diversity.

El Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin American after Haiti. In fact, nearly eighty five percent of its forest has disappeared since the 1960's. Today, less than 6,000 hectares are now considered to be primary forest. Deforestation in El Salvador occurs as a result of timber exploitation for fuel. The nation’s high population relies heavily on the collection of fuel wood and subsistence hunting and agriculture. Since the end of the 1990's, the country’s deforestation rate has increased by eighteen percent. The environmental, social and economic effects of deforestation have been nothing short of devastating. To date, more than fifty percent of El Salvador isn’t even suitable for food cultivation. In addition, much of the country suffers from severe soil erosion. The massive deforestation that the nation has experienced has dislodged the top soil and has even changed the climate according to environmental experts. What used to be a heavily wooded region is now more like a desert. Deforestation is so severe in El Salvador that it has forced people into the capital city of San Salvador, where overcrowding has caused problems such as smog. “At least 11,000 Salvadoran children die every year because of respiratory ailments believed related to air pollution, according to one study.” Although the El Salvadoran government has attempted to respond to the problem of deforestation, they have not been particularly successful. They have created deforestation laws, but due to lack of funds and management, the laws often go unenforced. In addition, soil erosion and infertility are quite prevalent in El Salvador. These problems stem mostly from poor agricultural practices. Farmers typically use a “slash and burn” farming method, which consists of cutting and burning down forests in order to use the areas for agriculture. This method destroys all vegetation and leaves the surrounding soil vulnerable to extreme erosion. Unfortunately, since it is becoming more and more difficult to find land that is suitable for cultivation, farmers have no choice but to do this. Farming is their livelihood and quite frankly they will do anything to survive. What’s even more disheartening is the fact that the land that is suitable for cultivation has already been bought to use for construction of maquilas. In some cases, soil erosion has even buried communities in landslides and floods have submerged large areas of flat land. The soil is also unable to retain humidity causing drought conditions in the dry season. Most agricultural soil has even been acidified due to the irrational use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and other forms of pollution. Luckily, the government has responded to this problem and is encouraging farmers to take advantage of improved agricultural technologies. These technologies include planting deep rooted grasses and trees on hillsides to control soil erosion. However, farmers should not expect much financial assistance to take...
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