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.

Corruption, News Highlights, violence

Rumors Bring El Salvador to a Standstill

September 7th

Due to threats yesterday, public bus service and a large percentage of businesses ceased all activities today.  Threats were largely rumored, and the police captured six young men who were passing out flyers that expressed the threat on behalf of the M-18.

Buses that operated despite the threats in the morning were further threatened over the phone and by mid-day there was virtually no bus service nationwide.  Informal commercial sectors appeared abandoned, especially in the center of San Salvador, Soyapango, Ilopango, and San Miguel.

In a press conference this afternoon the PNC reported incidents of buses being taken hostage and burnt in Ahuachapan and in Chalchuapa.  Only the drivers and fare collectors were aboard and no one was killed.  A police vehicle was also attacked with a M-67 grenade, and PNC agents captured two suspects immediately after the incident.  A school in San Martin was also closed upon the discovery of a decapitated head in the surrounding area.  Carlos Ascencio, the National Police Chief, reminded the public that these events are not unlike what they see on any other day.

The PNC and Armed Forces mobilized 3,500 agents initially, and reported an increase of another 1,000 agents.  Helicopters were also observed circling through out the day.

Bus owners claim that the strike is indefinite.  The government plans to activate a contingency plan to provide public transportation if the buses do not resume service tomorrow, with military and police agents on every unit of transportation. They are urging the population to continue their routines as normal.

Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Public Security, reported that they consider these threats to be related to the recent capture of over 10 million dollars in cash un-earthed in barrels in Zacatecoluca.  Others have also attributed the threats to the passage of the new Anti-Gang law.

September 8th Update:

While the partial bus strike continues for the second day, the government continues to increase police and military presence.  The Minister of Public Security, Manuel Melgar, reported 3,500 PNC agents on patrol and the Minister of Defense, David Munguía Payés reported that another 2,000 army personnel have also been mobilized.  Many civilians are relying upon transportation provided by the military and PNC.

Yesterday, the legislative assembly approved the modification of article 347-A of the Penal Code, to increase jail time for persons caught providing arms to gang members.

The prison sub-director, Nelson Rauda, also confirmed ‘rebellions’ by inmates in six different jails.

September 9th Update

As discussed by the bus associations yesterday, today is the third and final day of the bus strikes.  The representative of FECOATRANS, Catalino Miranda, expected to see about 70% of the buses operating as normal by the end of the day.  The police and military trucks are also providing transportation.

The PNC also reported a drop in homicides over the past 3 days.  Nationally, nine homicides were reported on Tuesday (the same as the daily average so far this year), yesterday there were four, and so far today none have been reported.  Yesterday afternoon another M-67 grenade was thrown at a PNC check point in Mejicanos.  No one was injured.  The PNC and the press are highly publicizing the 50 arrests that have been made in the past three days, mostly for young men passing out flyers that threatened informal vendors and bus drivers.  The largest sweep captured 17 young men in Guacotecti, Cabañas for ‘illicit association, possession, and unlicensed weapons’.

Meanwhile, Douglas Moreno, the General Prison Director, has declared emergencies in five prison facilities.  Inmates have declared themselves in ‘rebellion’ and have increased inter-inmate violence and also towards guards.  30 people have been injured.  Moreno has called for the intervention of the UMO (the Order Maintenance Unit) and five days of cell confinement for the prisoners.

Supposed representatives of the MS-13 and M-18 gangs sent out a press release via e-mail yesterday afternoon.  The release apologized for the inconvenience, but that they are seeking a way to be heard by the current administration.  They demand a space for dialogue, a presidential veto of the new anti-gang law, and better conditions for the incarcerated.  Government officials either reserved comment or emphasized the importance of following through on the new legislation.  PNC director Carlos Ascencio said the law would specifically target gang leadership.