El Salvador: Social programs reach success, but are economically unsustainable

A Salvadorean woman learns to
write and read. (Photo: MINED)

The first leftist government in El Salvador has been devoted, in the last three years, to support marginalized populations such as the elderly, women, children and the rural population, says the Salvadorean contribution to the Social Watch Report 2013. Improvements in health and education are apparent, but structural changes are needed to ensure the sustainability of the social programs, including a tax reform to finance them with the national budget without relying on external funds.

Successful educational programs include the delivery of educational materials to 1.3 million students, the creation of 60 full-time inclusive schools, providing lunch at schools, strengthening the early childhood education, improving the infrastructure and a National Literacy Plan through which more than 141,000 youth and adults learned to read and write and eight municipalities were declared "free of illiteracy."

The education budget increased from 2.8% of GDP in 2008 to 3.45% for 2013, but the Social Watch coalition in El Salvador argues for a further increase in the funding of the educational system, up to 6% of GDP, as recommended by UNESCO and other international organizations.

Primary education covers 95% of children of school age, but coverage in preschool is 55%, in the third cycle, 69% and in secondary education, 40%. That prompted the government to put into place the Flexible Forms of Education Program, which allowed 50,085 over-aged people to continue their studies in 2011. Of them, 19,035 completed high school.

In 2011 there were improvements in the coverage of the health system, but this progress is not guaranteed as it relies on continued external funding. However, the budget allocated to the Ministry of Health has tended to rise: in 2005 it represented 1.7% of GDP, and in 2011 it climbed to 2.4%. In 2009, the government reinforced the budget to expand coverage and to improve the quality of the services in rural areas, and for the poor, women and children. The implementation of Community Family Health Teams expanded the access to this basic right to areas that had never received medical attention.

Moreover, the maternal mortality, which was of 211 per 100,000 live births in the 90’s, was brought down to 50.8. Therefore, El Salvador has met the fifth of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This was possible thanks to the increased coverage of prenatal care provided to women between 10 and 49 years from 53.4% in 2008 to 90.7% in 2012. But neonatal mortality increased (4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010 to 5.2 in 2011), and also the child mortality (6.9 deaths of children under five years old per 1,000 live births in 2010 to 7.9 in 2011).

The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) ranks El Salvador as the fourth country in the world in terms of vulnerability to environmental problems and climate change. This is the most densely populated country in America and the second most deforested in the whole continent. More than 88.7% of its territory is vulnerable to climatic events, and 95% of its population lives in vulnerable conditions.

Climate change is exacerbating the already difficult situation of the agriculture, aggravating the lack of food sovereignty. The country imports most of the food its population eats. The insufficiency of the national production affects the health of the population, especially that of children, pregnant women and elderly.

The government recently introduced a National Environment Policy, but it is necessary to design and implement a comprehensive strategic plan, financially sustainable, to reduce vulnerability, says the national Social Watch coalition in El Salvador.

An estimated 40.6% of the households are below the poverty line, including 12.2% who suffer extreme poverty and 28.3% living in relative poverty.

El Salvador was hit hard by the global financial and economic crisis that started in the US in 2008. In 2009, GDP contracted 3.5% and remittances (representing almost 18% of GDP) fell 9.9%. The economic growth was less than 1% in 2010, while remittances, tax revenues, exports, private credit and foreign direct investment did not reach the pre-crisis level. Experts predict that El Salvador will grow at a slower pace than the rest of Central America in 2011 and 2012.

El salvador Social Watch Report 2013 (in Spanish): http://www.socialwatch.org/node/15648