El Salvador confronts urban poverty

14 Jul 2009

Vista de asentamiento urbanoThirty-five years ago, Ana Iris Munoz’s grandmother left her home in the countryside of northern El Salvador for the capital city of San Salvador to seek out new and better opportunities for herself and her family. Today, Munoz lives with her mother and two small children in Zacamil colony in a home that measures four by five metres and is constructed with rusty sheet metal. The family shares the space with Munoz’s sister and her own family that she is raising. The community itself faces constant flooding and is precariously situated on the edge of a ravine that crumbles away every winter.

Munoz’s family is part of a greater pattern of internal migration that began reshaping the demographics of El Salvador some decades ago, as people began streaming into urban areas with the hope of attaining a better quality of life. Roughly a million and a half people now live in these ad-hoc urban settlements eking out an uncertain existence that has become even more exacerbated by the current global economic and financial crisis. This peri-urban San Salvador population now accounts for 58 percent of the Salvadoran population living in conditions of poverty and 27 percent of the country’s total population.

As a result, UNDP has worked with the Government of El Salvador to create and deliver to the President of El Salvador a proposal for a national programme to address urban poverty that attacks the problem on several fronts. Planned initiatives include the improvement of vulnerable communities through not just physical infrastructure projects but also the legalization of land rights and the strengthening of community organizations to ensure that improvements continue on their own. Provisions for educational opportunities, job training and employment make up a key part of the proposal, as do long-term plans to develop the government institutions from the central government down to the municipal and local levels.