Case Study San Salvador

Target group

Undergraduate students (MSc level), graduate students, early career professionals 

Learning objectives 

  • Be familiar with the concept of joint knowledge production in climate change adaptation


  • Increase knowledge on the environmental, social and ethical context of San Salvador / Los Manantiales and the factors that influence risks and risk perceptions


  • Appreciate the extent that different perspectives from natural science/climate modelling, social science and ethics are relevant in the design and appraisal of climate change adaptation measures.

General Description

Central America is the second-fastest urbanizing region in the world (after Africa), and its urban population is expected to double by 2050.In El Salvador, the Metropolitan Area of San Salvador (referred by its Spanish acronym AMSS), composed by the capital, San Salvador, and thirteen of its surrounding municipalities, has rapidly expanded over the past 40 years, becoming the country’s political, cultural, educational, and financial center. With its almost two and a half million inhabitants AMSS concentrates 30% of the country’s population in an area equivalent to 3% of the national territory, the highest urban density in Central America (2’500 inhabitants/km2).

The rapid urban development has been unplanned and unstructured, and investment in key infrastructure and services has lagged. Scattered throughout the entire AMSS, there are over 500 vulnerable urban settlements (Asentamientos Urbanos Precarios, AUP for its acronym in Spanish) that do not offer even minimum basic services. People living in these settlements (around 30% of the AMSS population) live in conditions varying from moderate to extreme poverty. Houses are fragile constructions built with inappropriate materials; some are huts made out of aluminum, plastic, and cardboard. Education, health, electricity, water, waste collection, sanitation, rainwater drainage, sewage infrastructure, and other basic services are deficient. Social and public infrastructure (e.g. communal houses and recreational spaces) is also missing, adversely impacting health conditions and social networks. Gang violence is a widespread problem threatening economic growth, health and well-being.

The AMSS is recurrently affected by three major climate-related risks: floods, landslides, and tropical cyclones. Floods are a risk to communities located in the vicinity of urban channels, especially during and after extreme rainfall events. Rainfall triggered landslides often occur in zones located in steep slopes close to the river beds. Tropical cyclones, formed both over the western North Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean, affect the whole area of AMSS with strong winds. The frequency and intensity of these events is expected to increase under climate change scenarios.

The impacts of these climate-related hazards are exacerbated by the lack of urban planning and large scale deforestation. Due to the scarcity of urban space and the lack of alternative sites for the homes of vulnerable persons, many houses, especially in the AUPs, are located in high-risk areas. Shelters and other emergency infrastructure are lacking. Deforestation, caused by uncontrolled urban development, intensifies soil erosion and reduces natural protection against landslides and flooding. The hilly landscape, active volcanoes, and seismic conditions pose additional challenges.

Given the impact of climate change, Salvadoran authorities, international organizations, and donors are seeking to substantially reduce the risk of damage to infrastructure and people caused by hazards of flooding, landslides and wind.


1) What are the risks that the community of Los Manantiales in San Salvador is/will be facing?

2) How can the community respond to these risks?

3) Which responses do you consider to be most appropriate?



Perspective 1 – Natural Science

Lecturer David Bresch / Mauricio Pohl

In this perspective students will learn about climate adaptation modeling by getting insights in two modeling and policy advice efforts: Economics of Climate Adapation (ECA) and CLIMADA. Both efforts not only allow to assess risks but also to project adaptation options.


Learning objectives

    • Understand the relevance of economics for risk analysis and management.
    • Be familiar with modeling strategies to understand and manage climate
      adaptation risks.
    • Make some first experiences with modeling materials and tools.

    Perspective 2 –  Social Science

    Lecturer Marielos Marín, Sofía Rivera; Alex Renderos

    In this perspective students learn how to analyse a case from a social science perspective to better understand the various roles and interests of stakeholders involved. The will learn about interview coding, stakeholder mapping and how to balance interests and powers.


    Learning objectives 

    • Identify the different actors historically involved in the community improvement processes.
    • Know how to analyse natural and social risks of various communities but especially of those faced by the communities in Los Manantiales
    • Learn how to propose intervention strategies and decision taking processes to improve the life quality of community inhabitants.

      Perspective 3 – Ethics

      Lecturer Ivo Wallimann-Helmer

      In this perspective, students will learn to conduct an ethical case analysis in San Salvador using the 5-step model of ethical case analysis that lays a special focus not only on ethical analysis but also on implementation of ethical evaluation.


      Learning objectives

        • Know how the 5-step model as an ethical tool works for ethical case assessment.
        • Be familiar with the ethical conflicts and challenges involved in the case study El Salvador / Los Manantiales.
        • To understand how different circumstances and risks can lead to various ethical questions and concerns.


        Students’ Synthesis

        Using a set of integrative questions as a guideline, students work again in groups to synthesize the work across all perspectives of the cases.

        Lecturers’ Synthesis

        Lecturers reflect on the work produced, the methods employed, the learning experiences, the challenges, etc. in relation to JKP.


        The students will follow up on the ‘lecturers’ synthesis’