For Earth Day, which is commemorated on April 22, a student friar describes the devastating impact of climate change – a shortage of water – that he has seen in his native country of El Salvador, acknowledging, “sometimes it’s difficult for us to figure out what we can do to make a difference.”
This weekend, we will celebrate Earth Day 2017. For many of us friars, Earth Day is a good opportunity to show that we are part of the Order founded by St. Francis, patron saint of ecology. Some of us will reflect on how we should care for the Earth because it is part of God’s creation. However, for me, the concern for the environment hits closer to home.
Earth Day is a time to reflect on how environmental degradation will impact vulnerable people all over the world – especially my family in El Salvador, who like so many others, are affected by climate change.
The poor will be the first to experience the effects of climate change. Here in the United States, we don’t see the effects of it first-hand. When I left El Salvador in 2001, access to water was not an issue and nobody thought that one day we would have the problems we have now.
Climate Change and Access to Water
In the area where my family lives, there is a river where we used to get water. We used the water that we got there for everything – from cooking, to cleaning, to bathing. Eventually, we were able to install a pipe that connected to the municipal water source to bring water into our house. One of the reasons we installed this was because each year, we noticed the water in the river was being reduced. People who could not afford to install the pipe and pay the water bill had to continue to get their water from the river.
For the past eight to 10 years, the rainy season has gotten worse – giving us less water – and each year the river’s water level has decreased by a large amount. Now, the river is totally dry.
Five years ago, the municipality began to limit the water to our house to only one day a week, on Saturday. In the past six months, this was reduced to only three hours a week so that they can ration the water for other houses. Some rich families can buy water – 12 barrels for $25. Most families cannot.
Some people who have cars can drive to another river 30 minutes away or pay others to bring them water. However, my family doesn’t have a car. Now my sister, Doris, is concerned about what she will do when the water is shut off completely. When I visited last December, the only thing people talked about was, “What are we going to do about the water?”
The lack of water caused by drought and our impact on the environment is affecting the people of El Salvador in many ways. In my town, people had to give up their livestock because there is not enough water to give them to drink or to water the plants for their food. The farms are affected also. Because there is no water, farms are growing fewer crops and are not hiring people anymore. When I think about this, I am very concerned for the people there. My family has my brothers and sister in the United States to help them, but many families don’t have that kind of support.
Environmental Degradation and Migration
Eventually, out of their desperation, people will need to move. Some people will move to other areas in El Salvador with water, but many will start moving to other countries. This will lead to a number of the other issues associated with the migration problem happening in the world right now.
When the rainy season was good, people were able to grow things on their own to survive. But now, because there is no water, they don’t have their basic needs. The rich have the money to continue to get what they need, but the poor will need to look for other ways to find money. Some, because they think they have no other option, will have to steal. Others will join gangs. This is a big issue in El Salvador. The gangs begin to extort the people who own small businesses and begin to ask for “multa” or payment. People who have to move because of environmental degradation will come to the United States in search of safety and better opportunities. Migration is one of the biggest issues facing our country right now.
As Franciscan friars, we need to be aware of all the things happening in the world. Here in the U.S., we have a lot of opportunities but we don’t realize that there are many people who live in other parts of the world don’t even have water. We need to know what is happening in areas like where my family lives. We need to talk to people who are affected by climate change and environmental degradation, especially the immigrants that we minister to. We should be concerned with the environment because what happens to it will affect people in a wide range of places.
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to figure out what we can do to make a difference. The problem is so big, but I know that even small things can make a difference, and telling the story of my family and others like them is a place to start.
— Br. Abel, who professed his first vows as a friar in August 2015, lives at St. Joseph Friary in Chicago.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The previous reflection, about Easter, was written by David McBriar, OFM.
- “Post-novitiate Community Settles into Chicago” – Jan. 18. 2017, HNP Today
- “Celebrating Earth Day in the Manner of St. Francis” – April 29, 2015, HNP Today
- The History of Earth Day