El Salvador

About El Salvador

  • Population (millions): 6.3 (2013)
  • Life Expectancy: 72 (2012)
  • Infant Mortality Rate (per 1000 births): 14 (2013)
  • Percentage of rural population with access to an improved water source: 81% (2012)
  • Fertility Rate (births per woman): 2 (2012)
  • Literacy Rate: 85% (2011)
  • Primary School Enrollment: 93% (2012)
  • Per capita GDP:  $3,826 (2013)
  • Percentage of population living on less than $2 per day: 8.8% (2012)
  • Ethnic Groups: Mestizo 90%, white 9%, Amerindian 1%
  • Languages: Spanish, Nahua (among some Amerindians)
  • Religions: Roman Catholic 83%, other 17%

El Salvador is located in Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and Honduras. El Salvador achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and from the Central American Federation in 1839. A 12-year civil war, which cost about 75,000 lives, was brought to a close in 1992 when the government and leftist rebels signed a treaty that provided for military and political reforms.

Despite being the smallest country geographically in Central America, El Salvador has the third largest economy in the region. The economy took a hit from the global recession and real GDP contracted by 3.5% in 2009. Over half of El Salvador’s trade is with the U.S. Exports from El Salvador decreased 22 percent as a result of the U.S. economic downturn The economy began a slow recovery in 2010 on the back of improved export and remittances figures.

As a net importer of fuel and food, El Salvador was hit hard by record food and fuel prices. The country experienced heavy rainfall in November 2009. The resulting floods and mudslides affected much of the nation and put further strain on government resources. Many lives were lost and people displaced. Agricultural land, farm equipment, and livestock were destroyed.

El Salvador has made many development gains. Until the economic crisis, the economy had grown at a steady rate and had even exceeded expectations. Factors that contributed to this growth include increased coffee, sugar, and non-traditional exports; family remittances and tourism income; and new investments in services.

Nevertheless, the country continues to face daunting impediments to development, such as high levels of rural poverty, vulnerability to natural disasters, and an economy that falls short of providing a sufficient number of employment opportunities to keep the population gainfully employed. Additionally, El Salvador has one of the region’s highest homicide rates, largely attributable to gangs. There is broad consensus that another critical challenge is the one of reducing political polarization.