agriculture, Agua/Aqua, Climate Change, Corruption, Economy, Environment

The Water Crisis in El Salvador

Versión Español

On 28 July 2010, through resolution 64/292, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized the human right to water and sanitation, reaffirming that water is essential for the realization of all human rights; however, for a significant proportion of humanity this is not true. The Friends of the Earth International Federation (FoEI) says that over 1 billion people lack clean water and more than 5 million die each year from water-related diseases.

El Salvador is one of the countries in the world facing a profound water crisis. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reports that El Salvador has 1,752 cubic meters per capita per year, which almost qualifies as “water stress.” This serious lack of water is related to deforestation and to the contamination of surface water bodies. According to the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment: more than 90% of surface waters are contaminated and only 10% are suitable for drinking by conventional methods.

In the opinion of the Office of the Procurator for the Defense of Human Rights, this situation of pollution and environmental degradation represents an accumulated evil throughout history that was deepened by the lack of diligence of the authorities, relegating the environmental issue of all State policies. For this reason, in 2006, a group of social organizations submitted a proposal for a General Water Law, which explained that the existing legal framework was obsolete and fragmented and couldn’t provide the population with resolutions. The law was based on principles such as: participation, full access, a focus on basins, sustainability and decentralization.

According to Carolina Amaya, environmental activist with the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), the main reason for not approving the General Water Law is because the right-wing business leaders represented in the Legislative Assembly, intend to control the water issue, they want to control the institutions that privatize water. This breaking point is the main motive that has interrupted the discussion of the law. In Amaya’s words, “allowing large private enterprises to have control over water management is like putting the coyote in the care of hens.”

This lack of regulation allows golf course owners, bottling companies, sugarcane producers, and other private interests to use as much water as they want, no matter how it affects local communities. One media outlet reported that a golf course has all the water it needs while nearby towns struggle to meet their daily needs. Likewise, residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Usulutan argue that sugarcane producers are depleting their water sources.

These social sectors that hold economic and political power say that water is a commodity that is bought and sold, and the only way to manage it efficiently is to let the market take over. This neoliberal thinking is rejected by various civil society organizations arguing that water is a common good and its access is a basic human right.

Conflicting visions often manifested in street closures for protests of lack of water, while companies engaged in the production of carbonated and alcoholic beverages using millions of liters a day, equally large shopping malls and exclusive residences use excessive amounts of water without any restriction. The bottom line; unequal access to potable water is a clear indicator of social injustice in El Salvador.

Crisis de Agua en El Salvador

El 28 de julio de 2010, a través de la Resolución 64/292, la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas reconoció el derecho humano al agua y al saneamiento, reafirmando que el agua es esencial para la realización de todos los derechos humanos; sin embargo, para una importante proporción de la humanidad este derecho no se cumple. La Federación Amigos de la Tierra Internacional afirma que más de mil millones de personas carecen de agua limpia y que más de 5 millones fallecen cada año por enfermedades relacionadas con el agua.

El Salvador es uno de los países del mundo que enfrenta una profunda crisis hídrica, la CEPAL reporta que el país cuenta con 1,752 metros cúbicos per cápita por año, y lo califica en una situación cercana a lo que se conoce como stress hídrico. Esta escasez tiene que ver con la deforestación y con la contaminación de los cuerpos superficiales de agua, el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente salvadoreño afirma que más del 90% de las aguas superficiales se encuentran contaminadas y que únicamente el 10% son aptas para potabilizar por métodos convencionales.

En opinión de la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, esta situación de contaminación y degradación ambiental representa un mal acumulado a lo largo de la historia que se fue profundizando por la falta de diligencia de las autoridades, relegando el tema ambiental de todas las políticas estatales. Por esta razón fue que en 2006 un grupo de organizaciones sociales presentaron una propuesta de Ley General de Aguas, explicando que el marco legal existente es obsoleto y fragmentado y no da respuestas a la población, por lo que se requiere una ley basada en principios como: la participación, el pleno acceso, el enfoque de cuenca, la sustentabilidad y la descentralización.

Once años más tarde aún no se cuenta con la referida ley, Para Carolina Amaya, activista ambiental de la Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña, la razón de fondo por la cual no se aprueba la Ley General de Aguas es porque las cúpulas empresariales representadas en la Asamblea Legislativa por los partidos de derecha, pretenden tener el control de la institución rectora del agua, quieren controlar la institucionalidad para luego privatizar el agua, este es el punto de quiebre y principal motivo que ha entrampado la discusión de la ley. En palabras de Amaya, permitir que la gran empresa privada tenga el control en la gestión del agua, es como poner al coyote a cuidar a las gallinas.

Esta falta de regulación permite a los propietarios de campos de golf, compañías embotelladoras, productores de caña de azúcar, y otros intereses privados utilizar toda el agua que quieran, sin importar la forma en que afecta a las comunidades locales. Un medio de comunicación publicó que un campo de golf tiene toda el agua que necesita mientras que las poblaciones cercanas luchan para satisfacer sus necesidades diarias. Del mismo modo, los residentes de la región del Bajo Lempa en Usulután sostienen que los productores de caña de azúcar están agotando las fuentes de agua.

Estos sectores sociales que ostentan poder económico y político sostienen que el agua es una mercancía que se compra y se vende, y la única manera de administrarla eficientemente es dejando que sea el mercado quien se hace cargo. Este pensamiento neoliberal es rechazado por diversas organizaciones de la sociedad civil argumentando que el agua es un bien común y su acceso es un derecho humano básico.

Visiones enfrentadas que se manifiestan con frecuencia en cierres de calles en protesta por la falta de agua, al mismo tiempo las empresas dedicadas a producir bebidas carbonatadas y alcohólicas gastan millones de litros al día, igualmente grandes centros comerciales y residencias exclusivas usan cantidades excesivas de agua sin ninguna restricción. El acceso desigual al agua potable es un indicador claro de la injusticia social en El Salvador.

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agriculture, Environment, Uncategorized

Large-Scale Sugarcane Production in El Salvador

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A field of sugarcane burning just before harvest

Residents of rural communities throughout El Salvador are concerned that large-scale sugarcane cultivation threatens their environment, public health, access to water, local economy, and food sovereignty. El Salvador has laws and procedures in place that should regulate sugarcane production, but government officials at the national and local levels have been unable or unwilling to enforce them. Salvadoran sugarcane production has grown in recent years due to the country’s embrace of neoliberal economic policies that emphasize, in part, free trade and unregulated markets. Unfortunately, the profits and wealth generated by the industry do not trickle down to the communities where it is grown.

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Last year, Voices on the Border staff accompanied residents of the Bajo Lempa of Jiquilisco, Usulután as they stopped investors from planting sugarcane near local mangrove forests, wetlands, and community centers. Despite their success, the ad hoc protests failed to produce any long-term changes. During the process, however, residents, community leaders, and local civil society organizations articulated a need for more information about sugarcane production and how it affects the region.

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Voices on the Border staff responded by researching the issue of sugarcane cultivation and producing this report (click on the images to see the report in English and Spanish). We did so with several audiences in mind. The first was our partner communities in the Bajo Lempa that suffer the effects of burning fields, contamination of agrochemicals, loss of biodiversity, and other impacts of large-scale sugarcane production. A second audience is the government officials that have the power to regulate the industry, to ensure they know how sugarcane is affecting the regions like the Bajo Lempa. A third audience is members of the international community who are concerned with issues related to El Salvador, climate change, food sovereignty, environmental justice, and other topics.

Over the next several months, Voices on the Border will organize events in the Bajo Lempa to disseminate our findings and hopefully start a larger conversation about the impacts of sugarcane and large-scale agriculture. We will support the region in any advocacy campaign the organize, and will post regular updates to this blog.

 

education

Youth in La Tirana (El Salvador)  need your help to stay in school!

In 2014, violence in the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan made it too dangerous for youth in La Tirana to make the 1.5 hour trek to middle school, a perilous journey through gang-controlled areas. In early 2015, Voices on the Border  met with parents, local leaders, and the Ministry of Education to figure out how to keep the youth safe and in school.

Click here to make an online contribution 

The Ministry said that if Voices paid for a teacher and parents enrolled their students, they would certify grades 7-9 at the elementary school in La Tirana. Voices immediately hired a teacher, and by the time classes started 12 youth had signed up. Enrollment then grew to  16… then 18!!!

It was a hugely successful year. The youth went to class in the mornings, and in the afternoons led a literacy program for adults. In December 2015, the Ministry certified that the youth were ready for the 8th grade… and almost all adults in the community were able to read. Voices hosted another meeting with parents, local leaders, and the Ministry, and the consensus was that we have to continue the program in 2016. Voices’ challenge is to find funding for the teachers’ salary ($4,800) and classroom materials ($1,800) – a total of $6,000. Classes have already begun and we are committed to another year, but we need your help to make it happen.

More than investing in the future of La Tirana, which this program does, the community’s needs are more immediate – to keep youth in school so they are busy and productive, and not get caught up in violence.

Voices on the Border is a  nonprofit organization that promotes “just and sustainable development in El Salvador.” Specifically, Voices accompanies communities in two regions of El Salvador, the mountaneous region of Northern Morazan, and the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan, along the coast. In 1987, concerned U.S. citizens launched Voices as a way to provide material and political support to refugees that had escaped civil war and were living in a refugee camp in Colomacagua, Honduras.

La Tirana is a special community of 25 families nestled in the mangrove forests in the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan. Though it is one of the most isolated and economically challenged communities in the region, La Tirana takes pride in its sustainable relationship with the natural resources they are blessed with.

In addition to education Voices on the Border is accompanying La Tirana as they take on threats such as large-scale sugarcane production , mega-tourism projects , and security. Voices  is also engaged in other education initiatives in the Bajo Lempa. Last year we began a pilot project called LEER with the middle school in Amando Lopez. The project has three objectives: 1) create a local board of Education to oversee the local school and advocate for more appropriate resources; 2) refrom parts of the curriculum so that it reflects the realities of living in rural El Salvador; and 3) train teachers to identify and work with special needs students in their classes.

*Your contribution is tax-deductible, and 100% of the funds we raise are for education in La Tirana!

education

Learn More about the Bajo Lempa Education Project

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On the 1st, we launched a Global Giving fundraising campaign for an intensive educational project in the Bajo Lempa. To date, we’ve recieved numerous generous donations and have less than a week to reach our goal. Today Global Giving will be matching donations at 20%.

Have you been wondering what our Bajo Lempa education project is all about?             Click on the PDF below to get a better understanding of the nuts and bolts and, as always, feel free to share.

LEER, Lograr en Educación Rural / Success in Rural Education

Uncategorized

Celebrating the Life of a Liberation Theologian

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On August 25, Ecclesial Base Communities (CEBES), family members, the Archdiocese of El Salvador and international visitors said their goodbyes to a well-known Liberation Theology priest at the Awakening Center in San Salvador.
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Father Pedro D’ Clercq, though born and raised in Belgium, had spent the past 47 years living and working with the Salvadoran CEBES as one of it’s founders as well as a prolific proponent of Liberation Theology throughout Central America. Although he died peacefully in his sleep after battling lung cancer, he’s already been imprinted in history next to such martyrs as Oscar Romero, Octavia Ortiz, Rutillo Grande and Segundo Montes.

According to the CEB’s he was born in Izegem, Belgium on the 10th of February, 1939.

In June of 1964, Padre Pedro was ordained as a priest by the Roman Catholic Church. He stayed in Belgium as a teacher, until he received the calling to come serve in the Americas, oddly enough, at a soccer game. He began his service in Panama and then came to El Salvador in 1968 where he formed base communities and cooperatives throughout San Salvador, Chalatenango and Usulután.

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In 1977 he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, due to expressing his critical views on the Salvadoran reality from the pulpit. He moved back to Belgium following the decision and from there formed numerous CEBES, in fact, he had formed CEBES in Panama and Nicaragua as well.

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smallerIMG_8628 smallIMG_8661In 1992, he came back for good, settled in the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután and formed base communities, supported cooperatives, wrote publications, facilitated workshops, and even started a blood bank among many other projects. His writing, “Walking with Jesus and Monsignor Romero,” inspired the faith formation pre-school model of Community Segundo Montes, in Morazán. Padre Pedro, up until the end, tirelessly continued to travel throughout the country visiting and working for the people.

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He often said, “Who would I be without Romero? Who would I be without Rutillo? Who would I be without all the Martyrs? Who would I be without the ecclesial base communities?”

It was apparent, as hundreds came to pay homage to the beloved priest, that he had touched so many lives and hearts and will remain fixed as a man who genuinely loved the Salvadoran people.

(closed captioning in Youtube)