Just hanging on: Life in the Dry Corridor

Fatima Rodríguez watches her younger son play. “Sometimes my husband and I have to go without food so the children can eat,” she says. A cash payment enabled her to buy food, medicine, and vitamins for her family. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

For families on the margins, climate change and the coronavirus are translating into hunger and malnutrition.

Even in the days when seasonal temperatures and rains were predictable, there were countless small-scale farmers in El Salvador who struggled to feed their families.

“We eat two meals a day. Sometimes three. It’s always beans and tortillas. We eat vegetables about once a month,” says Fatima Rodríguez, the pregnant mother of two children. “Sometimes my husband and I have to go without food so the children can eat.”

“We can get medical care at the clinic,” she adds, “but we don’t always have enough money for the bus, which costs 50 cents each way.”

Now, with the climate crisis in full swing, drought has struck five years in a row, and the basic crops that sustain farm families have withered on their stalks and vines. The result is malnutrition, deepening poverty, and in many cases migration. Oxfam’s program in the department of San Miguel, where Rodríguez and her family live, is mainly focused on reducing disaster risks—on improving farm production, for example. But conditions were so harsh that we also identified 864 families in our project area that were acutely affected by the drought of 2019 and provided them with bags of fortified flour as well as cash payments—funds that families could use on whatever they needed most urgently.

Along with cash payments, Oxfam and partners provided families in need with fortified flour. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

Rodríguez was one recipient of the aid. The flexible nature of the cash payments enabled her to buy not only beans, corn, rice, and milk, but also medicine and vitamins. Thanks to the food, she said, her younger son, who was malnourished at the start, began gaining weight.

In 2020, the country faced crisis upon crisis—the spread of COVID-19 and the effects of powerful storms. Again, Oxfam and our partners are distributing cash—this time to 5,000 families—to help them buy food, repair their homes, and meet other basic needs.

Like impoverished parents all over the world, Rodríguez and her children live each day in harm’s way, vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change, the coronavirus, and other deadly hazards. When she reflects on what it means to be a mother with no money to spare, she speaks for them all: “We have to make hard choices.”

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