At the Instituto de Medicina Legal in San Salvador distraught families arrive at the morgue to pick up the bodies of loved ones brutally cut down in a city torn apart by gang violence.

Staff at the morgue are sometimes so inundated with the dead they are not able to perform autopsies.

"We are living in a time that one has to see, hear and shut up," said a San Salvadoran whose brother was killed. He does not wish to be identified for fear of sharing his brother's fate.

One person is killed every hour in El Salvador with most of the homicides taking place in the capital city San Salvador. In 2015, more than 6500 people were killed, which is 17 times above the global average homicide rate.


Murders jumped in January and February 2016 by 117.6 per cent from the 643 reported in the same period of 2015.

"In these two months we have a national average of 24 homicides a day which continues to be a major challenge for police operations," said Howard Cotto, director of the Salvadoran National Police.

A street war raging between rival gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (or MS­13) and Barrio 18, is being singled out as one of the main causes of the violence in the capital.

It is estimated that in El Salvador there are 55,000 active gang members, not including another 415,000 who are affiliated with the gangs, including gang family members, friends and helpers.

El Salvador is part of the "Northern Triangle", a region including Guatemala, and Honduras that for the past decade has consistently ranked among the most deadly in the world. And now, El Salvador has taken over from Honduras as the most violent country not at war.

President Salvador Sanchez Ceren has declared a state of emergency at prisons across the country as they also consider strict wider measures to combat gang violence, but it's not yet clear what can be done to actually stem the violence.