Although free from civil war and out of the international spotlight at present, El Salvador is facing a problem that threatens more permanent damage than the war - ecological devastation. The once lush nation is turning into a desert, throttled by a severe water shortage and rising incidences of respiratory diseases due to air pollution.
"Our groundwater is running out, our surface water is increasingly polluted and we have less than two per cent of our forest cover left," said Richard Navarro, director of the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology, a prominent ecology group in the country. "The most dangerous thing a child can do in El Salvador is breathe. We will have to take radical measures if we want El Salvador to live," added Navarro.
The nation currently ranks behind Haiti as the most deforested country in the western hemisphere. Only about 1.5 per cent of its tropical forest cover is left and about seven per cent more of the land is protected to a certain extent by coffee plantations. But these too are disappearing at an alarming rate. Navarro warned, "Water is a serious problem and it will only get worse." He added, "Just in the capital, the subterranean water supplies drop a metre a year, and sooner or later those aquifers will run dry."
According to a 1995 study, regarded as the most reliable to date, the urban area of San Salvador, the capital city, has 30 per cent of the nation's population. "The state of the Salvadoran environment and its ongoing degradation are a threat to the economic and political stability of the nation. It is a serious impediment to future development," said the study.