El Salvador - Infrastructure, power, and communications

War, corruption, and general neglect have taken a toll on El Salvador's infrastructure, as have a string of earthquakes that hit the country at the beginning of 2001. Improvements are badly needed. There are 10,029 kilometers (6,232 miles) of roads in the country. Less than 1,999 kilometers (1,242 miles) of them are paved. The country's rural and secondary roads often become flooded during the 6-month rainy season. In the cities, population growth and a rise in vehicle ownership have increased traffic congestion.

There are 2 main highways in El Salvador, both of which cross the Lempa River. The bridges servicing the

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
El Salvador 48 464 675 N/A 18 N/A N/A 1.17 40
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Mexico 97 325 261 15.7 35 3.0 47.0 23.02 1,822
Guatemala 33 79 126 28.5 10 N/A 8.3 1.26 65
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( http://www.isc.org ) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

highways were destroyed by rebels during the war. Temporary spans were established to accommodate traffic, and in the late 1990s, efforts were underway to rebuild the bridges and repair smaller crossings along the 2 main routes. However, in 1998 the temporary bridges and the repair work were swept away in floods caused by Hurricane Mitch. The reconstruction project, financed by a US$90 million loan from Japan, is expected to be completed in 2001.

While road construction measures have been considered in order to facilitate travel and alleviate urban congestion, there is currently no specified transportation policy. In the 1990s, increased transportation spending resulted in few real improvements. Due to high levels of corruption in the administration of road contracts, several highway projects that got underway were never completed. The government has had a difficult time forcing contractors to meet deadlines and maintain adequate quality standards. In 1999 new legislation was being considered that would regulate bidding and require completion bonds for contracts.

Efforts were renewed to improve the road network in 1999. A construction project was initiated to build overpasses and new interchanges in the capital city to mitigate traffic problems. Other improvements were being considered as well, including the construction of 2 ring roads around the capital area and the creation of a special road fund which would finance highway improvements throughout the country. The fund, however, would likely depend on the creation of a new gasoline tax. As of March 2000, the time of mid-term elections, politicians in El Salvador had refused to acknowledge the need for such a tax, leaving the fund's creation in doubt. A string of earthquakes that struck El Salvador in January and February 2001 will also delay the implementation of road construction programs, as money and foreign aid will be diverted to more urgent reconstruction projects.

El Salvadorans are dependent on 3 main sources for their energy: hydroelectricity, geothermal power (including oil), and firewood. No deposits of oil or coal have been found. Thermal energy was widely utilized until the 1970s when rising world oil prices led to a higher dependence on hydroelectricity. About one-third of the country's energy consumption is still derived from oil imports.

The generation of electricity and the development of energy resources generally falls under the purview of the Comicion Ejecutiva Hidroelectrica del Rio Lempa (CEL), a state-run agency which recently privatized 4 of its regional distribution companies. CEL is also targeting 3 of its thermal generating plants for privatization. It is hoped that opening the market to competition will increase investment in the sector. Customers will likely reap long-term benefits as well, as electricity tariffs are reduced.

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