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Combating Climate Change by Building Resilient Communities

We believe that local communities are in the best position to build peace, sustain livelihoods, and ensure the viability of their resources.

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Climate change is a reality in El Salvador. As vulnerable coastal communities face environmental degradation, dwindling resources, and a breakdown in security, they must come up with innovative solutions to ensure sustainable income sources, protect natural resources, and rebuild community cohesion. Climate change is a global problem with local consequences, and local organizations are on the front-lines of confronting the problem. Local organizations are the first to respond to emergencies such as violent storms and floods, and also represent the most vulnerable communities when they need help the most. EcoViva will work with the Mangrove Association to strengthen social and economic resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate by mitigating the effects of flooding and drought, providing technical assistance to ensure long-term livelihoods, and building local capacity to promote climate-smart, peaceful communities. We will enable communities to become more climate resilient, integrate climate preparedness strategies into existing risk management and disaster preparedness plans, improve long-term infrastructure and water supply plans, and protect natural resources, economic livelihoods, and people from an intensifying climate. We will strengthen local solutions to the immediate effects of a changing climate by organizing community efforts to restore 120 acres of mangrove forest that provide protection from severe weather events, protect critical habitat and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. We will provide funding, alliance-building and technical support to enforce and expand clear, community-based regulations for environmental protection and sustainable fishery practices that mitigate climate change impacts and ensure long-term livelihoods. We will promote a culture of peace through positive community-building events, workshops, and a regional march for peace that brings people together to fight for a common cause: peace, prosperity, and the planet.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries for this project are traditionally under-served rural communities along the coast of El Salvador. EcoViva partners with over 125 historically underserved rural communities in the Bajo Lempa, a region surrounding the Bay of Jiquilisco, in the department of Usulután, El Salvador. The majority of the over 7,000 families and 35,000 people residing in the area subsist on small-scale agriculture and artisanal fisheries that are dependent on the health of the coastal environment. Nearly 45% of these rural households live in poverty, while a third of them suffer from extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day. Provided few alternatives in a stagnant rural economy, this population subsists on small-scale agriculture and artisanal fisheries, including a variety of fish, shrimp, shellfish, and land crabs, that are dependent on the health of the natural environment.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our idea is unique because it places local community capacity at its center. Many solutions to the problems of climate change and insecurity rely on technology or outside interventions. Our idea relies on the inherent capacity of cohesive, strong communities to provide innovative solutions to pressing problems they face. Our approach is unique because it allows us to provide resources and support directly to the communities who stand to gain from sustainable livelihoods and are also in the best position to protect natural resources. Our collaboration with grassroots partners ensures that local capacity is built to meet the evolving challenges of climate change and empowers historically underserved communities to accomplish their own goals and manage their own resources. Through this inclusive project, community members will be active in the management and conservation of the environment to ensure a just, equitable and sustainable way of life for the people of El Salvador.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Full Scale Roll Out: I have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

EcoViva supports community-led social justice movements in Central America implementing innovative solutions to poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change. www.ecoviva.org

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

EcoViva has partnered with the Mangrove Association in El Salvador for over 20 years. Together, we have built a democratic movement for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability. Community participation at the grassroots is the foundation of our work, and peace building is at the heart of advancing our global society. This project bridges all three themes that are important to us and our partners, peace, prosperity, and the planet.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Climate change is one of the most critical threats to peace, security, and socio-economic wellbeing. Peace and security are impacted by social unrest, mass migration, and political turmoil. Crime increases as resources become scarce and competition becomes fierce. Prosperity is impacted by environmental degradation and loss of critical habitat to support sustainable livelihoods. The planet is impacted by volatile weather conditions such as prolonged droughts and an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, as well as unsustainable resource extraction and unregulated development. El Salvador bears the brunt of global climate change, while contributing little to its underlying causes. 90% of El Salvador is at risk from climate related events and 95% of the population lives in areas considered to be extremely vulnerable to climate change threats. Urgent action is needed to ensure sustainable livelihoods, build climate resilient communities, and improve food security.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

EcoViva works in partnership with grassroots organizations in Central America to promote economic and environmental sustainability, social justice and peace. For over 20 years, our partnerships have provided support to community-based organizations in the region, focusing most of our activities in the Bay of Jiquilisco, El Salvador. This project is a collaboration with local community organizations, local grassroots NGO the Mangrove Association, the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment (MARN), the Salvadoran Fisheries Authority (CENDEPESCA) and scientists at the Marine Sciences Institute of the University of El Salvador (ICMARES).

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The coastal community of El Salvador’s Bay of Jiquilisco is well-suited to carry out this project because of their history of community organizing, peace-building, and co-management of natural resources. The region is home to Central America’s most extensive mangrove forest, a critical ecosystem in the fight against climate change. They are in the best position to protect this vulnerable resource while ensuring sustainable traditional livelihoods and promoting a culture of peace and security.

Geographic Focus

Communities in the Bay of Jiquilisco/Bajo Lempa region, department of Usulután, El Salvador, CA

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

24 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

21 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of David Ezra Jay
Team

Hello Ana, Cool project. We love carbon trapping trees and should probably connect. I am working with Greenstand.org to build a network of smallholder tree planters. We are currently linking organizations that collect funds for trees directly to tree planters. I'd love to connect with you and see how we can collaborate.

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hi Ezra Jay thank you for your comment! Greenstand sounds like a very interesting organization and I would love to hear more about your work. We also work with the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment on tree planting initiatives including the "Plantatón," a nationwide push to plant 5 million trees. In a country as severely deforested as El Salvador, every tree we plant helps prevent erosion, turn rainwater in groundwater, and contribute to a healthy watershed. This initiative may be more aligned to your organization's goals as there are individual trees that can be tracked. The mangrove restoration work we do relies on mother nature to do the planting for us - the technique we use is called Ecological Mangrove Restoration and, using sound-science and community participation, it restores the area's natural hydrology, allowing the mangrove propagules (seedlings) to travel via tidal ebbs and flows to the location where they will have the best chance of survival and the wetland will regenerate naturally. Let me know if you are interested in learning more about our work in El Salvador!

Photo of David Ezra Jay
Team

Hi Ana,
Good work on the Mangroves. I love mangroves and I like your approach. Nature can do a great job. We have not seen the need to track Mangroves as unlike most tree planting efforts mangroves seem to survive.

A push of 5 Million trees is awesome. This is the kind of data we are setting up to process. I would love to be in touch with the Salvadoran Ministry of the environment. If you are interested in connecting us, please do so via email Jay@geenstand.org.

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Will do!

Photo of Jaci Braga
Team

Dear Ana,
ETIV do Brasil is a very young organization and we have only planted mangrove seedlings in areas next to our NGO where they were destroyed by the previous posada owners. All that was left was dead black roots from many years ago. The fishermen told me that after chopping down all of the trees, they would continuously go out at night to kill any new ones that may have started to grow as well. Luckily, two new posada owners in front of the river are now partnering with us to support the restoration project and once the seedlings are planted they are growing wonderfully because the natural conditions are perfect; It was just humans that kept destroying them for the view of the river. Therefore, we created a powerpoint sharing all of the benefits of the mangroves and created a compromise where we are only planting white mangroves right in front of the posadas, since they are smaller, and we will be trimming them a bit (almost Bonsai style - but not nearly as dramatic) so that they will grow out more than up, so not to completely block the view for the posada owners. What you are doing looks much more technical and labor intensive, but has the potential to have a huge impact on a vast space of area! I have visited El Salvador twice as I used to be on the board of directors for Project El Salvador several years ago. As a brand new NGO on a shoestring budget, I don't know if we will be able to bring our youth to El Salvador, but since I have other connections there as well, I would love to go back again - especially with even more purpose! Please do keep in touch. Our email is etivdobrasil@gmail.com. Good luck and best wishes! Jaci

Photo of Céline null
Team

@analuisaahern Really awesome initiative. Blue Carbon is one of the best chances we have at reversing climate change

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Absolutely agree with you! Blue Carbon is integral to the fight against climate change and we must do everything we can to protect these critical ecosystems!

Photo of Céline null
Team

:)

Photo of Vicky S.
Team

Your idea has a lot of potential to benefit thousands of families. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of the century and there is no such thing as a "too small initiative."

Our planet and its most vulnerable populations need all of the help they can get, and I wholeheartedly agree with what you said: El Salvador bears the brunt of global climate change, while contributing little to its underlying causes. This is true of many (especially underdeveloped) countries and they need all the help they can get.

I wonder what setbacks you might face if your initiative proves successful: will the Salvadorean government fully cooperate with you regarding land rights and future acquisition? How will gang violence and intimidation affect the beneficiaries of your idea and their communities as a whole?

In the future, do you plan on expanding this initiative to other parts of El Salvador or even other countries like Guatemala and Honduras?

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hi Vicky S. thank you very much for your support and kind words. We have faced many challenges as we try to implement these activities, including the ones you mention. So far, the Salvadoran government has been very cooperative and helped conduct mangrove restoration workshops and activities across the country. Unfortunately, since the most recent election, there have been many changes to the government and there look to be more changes looming on the horizon. These changes will likely make it harder to get government support for community-based initiatives like ours. The government is already trying to roll-back many legislative advancements made in the last decade, including pushing to privatize water and redistribute land, which will negatively impact vulnerable communities and the environment. Gang violence is a serious problem in the region and has already had profound impacts on our projects and on the communities we work with. There were certain areas we could no longer travel to because of the violence and that impacted our ability to carry out project goals. However, things have calmed down considerably in recent months and we are hopeful that with community-based interventions we can contribute to stronger communities that can face these social problems together. In the future we are planning to expand this initiative to Guatemala and Honduras, and are already laying the groundwork to do so! Thanks again for your interest and support.

Photo of Chris Lowe
Team

Dear Ana,

This is a really great idea to help rural communities in the Bajo Lempa to remain resilient in the face of such climate threats. Since you are placing local community capacity at the center, how did you identify the community strengths? Best wishes with your idea.

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hi Chris Lowe thanks for the question. This project was born out of years of solidarity with community organizations in El Salvador. The idea of returning degraded mangrove forests to their natural state came from the communities themselves. We took that idea and found other organizations doing similar work to partner with and help build the capacity of the community to implement their visions. Thanks again!

Photo of Jaci Braga
Team

Dear Ana,

ETIV do Brasil has also been involved in empowering the community (and especially youth) to take action and support conservation. We planted over 1000 baby mangrove seedlings by the river this year as part of our environmental conservation work as well! Perhaps we can collaborate! As you can see in our "ETIV Action Plan Calendar" we usually begin focusing on our mangrove work during the month of February when the seeds begin to fall off the trees. Feel free to connect, we could certainly collaborate and share best practices, while I have been in contact with Ezro, another individual involved in the OpenIDEO challenge, to receive support and an application that will help us keep track of all the trees we have planted via a digital mapping system.
Best wishes,
Jaci
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/review/etiv-environmental-justice-league

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hey there Jaci Braga thanks for your comment! Your project in Brazil sounds very interesting and it would be great to collaborate! Maybe someday your youth groups could come to visit our projects and vice versa! We use an alternative method to planting mangrove seedlings, called Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR). EMR basically uses natures own mechanisms to restore degraded ecosystems. Let me know if you want to learn more about our technique, and it would be great to learn more about your initiative with young people and how we can collaborate as we work closely whit youth community actors as well!

Photo of Barrie Hebb
Team

I think this is a great idea with high potential to achieve effective climate resilient solutions since it focuses on involvement at the community level for local solutions to a global problem. The beneficiaries themselves have the most to gain from improvements and I have all too often seen well intentioned outside efforts that failed to take into consideration obvious local conditions, preferences, and buy in. I wonder only about the legal dimension - land rights and whether the solutions would be secured for the most vulnerable?

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hi Barrie thank you for your kind words of support for our work. I agree with you, land tenure is a major issue and one we have addressed again and again in our decades of work in El Salvador. Since our founding in 1996, we have supported democratic movements for peace, justice and environmental sustainability. We have stood in solidarity as these movements fought for titles to their land and for the autonomy to sustainably manage their own natural resources. We have partnered with governments to ensure that vulnerable coastal communities are not left out of decision making processes and are heard on a national level. Land tenure is a contentious topic and we are constantly advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable. Specifically, in El Salvador we are fighting against a new land redistribution law being proposed that would give large scale agricultural producers a legal loophole to obtain more land and encroach on local communities and protected areas. We are working with community organizers to plan protests and other actions against this unjust law.

Photo of bikash gurung
Team

Hi Ana Luisa Ahern , glad to have you in the challenge. Really touched by the perception your idea brings in and the work done by Ecoviva's sentiments.
I am willing to learn how the Ecoviva implementation can be replicated in other part of the world facing same kind of situation. In your 21 years of experience, how have you been able to make change in people's life and what has been their feedback regarding your initiative. I am curious to learn about funding model of EcoViva and its sustainability? I am also willing to learn how your effort has supported in building sustainable community? From your analysis and expertise, How long does it take to make it self sustaining & your role after that? Looking forward to learn more

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hi bikash gurung thank you for your interest in our program. In our experience as an organization, we have been able to make a difference in people's lives by supporting local community organizations as they implement their own solutions to the problems they face. We offer financial support and provide them with technical assistance in program planning and policy. We help them build alliances and recruit skilled volunteers to support their efforts. We bring people on Community Empowerment Tours to visit the projects and learn about what’s happening and build international grassroots support for our work. This approach has led to a sustainable model of development because it builds local capacity and empowers communities to come up with innovative, sustainable solutions to poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation. The leadership and capacity stays in the community and contributes long after a project is over. As for how long it takes, that is a difficult question to answer because we believe in providing ongoing solidarity to our partners and don't see that changing anytime soon! Thanks again for your questions and interest!

Photo of Bahaa
Team

Hi Ana,
I like your idea and am sure that it will help the targeted communities in El Salvador. Such projects are needed to minimize the impact of climate change world wide. Just would like to ask what is the role of government in this? I believe having them involved could help in providing further concrete policies and projects to tackle the issue as well. Also you have mentioned that you have been implementing the idea, can you share what were the outcomes you had seen from your experience?
Thank you and all the best
Bahaa

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

Hello Bahaa thanks for commenting! The government is very involved with the work of restoring degraded mangrove areas in El Salvador. We work closely with the Salvadoran government, especially the Ministry of the Environment, to conduct the projects and they are supportive of these community-based initiatives. We have had success with applying the Ecological Mangrove Restoration technique on a 200 acre plot of degraded mangrove forests, you can read about it here: http://ecoviva.org/mangrove-restoration-beginning-to-bear-fruit/
We intervened in this region in 2011 and have already begun to see tangible results that indicate regeneration of the ecosystem.
Thanks again for your support!

Photo of Ana Luisa Ahern
Team

I had changed the response to the question about inspiration to the following but for some reason it didn't publish (I may have forgotten to press "publish")! Here is the proper response:

The communities of the Bajo Lempa in El Salvador are the inspiration for this project. They have fled civil war, survived as refugees in a strange land, and returned to rebuild inhospitable lands into peaceful communities to coexist. They are innovative thinkers and leaders in environmental protection, food-security, and community organizing. Their journey has inspired us to support their efforts as they face the new threats that come with a rapidly changing climate.