El Salvador: Hunger Closes In As Foreign Cash Dries Up

Norma López, 33, last sent money home to her mother in early 2008. That last ‘remittance’ was US$60 -- US$40 less than what she used to send. Amid the economic downturn in the United States, her housekeeping work was cut from six hours a day to two.

By Tania Moreno

SAN SALVADOR -- With the money she sent from the US, Norma used to be able to cover the food, health, utility services and other needs of her family in El Salvador. Due to effects of the financial crisis, her income now barely covers her personal expenses.

For her mother and children in the town of Guatajiagua, in eastern El Salvador, hunger is only a step away. Norma’s 70-year-old mother, Petronila Lopez, continues to work with black mud earthenware. It’s a craft that has provided for her own subsistence and to raise her four children. Using only her hands and creativity, Petronila produces a dozen “comales” in four days for which she will be paid US$2.50 

petronila carrying a black mud earthenware

"No other choice"

“It is difficult at my age, sometimes arthritis prevents me from working well, but I have no other choice, it is the only thing I can do. I go the nearby towns to sell the pots and “comales” and from what I sell I can eat.”

Petronila´s four grandchildren – Norma’s own kids -- are beneficiaries of a WFP-supported School Feeding programme which helps the household keep going and helps improve their nutritional intake. The food they receive is a great relief for us and happiness for the children because they are more alive and therefore able to study.”

The López family’s story is one of the thousands of stories of poor, food-insecure Salvadorans that are being negatively affected by the reduction of remittances as a result of the economic downturn in the United States.

More than a billion hungry

Recent statistics issued by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization cited falling remittances as one of the reasons why the number of hungry in the world will exceed 1 billion this year, for the first time in history. Read related story

Remittances fell by US$120 million during the last quarter of 2008 in El Salvador compared to the same period the previous year. This directly impacts the 28% of the adult population that depends on remittances to support the household’s budget. Of this 28%, over half live in rural areas.

For these people, social safety nets such as school feeding projects – where kids are guaranteed at least one nutritional meal a day – are a vital way of staving off chronic malnutrition and stopping families being pushed over the brink.