Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Geology (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Wayne Pennington


A 2010 report by the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination ranked El Salvador as the most vulnerable country in the world to natural disasters, with roughly 95% of the population at risk. The combination of recurring natural disasters and high vulnerability in a relatively small country has led to repeated exposure of local residents to significant natural phenomena of all sorts, including earthquakes, flooding, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes.

The effect of disaster assistance can be multi-faceted and this report examines the case of flooding hazards of a small town in the south-eastern San Miguel region of the country, called El Borbollón, in which assistance seems to have become a natural part of the local economy. . This community sits at the base of a large watershed. Wet season flooding events raise the lake levels by 1 to 3 meters almost every year, completely submerging the town’s main road. Occasional 4 to 6 meter flooding events cause the evacuation of 1000+ community members; this occurred most recently during Tropical Depression 12-E in the 2011 wet season.

I argue that a purely hydrological approach to assessing the local flood hazard is insufficient. First, I evaluate the magnitude of the Tropical Depression 12-E flooding event via HEC-HMS computer modeling and GIS, coupled with an analysis of ASTER satellite imagery. Parallel hazard and vulnerability analyses were conducted, and I describe my findings from a social research perspective. I find that locals have largely decided to co-exist with this recurring flood event, because they have much to gain by living in a perpetually at-risk condition, through the benevolence of aid organizations. This exposes a fundamental question: is it still a disaster if it is routine? By examining the role that large-scale flooding events play on the lives of local inhabitants, we present examine a scenario that more closely represents the multifaceted reality in which we live.

Similar situations likely exist elsewhere, and lessons learned here may be more broadly applicable. The existence of a routine disaster means revisions might be necessary to government, scientist, and aid organization strategies.