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Deadly flooding in Central America: how people contributed to the tragedy

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Luis Galdamez/Reuters

(Read caption) A toy is seen on a road last week after a mudslide in the Ciudad Arce department of La Libertad, about 25 miles west of San Salvador, El Salvador. Torrential rain in Central America forced thousands to abandon their homes and trapped many.

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The floods of this month in El Salvador were extraordinary. But when we look at the consequences of the floods, it is clear that calling this a "natural" disaster excuses too easily the role of humankind in contributing to the tragedy. There are several places where the actions or inactions of human beings had a role:

Global climate change. Weather scientists asked about the flooding rains of October opined that the rains were an example of the more extreme and variable weather events produced by global climate change. The charts I have posted in this blog showing rain totals of other weather events in El Salvador certainly seem to show that the past decade has been significantly worse than the preceding 40 years. The carbon emissions of an industrialized world have created an imbalance producing life-threatening weather events in ever-increasing frequency.

Structural poverty. In the pictures from the flooding in El Salvador and the rest of Central America, you do not see any photos of the homes of the middle and upper classes – you see champas of scrap wood and corrugated tin. You do not see manicured lawns under water – you see the tiny milpas of the campesino farmer. You do not see a submerged Lexus – you see the water flowing over an ox cart. You do not see the bank manager sitting in a school which has been converted into a shelter – you see the single mother with two children who sells trinkets on the side of the street.

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