On November 7th torrential rains caused massive flooding throughout El Salvador after Hurricane Ida swept through the region. For WFP's Central American Centre for Humanitarian Response based near San Salvador it was the first time they were faced with responding to a national disaster. For years the unit based at the Aeropuerto Internacional de Comalapa has assisted with disaster and relief operations for countries in the region. In 2008 they provided airlifts into Cuba and Haiti following Hurricane Gustav & Ike while in other years overland convoys have been sent to Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama. As the storms swept through the country earlier this month they caused 12 major rivers to overflow. In turn, those rivers damaged 41 bridges and destroyed 14 more. In all 53 roadways were made impassable. The only chance for getting relief items into the hardest hit areas was by helicopter.
Working closely with both El Salvador's Civil Protection Force and the United States Southern Command based in Honduras the WFP team supported air operations launched by the US military. They also assisted the US government by receiving a shipment of emergency shelters that arrived on a flight chartered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Typically, the Centre stocks primarily High Energy Biscuits (HEB's), which are available for quick regional deployments. The HEB's complement the stocks of non-food items stored at the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) base in Panama which is the Centre's logistical partner in the region. On this occasion the warehouse received and dispatched mattresses, shelter materials, water, food and an assortment of other goods. WFP's partners in the region, including Oxfam America and UNFPA also move goods through the hub.
The warehouses are located just meters from the main runway at the international airport in Comalapa, which is about 35km from San Salvador, and made available to WFP, free of charge, by El Salvador's Ministry of Defense. Established in 2006 the idea was initially to dispatch goods overland utilizing El Salvador's suitable road network and take advantage of its close proximity to other Central American nations. It is estimated that overland responses are 10 times cheaper than airlifts into the region and that the same land convoys can still reach beneficiaries within 48-72 hours. The positive working relationship WFP has with the El Salvadoran government makes operating the hub a fairly trouble free activity. When not being used for response activities the Centre serves as a training facility where local
and regional logistics trainings take place. In response to the recent emergency, the team has dispatched 6.5 tonnes of HEB's and 24,000 litres of water to locations throughout El Salvador. That is in addition to the mattresses, shelter and construction materials handled for other agencies. As the emergency work slowly gives way to more routine operational activities the Centre is taking stock of their inventory with an eye to future events that are, most likely, just around the corner.
Special thanks to Andrew Stanhope, Gladys Canas, Adrian Storbeck and the entire WFP El Salvador team!