El Salvador, a small country in Central America, has had a huge historical housing deficit that started to improve in the late 1990s. However, the earthquakes in early 2001 shook not only the country, but also the country’s economic and social foundations thus rendering the need for new housing policies. This is the backdrop of the housing shortage in El Salvador today. Due to many factors, the country that was once stable in adequate housing now is facing an issue with lack of shelter for millions of citizens.
El Salvador had recently went through a twelve-year armed conflict, or civil war, from 1980-1992 that killed about one-hundred thousand people and displaced one million more. The 1986 earthquake then left about ten thousand families without shelter in the capital city alone (Fortin-Magana, 1). In 1999 there was a hurricane that left over fifty thousand people homeless. These natural disasters combined with the poverty levels resigned the country to 114th among the Human Development Index in 1999.
These events occurring in El Salvador at the time put strain on the housing sector and need for adequate shelter (Voices, 1). Despite this, the housing shortage in El Salvador exceeded half a million units and homes were becoming more and more available to lower-income families. At this time El Salvador had surpassed other countries in the region due to the improvements in the building materials and the provision of services available. For example, households with a monthly income of only $500 had access to credit and the ability to purchase a house by borrowing money (Fortin-Magana, 1).
About twenty-three percent of households in El Salvador have had the opportunity to attain commercial financing, unlike the ten to twelve percent of neighboring countries. The background for the issues regarding adequate housing security in El Salvador is not only tinted by their historical background but also the rapid urban growth currently occurring in El Salvador. Urbanization is a step that every country goes through at some point during its development. For example, the United States went through rapid urbanization during the industrial revolution and throughout the early 20th century.
Nowadays, many developing countries are experiencing this because it is part of the path to development and El Salvador is a perfect example of this (Voices, 4). Urbanization is a huge factor worth analyzing within El Salvador right now as the country becomes more problematic in terms of poverty, violence, and public health. When urbanization takes over a country it happens because the nation’s economies move from farms to towns to cities, so that hubs for commerce and activity are introduced into the country.
When poorer people decide to relocate into the hubs from the outside for better opportunities, urbanization’s momentum continues to augment even more. Examples of this can be seen in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and Shanghai. When cities become overcrowded the new residents of the city, the low-income families, create illegal squatting communities on the outskirts of the city. The issue with this is that more often than not, individuals have no rights to the land and horrible living conditions (Voices, 2).
El Salvador is a perfect example of this rapid urbanization; about sixty percent of El Salvadorans are living in urban areas. These urban areas include the capital San Salvador, San Miguel, and Santa Ana. Of this sixty percent, about fifty-six percent are considered to be living in poverty. Urban poverty is widespread due to few employment options and high costs of living. This becomes an issue for the government as well because they are unable to provide the necessary, basic services to all their citizens.
Besides the lack of basic necessities, this urbanization is also an issue because unlike typical urban homes made of cement or bricks, slum homes are basically huts made out of aluminum, plastic, or cardboard. These homes are susceptible to flooding and due to this almost all their water sources are continually contaminated. This causes health to become another issue intensified by urbanization; slums are fundamentally unhealthy living situations. The individuals in these communities do not own the land and therefore cannot demand better living standards from the government.
These urban areas, which have had little to no exposure to urban planning, also facilitate the spread of disease. The traffic accidents and pollution in urban areas also count for an extremely high number of deaths and illnesses (Voices, 4). Besides the aforementioned issues that El Salvador has to deal with, El Salvador has also seen extremely high levels of emigration to the United States and Mexico since the termination of its civil war.
According to UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), this drain of people causes a drain f the country’s principal resource, its population. In the case of El Salvador, somewhere between twenty to forty percent of its population has left in the past twenty years (Klaufus, 1). However, the economy in El Salvador has improved due to this occurrence because the remittances from this massive emigration have played a significant role and are the country’s single most important source of income. Within the country, about one fifth of all people receive remittances.
This shows that El Salvadorans abroad have helped improve the income and housing back in their homeland. Many argue that this migration is a huge factor in the globalization and urbanization of El Salvador for this very reason. The communication and tourism sectors have increased due to this migration pattern, bringing in even more economic activity to El Salvador (Klaufus, 4). Migration has caused dramatic changes in many cities across El Salvador through urban planning because of the remittances available to be used.
Not only in their construction materials and building processes, but also in the design of buildings and the use of space as well. Many neighborhoods and towns are now being built using the United States as an influence in their design and construction. The homes they built in the United States are lavish with manicured front lawns and gardens, back patio spaces with grills or pools, flush toilets and large baths, and hot water systems. This same design is brought to El Salvador, a country where running water is frequently non-existent.
Due to these changes in land use, housing policy, and urban design, land prices have skyrocketed making it even harder for low-income families to make adequate housing for themselves since they do not have access to remittances. It has been noted by UNDP that El Salvador should use these remittances to contribute to local regional and urban development but they should not be the individual motor that drives the economic activity of the country. This issue is one reason why it is so necessary for the government to create policies that address the root of many issues: inadequate housing (Klaufus, 6).
Even though the government has addressed many issues such as the economy or violence through policy, they have previously done very little to address the living situations in the cities and the slums. The majority of policies have attempted to address the issue of urban violence. El Salvador has actually successfully passed many laws aimed to reduce crime. Unfortunately, this rapid urbanization in El Salvador has introduced many new problems during a turbulent time for the country.
El Salvador lacks the infrastructure and tools to offer every citizen the resources they need to have an adequate, improved life. Thus, urban poverty continues to grow and living conditions continue to worsen (Fortin-Magana, 4). After years of inadequately addressing the housing issue, a good first advancement was made in 2013. A mass investment plan was introduced that successfully put millions of dollars into building new homes and improving existing urban neighborhoods.