Failure to help the victims of last month’s floods in El Salvador could lead to poverty, violence and more immigration to the United States, according to El Salvador’s first lady and secretary of social inclusion, Vanda Pignato.
Pignato visited Washington last week to plead for humanitarian aid for her rain-battered country.
“If we don’t respond immediately to those families, helping them rebuild their homes, giving them food and assisting them with preparing the land for new crops, they will leave,” she said. “They won’t have another alternative than to migrate. . . . We need to stop that now.”
Ten days of heavy rains in October destroyed crops and towns in Central America, hitting El Salvador particularly hard. The Associated Press reported that 105 people were killed in the deluge, which topped 60 inches.
A tropical depression affected more than 300,000 Salvadorans and about 70 percent of the country, damaging 80 percent of the country’s roads and destroying 250,000 acres of crops, according to government officials there.
Salvadoran officials say the rain was twice the amount of that brought by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Thirty-four people have died in El Salvador, they said.
On Monday, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes reported that the losses totaled $840 million, or 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The Salvadoran government estimates the cost of reconstruction at $1.5 billion.
“We can’t deal with this alone,” Pignato said in Spanish. “We need the international help.”
Pignato, a native of Brazil who moved to El Salvador in 1992, leads the country’s Department of Social Inclusion, which watches over family and human rights.
Known as a promoter of gender equality, Pignato said her mission in this crisis is to inform the world about the devastation in El Salvador.
During her visit last week to members of Congress, she asked them to consider making an allocation in the 2012 budget for her country’s rehabilitation. As a result of her visit, a bipartisan congressional delegation is expected to visit El Salvador this week to see the damage and meet with Funes.
Pignato said El Salvador needs more than money, including machinery such as helicopters, tractors and speedboats. She also encouraged Salvadoran natives in the United States to lobby government officials for help.
In the Washington region, the Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran communities have been collecting cash, new clothes and medicine to help flooding victims in Central America.
The United Nations, the United States and other countries have responded with emergency aid.
The Salvadoran government last week made a request to the State Department for $50 million to provide humanitarian aid to farmers and small businesses affected by the flooding and to relocate families in high-risk areas. The Central American countries as a region have also requested aid from the United States.
In addition, El Salvador has asked the United States for an extension of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans who are in the country illegally. The government wants the Obama administration to reduce the number of deportations to El Salvador.
The country is moving toward recovery, Pignato said, but she fears the devastation could hinder the country’s progress — and some of her initiatives.
Pignato proudly talks about Ciudad Mujer, a center where women get specialized services, including health care and financial coaching. It opened in March. She has been recognized by the international community for that effort, and her goal is to open six more centers across the country before her husband’s tenure ends.
But that might be slowed down, she said, lamenting the current need to fix the country’s infrastructure and agricultural base. The tragedy, she said, has exposed El Salvador’s environmental, economic and social vulnerabilities.
“Together those three can be more devastating than the war,” she said.
About 75,000 people were killed in the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.