Aid worker diaries: Biscuits by boat, food aid in the mangroves

14 November, 2011
Gabriella Ramirez feeds her son Brandon a fortified biscuit in the community of 13 Enero in El Salvador, 8 November 2011. Credit: OCHA/Nicole Lawrence
Gabriella Ramirez feeds her son Brandon a fortified biscuit in the community of 13 Enero in El Salvador, 8 November 2011. Credit: OCHA/Nicole Lawrence

It’s a bright November morning in Puerto San Luis la Herradura, on El Salvador's south coast. The sun is high, the tide is low and local fishermen are returning to evaluate the dawn’s catch. Nearby, pupusas– a traditional favourite similar to a corn tortilla - are simmering on a hot plate. A mother feeds her toddler fruit and children help to tie up the boats.

This morning, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is going by one of these boats to the community of 13 Enero - 13 January, named after a powerful earthquake that struck El Salvador in 2001. The reason for the boat is that recent flooding damaged the main road that provides access to the area, leaving the 300 people who live across three neighbouring communities isolated.

About 160 boxes of fortified biscuits are loaded onto the boat, the motor whirs and the hour-long journey through a rare mangrove forest begins.

On board is Adrian Storbeck, who coordinates the relief and recovery operation for WFP in El Salvador. “Biscuits are particularly useful in this phase of the response, and easy to handle in logistical terms,” he says. “With only three of them you can cover the nutritional needs of a person for a day.”

In mid-October El Salvador was pounded by 1.5 metres of rain. Normally it receives the same amount in a whole year. Families in agricultural communities such as 13 Enero lost their homes, animals and harvests, and mothers like Gabriella Ramirez are struggling to get by. “The fact that we're so isolated means that everything becomes more expensive,” she says, holding her baby. “There are days when my children go hungry.” Gabriella and her family welcomed the biscuit delivery today.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) finances projects like these. It was established by the United Nations to help people in the crucial early days after a disaster. Adrian says: "Thanks to the CERF funding, we will have the necessary resources to follow through this activity." However the medium - long-term recovery must also be considered, and for that Adrian says "we require further donations."

In the meantime, Adrian and his team continue distributing the biscuits, and meeting with the local communities. “We are always received fairly positively with smiles, and there’s always a feeling of gratitude," he says. "That is one of the things that makes this job. One which impacts your heart.”

Reporting by Nicole Lawrence.