“Sponge City”: San Salvador uses nature to fight floods

Man collecting berries

For World Cities Day on 31st October, we follow the story of how the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working with San Salvador city and its surrounding coffee farms to create a ‘natural’ defence against floods.

In June 2020, Tropical Storm Amanda descended on El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. Gale-force winds and torrential rains triggered more than 150 landslides and 20 major floods, tearing apart roads, electrical lines, and almost 30,000 homes.

Coffee farmer Hector Velasquez, whose land sits on the exposed slopes of San Salvador Volcano, overlooking the city, was among those in the storm’s path. Over three days, the storm dumped two metres of rain on his farm, sparking a landslide that wiped out an area of around 3,000m2.

“The landslides take away all the crops planted in that area, so you need to reinvest,” says Velasquez, 42, a father of two. “It drains resources when resources are scarce, to begin with.”