agriculture, Agua/Aqua, Cabanas, Climate Change, Corruption, Disasters, Economy, El Salvador Government, Environment, Food Security, International Relations, Mining, Politics, Public Health

A Historical Vote for Environmental Justice

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Versión Español

March 29th, 2017

Despite a short 72 hour notice, some three hundred people from across the country, descended on the courtyard of the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador to be be present during one of the most historical votes in the counter’s recent history. Today was the result of a persistent movement led by communities, national and international environmental organizations, universities, politicians, lawyers, scientists, health professions and most recently, even the Pope himself, recently joined the cause.

According to the UN, El Salvador has the second highest degree of environmental deterioration in the Americas, with only 3% of intact natural forests, soils ruined by inadequate agricultural practices and more than 90% of contaminated surface waters. A recent study by the Central American University José Simeón Cañas (UCA) revealed that 90% of the population demands that the Government take immediate measures to prohibit this putrid industry.

Today was not only a victory for the Anti-Mining activists but it also gave a glimpse of hope that the Water Rights Act, another overdue, essential bill could finally be put before the same assembly and passed. Both laws go hand in hand in the protection of the most basic and important human right of Salvadorans; the right to a dignified and healthy life.

Read the Press Release


Un Voto Histórico para la Justicia Ambiental

Marzo 29, 2017

A pesar de un breve aviso de 72 horas, unas trescientas personas, representado varios regiones del país descendieron al patio de la Asamblea Legislativa en San Salvador para estar presentes durante uno de los votos más trascendentales de la historia reciente del país. Hoy en día, fue el resultado de un movimiento persistente liderado por comunidades, organizaciones ambientales nacionales e internacionales, universidades, políticos, abogados, científicos, profesiones de la salud y más recientemente, incluso el Papa mismo , se unió a la causa.

Según la ONU, El Salvador tiene el segundo mayor grado de deterioro ambiental en las Américas, con sólo el 3% de bosques naturales intactos, los suelos son arruinados por prácticas agrícolas inadecuadas y más del 90% de las aguas superficiales son contaminadas. Un reciente estudio de la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) reveló que el 90% de la población exige que el Gobierno tome medidas inmediatas para prohibir esta industria pútrida.

Hoy, no sólo fue una victoria para los activistas antiminerales, sino que también dio un vistazo a la esperanza de que la Ley del Agua, otro proyecto imprescindible y atrasado, podría finalmente ser sometido a la misma asamblea y aprobado. Ambas leyes van de la mano en la protección del derecho humano más básico e importante de los salvadoreños; El derecho a una vida digna y sana.

Lea Aquí el Comunicado

agriculture, Climate Change, Corruption, Disasters, Economy, El Salvador Government, Environment, Food Security, International Relations, Mining, Partnership for Growth, Public Health, transparency, Uncategorized, violence, Voices Developments

El Salvador’s Metal Mining Debate

Versión Español

In 2002, the Canadian corporation Pacific Rim registered in El Salvador. It was invited by the Salvadoran government to exploit the potential of the country in terms of gold and silver. Pacific Rim identified at least 25 favorable sites for the extraction of gold, in the beginning of its explorations. One of these sites is known as El Dorado, in the department of Cabañas. In December 2004, the company formally requested permission to operate the El Dorado mine, but the government denied permission for inconsistencies in the environmental impact study, and because the company did not have the authorization of the owners of the land where the exploitation of gold and silver would be carried out.

In response to the Salvadoran government’s refusal to grant the El Dorado project exploitation permit, in July 2008, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against the Salvadoran government through the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The company demanded El Salvador pay them $77 million for the amount invested before they were denied the authorization permit. Later this requirement was increased to $301 million and finally reduced to $250 million. At the end of 2013, Pacific Rim filed for bankruptcy and sold its shares to the Australian transnational company Oceana Gold, which continued the lawsuit process.

After a long litigation, on October 14, 2016, the international court ruled in favor of the Salvadoran government and against the mining company. The verdict also determined that the company must compensate with $8 million to the Salvadoran government to cover the procedural costs of the litigation.

Following this ruling, on November 24, 2016, the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC), submitted a letter to the Legislative Assembly requesting a ban on all metal mining in the country. This request opened an intense debate that is increasingly gaining strength. On February 6, the Central American University José Simeón Cañas (UCA) and the Catholic Church presented a proposal for a law to ban metal mining.

The request for a ban is justified by the serious social and ecological impacts caused by the mining industry and by the high degree of pollution and environmental deterioration that the country is currently suffering. According to international experts, El Salvador is the country with the most environmental deterioration in the continent, after Haiti. The United Nations has described El Salvador as the country with the least amount of water available throughout the continent, while the Ministry of the Environment has reported that more than 90% of surface water is seriously contaminated and only 10% are suitable for use as potable.

This water crisis could become much more serious if gold and silver mining projects are located in the basin of the river Lempa, which is the most important river in the country. Its basin makes up 50% of the national territory, and houses 70% of the country’s population.

El Salvador is the only country in Central America that does not have mineral exploitation and in an opinion poll conducted by the UCA in June 2015, 76% of the population is against the opening of mining projects. Despite this opposition, there is great pressure from transnational companies to initiate gold and silver mining projects. This of course is due to the findings from Pacific Rim that discovered approximatly 1.2 million ounces of high-purity gold and more than 7.5 million ounces of silver in the subsoil of the northern part of the country. In addition to another 558 thousand ounces of gold and 1.2 million silver of lower quality.

Apparently this is a good thing; however, experience in neighboring countries such as Guatemala and Honduras demonstrates how harmful the mining industry is to people and the environment. Especially when it comes to water resources. According to a recent UCA publication, the Marlin mine in Guatemala uses about 6 million liters of water per day; and nearby communities have reported 40 dry communal wells in the eight years of the mine’s operations. Likewise in the region of Valle de Siria in Honduras, the San Martín mine has dried 19 of the original 23 rivers in the area throughout its’ nine years of operation.

These effects could be worse in El Salvador, due to the fragility of its ecosystems and the population density of around 300 inhabitants per square kilometer. In these circumstances the human rights of the population would be seriously affected. In this regard, the Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), in a recent statement said: “The harmful effects of mining activity constitute serious violations of the human rights of the population. Among them is the right to life, health, water and food. The concern persists because the mining industry still has an interest in developing its projects in the country and there is no legislation or institutional mechanisms to guarantee the protection of the environment against mining activity.”

The interest of the mining industry to which the PDDH refers to is manifested in a series of actions carried out by the mining company Oceana Gold, which MOVIAC has repeatedly denounced. For instance, in a letter delivered to the Legislative Assembly on November 24, 2016, MOVIAC states: “We know that in all the impoverished countries of the world, transnational mining companies use the same strategies: division of communities, murder of environmentalists, bribing corrupt officials and false media campaigns such as the promises of job creation and social development. The truth is that mining does not generate more jobs than it destroys. Where there is mining there is no agriculture, there is no livestock, there is no tourism, there is no health, there are no peaceful or free communities.”

For all these reasons at the moment, in El Salvador there is a strong debate about the need to pass a law that definitively prohibits metal mining.


El Salvador Debate la Prohibición de la Minería Metálica

En el año 2002 la corporación canadiense Pacific Rim se registró en El Salvador, invitada por el gobierno, para explotar el potencial del país en cuanto a oro y  plata. Desde el inicio en sus exploraciones, la minera identificó al menos 25 sitios propicios para la extracción de oro, uno de estos es el lugar conocido como  El Dorado, en el departamento de Cabañas. En Diciembre de 2004 la empresa solicitó formalmente el permiso de explotación de la mina El Dorado, el gobierno negó el permiso por inconsistencias en el estudio de impacto ambiental y porque la empresa no contaba con la autorización de los propietarios de las tierras en donde se realizaría la explotación del oro y la plata.

Ante la negativa del gobierno salvadoreño de no conceder el permiso de explotación del proyecto El Dorado,  en julio de 2008Pacific Rim inicia una demanda contra el Estado salvadoreño, en El Centro Internacional de Arreglo de Diferencias Relativas a Inversiones (CIADI) del Banco Mundial.

La petición pedía que el Estado salvadoreño le pagara $77 millones de dólares, por el monto invertido antes de que se le negara la autorización de explotación, más tarde esta exigencia fue incrementada a $ 301 millones y finalmente se redujo a $ 250 millones. A finales de  2013, Pacific Rim se declaró en quiebra y vendió sus acciones a la transnacional Australiana Oceana Gold, quien continuó el proceso de demanda.

Después de un largo litigio, el 14 de octubre de 2016, el tribunal internacional falló a favor del Estado salvadoreño y en contra de la empresa minera. El veredicto también determinó que la empresa deberá indemnizar con 8 millones de dólares al gobierno salvadoreño para cubrir los costos procesales del litigio.

A raíz de este fallo, el 24 de noviembre de 2016 el Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones MOVIAC, presentó un escrito a la Asamblea Legislativa solicitando la prohibición de la minería metálica en el país. Está petición abrió un intenso debate que cada vez está cobrando más fuerza. El 6 de febrero la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, UCA y la Iglesia Católica presentaron una propuesta de ley de prohibición de la minería metálica.

La solicitud de prohibición se justifica por los graves impactos sociales y ecológicos que ocasiona la industria minera y por el alto grado de contaminación y deterioro ambiental que ya sufre el país. Según expertos internacionales El Salvador es el país del continente con mayor deterioro ambiental, después de Haití. Las Naciones Unidas ha calificado a El Salvador como el país con menos disponibilidad de agua de todo el continente, y el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente ha informado que más del 90% de las agua superficiales están seriamente contaminadas y que sólo el 10%  son aptas para potabilizar por medios convencionales.

Esta situación de crisis hídrica podría ser mucho más grave si se concretan proyectos de explotación de oro y plata ubicados en la cuenca del río Lempa, que es el río más importante del país, su cuenca comprende el 50% del territorio nacional, en donde habita el 70% de la población del país.

El Salvador es el único país de Centroamérica que no posee explotación de minerales y en una encuesta de opinión realizada por la Universidad Centroamericana UCA,  en junio de 2015, el 76% de la población está en contra de la apertura de proyectos mineros; no obstante se tiene gran presión de empresas transnacionales para iniciar proyectos de extracción de oro y plata, ya que según la exploraciones realizada por la empresa Pacific Rim, en el subsuelo de la zona norte del país existe un aproximado de 1.2 millones de onzas de oro de alta pureza y más de  7.5 millones de onzas de plata. Además de otras 558 mil onzas de oro y 1.2 millones de plata de menor calidad.

En apariencia esto es algo bueno; sin embargo, la experiencia en países vecinos como Guatemala y Honduras demuestra lo dañina que es la industria minera para las personas y para el medio ambiente, especialmente en el recurso hídrico. Según una publicación de la Universidad Centroamericana, UCA la mina Marlín, en Guatemala utiliza unos 6 millones de litros de agua por día, las comunidades que viven cerca reportan 40 pozos comunales secos en los ocho años de operaciones de la mina; así mismo en la región Valle de Siria en Honduras la mina San Martín en nueve años de operaciones ha secado 19 de los 23 ríos originales de la zona.

Estas afectaciones podrían ser peores en El Salvador, por la fragilidad de sus ecosistemas y por la densidad poblacional cercana a los 300 habitantes por kilómetro cuadrado, en estas circunstancias los derechos humanos de la población serían gravemente afectados. Al respecto la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, en un comunicado reciente expresó que: “los efectos nocivos de la actividad minera constituyen graves violaciones a los derechos humanos de la población; entre estos al derecho a la vida, a la salud, al agua y a la alimentación. La preocupación persiste porque aún concurre el interés de la industria minera de desarrollar sus proyectos en el país y no se cuenta con una legislación  ni mecanismos institucionales que garanticen la protección del medio ambiente ante la actividad minera”

El interés de la industria minera al que hace referencia la PDDH se manifiesta en una serie de acciones que lleva a cabo la empresa minera Oceana Gold, las cuales el Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por e Cambio Climático y as Corporaciones, MOVIAC ha denunciado en reiterada ocasiones, por ejemplo en una carta entregada a la Asamblea Legislativa el 24 de noviembre de 2016, el MOVIAC expone: “Conocemos que en todos los países empobrecidos del mundo, las transnacionales mineras emplean las mismas estrategias: división de las comunidades, asesinato de ambientalistas, compra de funcionarios corruptos y campañas mediáticas mentirosas como lo son las promesas de generación de empleo y de desarrollo social. La verdad es que la minería no genera más empleo que el que destruye, donde hay minería no hay agricultura, no hay ganadería, no hay turismo, no hay salud, no hay comunidades pacíficas ni libres”.

Por todas estas razones en el momento actual, en El  Salvador se debate fuertemente la necesidad de aprobar una ley que prohíba definitivamente la minería metálica.

Advocacy, annual report, education, Environment, Food Security, News Highlights, Voices Developments, Womens issues, Youth Development

Celebrating 30 years of Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – 2016 Annual Report

2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.

This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.

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Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.

Environment, Uncategorized

MARN Weak in Wake of Molasses Spill

DSC_0723Last week the Magdalena Sugar Mill in Santa Ana spilled 900,00 gallons of hot molasses into the Magdalena River, causing an environmental disaster. The spill is a reminder of how impotent the Ministry of the Environment is in protecting El Salvador’s natural resources.

In August 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Ministry of the Environment cannot to impose fines against persons or corporations that violate environmental laws. The Environmental Court can find someone guilty of polluting, engaging in harmful activities without an environmental permit, or any other violation, but they cannot impose a fine.

The problem is Article 89 of the Environmental Law. When the Environmental Court finds someone guilty of violating the law, Article 89 says the Ministry should impose fines based on the daily salary for urban workers in San Salvador. Day fines are a common tool in Latin American countries for measuring appropriate penalties. If a person or business cuts down a forest without permission, or spills molasses into a river, the court can (in theory) fine them the equivalent of 2-100 or 101-5,000 days salary depending on the severity of the crime. The dollar amount of the day salary is based on the minimum wage for urban workers in San Salvador. Unfortunately, the minimum wage decree does not have a category for urban workers in San Salvador, therefore the Constitutional Court said the Ministry cannot levee any fines.

Following the molasses spill, the Environmental court ordered the Magdalena Mill to issue a public apology by taking an ad out in El Salvador’s two largest newspapers. They also have to come up with a cleanup plan. But the Ministry cannot impose a fine or otherwise punish the Mill. Their only real loss is the revenue that selling 900,000 gallons of molasses would have brought in had they not spilled it. At $150/ton, that would be a $789,500 loss. That is definitely a hit to the Mill, but it is not punitive nor does it compensate locals or the State for the damage to an important common resource and the clean up. El Salvador is in water crisis and damage to a river like the Magdalena is more serious than ever, especially to the 450 families that depend on it for their survival.

In December 2015 and again this week Environmental Minister Lina Pohl asked the Legislative Assembly to fix Article 89 so the Ministry can levee fines. It seems like this would be an easy one – they just need to change a couple words so that fines are based on an actual minimum wage or some other measure.

Unfortunately, the Legislative Assembly has a bad record on doing the right thing when it comes to the environment, food, and water. The current arrangement is ideal for powerful business interests – there is an environmental law but no real consequences for ignoring it. They can skip environmental permitting processes and pollute with impunity. These businesses have a lot of influence over the Legislature and are likely to oppose any effort to change Article 89, just as they have opposed the General Law on Water proposed in 2005 and efforts to amend the Constitution to recognize food sovereignty and access to water as basic human rights.

Residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután have seen the Ministry’s impotence in action (or inaction). In trying to stop sugarcane growers from planting crops near mangrove forests, community leaders asked Ministry officials to stop the project, arguing that the project did not have an environmental permit. The Ministry told the communities that they could only ask the growers to go through the permitting process but could not do anything to stop them.

The Ministry of the Environment is good at writing reports and declaring states of emergency, but their mandate is so much more than that. The Ministry is tasked with ensuring that Salvadorans enjoy their Constitutional right to a clean, healthy environment. The reports and states of emergency detail just how badly the Ministry has failed over the years.

This has to change if El Salvador is going to address the water crisis and other pending disasters. The Legislature must reform Article 89 to give the Ministry some teeth, but then the Ministry has to use those teeth to go after poluuters. Similarly, the Legislature has to pass the General Water Law as drafted by civil society organizations in 2005, and finally recognize that all Salvadorans have the right to food sovereignty and access to water.

El Salvador Government, Environment

The Legislative Assembly’s Environmental Debt

MontecristoThe current term of the Legislative Assembly comes to an end in a couple weeks and their inaction on environmental issues has left a huge debt to the people the were elected to serve.

When the Legislative Assembly began its 2012-2015 term, the body’s President Sigfrido Reyes said, “the debate in the current legislature requires a dignified position of the Parliament. As the Assembly begins, it is faced with some formidable challenges among them is reducing the environmental vulnerabilities.” A month later, Representative Francisco Zablath, President of the Assembly’s Environmental and Climate Change Commission, said, “What the Legislators do or fail to do affects millions of Salvadorans, and for that reason our task is to legislate responsibly and focus on the common good. So I promise to address water issues in a holistic manner and with the benefit of the population being the center focus.”

But three years later, the Legislative Assembly has accomplished little in protecting El Salvador’s environment and natural resources. Legislators managed to pass a ban on circus animals, extend an environmental emergency declaration in Sitio del Niño, and removed toxic chemicals from San Luis Talpa. These are important and necessary actions, but there are so many other big environmental issues the Legislature failed to act on.

The most emblematic is the General Water Law, which was first presented to the Legislative Assembly in 2006. It is incredibly irresponsible that in 9 years legislators have yet to approve a law that regulates the use of water. El Salvador is on the brink of a water crisis, and the government must take action, but the legislature seems paralyzed.

Carolina Amaya, an environmental activist at the Salvadoran Ecological Unit argues that the reason they have not passed the General Water Law is that business leaders have close ties to right-wing legislators. These private, for-profit interests want to control water resources through privatization, and their representatives in the Legislature have been holding up the bill on the their behalf. Ms. Amaya says that giving private businesses control over water management would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

The Legislature has also failed to ratify an amendment to Article 69 of the Constitution, which would recognize food and water as a basic human right. The amendment was passed in April 2012 just before the last legislative term ended. But to become binding, the Legislature had to ratify it in this term with at least 56 votes, which they were unable to do. It seems like a pretty non-controversial bill giving people the right to adequate nutrition and water, and requiring the State to manage water resources in a way that provides people with adequate access to each.

Twice, legislators have tried to ratify the amendment, but the two conservative parties have voted against it without making any good policy arguments as to why. The Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, recently asked the Assembly, “the right [to food and water] is nothing you can deny, and will all due respect, and with all the respect I can communicate to the honorable legislators, I want to ask that you not reject the amendment and give this your vote, because if you reject it, you deny Salvadorans of their most important and fundamental rights.”

The reality is, however, the Legislative term will end in a couple weeks and with it the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to the country – elevating the right to food and water to a constitutional right.

The legislature also continues to ignore the proposed ban on metallic mining. In a conversation with the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC), Representative Lourdes Palacios, the Secretary of the Environmental and Climate Change Committee, recognized that the ban on mining has not been on the Commissions agenda and that they have not looked at the issue.

There are several other environmental issues that are important to Salvadorans and the natural resources they depend on but that the Legislative Assembly has ignored this term. These include the prohibition of toxic agrochemicals, passage of a food sovereignty law, and needed reforms to the Risk Management Law.

The current legislature is leaving a lot of unfinished business for the next term, as well as a big debt to Salvadorans whose health and wellbeing hang in the balance. Water, food and nutrition, mining, toxic agro-chemicals, and risk management are all issues that the Legislature has to address. The next legislative body cannot be irresponsible as their predecessors were – they have a moral and ethical obligation to the people that elected them to office.

Advocacy, Tourism

Urgent Appeal! Help Protect the Bay of Jiquilisco and Bajo Lempa!

Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután need your help protecting their invaluable, irreplaceable coastal environment and agrarian way of life. Developers are planning to build resorts, golf courses, and shopping centers in the region, and our local partners fear it will destroy their agricultural land, mangrove forests and the other ecosystems upon which they depend.

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region
A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

We at Voices need to raise $7,600 by August 2nd so we can help our partners develop a legal and political strategy to protect their land, launch a national advocacy campaign, and organize a small, eco-tourism alternative.

Plan for Large-Scale Tourism – Developers are planning large-scale tourism projects for the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. With support from the Salvadoran government they recently completed Phase One – building a highway out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and purchasing large tracts of land. They are now preparing to begin Phase Two – construction. The government is again supporting them by proposing that the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation provide financing. Yes, the Salvadoran government wants to give U.S. tax dollars to well-financed developers to build high-end resorts.

Protecting the Local Environment – Communities in the region have simple goals – food security and environmental sustainability. They celebrate their peaceful agrarian lifestyle and would rather have productive farmland and healthy environment than tourism. The government claims tourism will provide jobs and economic opportunities, but our partners want to farm, not clean bathrooms. They want healthy a healthy bay and mangrove forests, not manicured golf courses and jet skis. Government officials say they will require developers to meet “minimal environmental standards” but El Salvador lacks a positive record of enforcing its laws.

Please Help Protect the Region’s Environment and Agrarian Culture! – Our partners ask that we help them 1) organize a legal and political strategy, 2) fund a national advocacy campaign, and 3) support a small eco-tourism alternative.  But we simlply can’t do it without your help. Time is short and we need to raise $7,600 by Friday, August 2nd.  Help our partners’ VOICES be heard by making a generous donation today!

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P.S. Lara Whyte recently published a piece in the Digital Journal about La Tirana and the Tourism threat. Als0, Justine Davidson, one our of Osgoode Hall Law School summer interns wrote an informative article on the Peninsula and the tourism issue.

Here is an overview of the projects/activities we need funding for:

 

Workshops to Develop Legal and Political Strategy

 

$2,600

Voices’ volunteers and staff are helping our local partners develop a legal and political strategy to defend their land and way of life. By July 15th our partners will be ready to present their proposed strategy to their communities, and solicit their input and cooperation. They want to hold open meetings in key communities like Zamorano, La Tirana, El Chile, and Isla de Mendez. Our local partners will then host a weekend conference with 20 community leaders to organize a national advocacy campaign. Each of the open community meetings will cost $400 in transportation, printing, and refreshments. The weekend retreat will cost $1,000 in lodging, transportation, food, and printing.

 

 

National Advocacy Campaign

 

$3,000

In August, after the workshops and weekend conference, our local partners will be ready to launch their National Advocacy Campaign. Organizers have asked Voices and partner organizations to help contribute funds to hire attorneys to file legal cases and monitor environmental permitting processes, arranging transport for rural community members to meet with policy makers in San Salvador, buying one-page advertisements in national newspapers and additional campaign opportunities. These activities will far exceed $3,000 but Voices is joining forces with several Salvadoran organizations that will also contribute to the campaign.

 

 

Alternative

Eco-Tourism

Project in

La Tirana

$2,000

The community board of La Tirana has asked Voices and CESTA (a Salvadoran environmental organization) to help them develop an eco-tourism project as an alternative to the mega-projects.  Birdwatchers and naturalists already visit La Tirana but residents are unable to offer lodging or food. CESTA is willing to help build small, comfortable cabins and a community-run restaurant if Voices will help the board develop the infrastructure and capacity to manage the project in the long-term.
We are ready to begin in July, but need $2,000 to help the board develop a business plan and build their capacity in areas such as accounting and business management which will enable La Tirana residents to sustain their own eco-tourism initiative in the long-run.

 

Climate Change, El Salvador Government, Environment

Diputada Lourdes Palacios Speaks out about the Committee on the Environment and Climate Change

In a September 23 interview with Diario Co Latino, Lourdes Palacios, FMLN Diputada to the Legislative Assembly’s recently formed Committee on the Environment and Climate Change, spoke about the lack of legislative progress on the country’s environmental issues as well as the perceived ineffectualness of the Environmental Commission.

Until early May 2010, environmental issues belonged to the Committee on Health. Due to the daunting number of issues facing the committee, however, the FMLN proposed splitting the body to increase efficiency in tackling the issues. Back in March, Representative Palacios commented that the Committee on Health and the Environment’s agenda was so saturated with health issues that it did not “allow us to advance on the environmental agenda” (El Diario de Hoy, 29 March 2010). On May 11, 2010, the Legislative Assembly created the Committee on the Environment and Climate Change, and the former committee became the Health Committee.

Government officials hoped that the Environmental Committee would give politicians the legislative muscle required to focus on protecting, conserving and restoring the nation’s environmental integrity.  The administrative split resulted in the transfer of 101 issues (files) being from the old Health Committee to the new Environmental Committee. In addition, the Environmental Committee has taken on the environmental challenges that have received little attention (greenhouse gases, climate change, and protecting hydrographic basins) (ComUnica, 21 April 2010).  As a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the new Committee on the Environment and Climate Change is tasked in part with helping El Salvador fulfill its treaty obligations.

In her interview, Diputado Palacios expressed her disappointment that the Environmental Committee has been inactive and not accomplished anything of significance. She reports that since May 11, when the Legislative Assembly formed the committee, they have met only a few times and have failed to address important issues.

In reviewing the different issues before the Environmental Committee Diputada Palacios discussed the mining in depth, praising the members of the anti-mining movement for standing up for their rights and the environment. She believes that the anti-mining legislation before the committee is the most delayed and lacks consensus between the parties due to vested economic interests. Other issues still awaiting discussion despite numerous motions to bring them to the floor are the general water law, the Law of Civil Protection, Prevention and Protection Against Disasters, and reforms to the Law on the Environmental and Natural Resources, which Palacios feels needs strengthening and updating to reflect current realities. Diputado Palacios also said that one of the proposed reforms to the environmental law deals with solid waste, and focuses on strengthening recycling initiatives and preventative measures (e.g. bringing one’s own bags when shopping).

One important issue that has again taken a back seat to more prominent (but still stagnant) issues like the Mining Law is the General Water Law.  First proposed to the Assembly back in March 2006 by the Foro Nacional del Agua (National Water Forum), the General Water Law aims to regulate, protect, and restore water resources.  Over 80% of the country’s urban areas and only 44% of rural families have water service (News Millenium, 20 August 2010), and forecasters predict that El Salvador’s water supply will be catastrophically low within five years.  Areas with water service may have intermittent access, and those without municipal water supplies often rely on short-term fixes like community wells, which can have devastating effects on poor communities without the financial resources to maintain them.  A broken well pump in San Antonio del Monte, Sonsonate, for example, recently left 5,000 people without potable water in their homes for more than two months. The needed $6,000 to replace the pump or $3,000 to fix it; both prices were far beyond the reach of this impoverished community, forcing women to walk four miles to the nearest river (El Diario de Hoy, 4 August 2010).

The water issue in El Salvador also involves quality. There are no regulations concerning water quality in the country, and a recent study found that 43.25% of public schools in rural areas lack reliable access to potable water or plumbing systems. Rafael Callejas, executive director of Alianza del Milenio para el Agua (MWA), elaborated on the implications of the country’s unsatisfactory water system, saying that the act of ensuring potable water and indoor plumbing in schools helps achieve greater levels of student retention and reduces illnesses (La Prensa Gráfica, 29 September 2010).

FMLN Representative Lourdes Palacios stated in March, “It is necessary to have a regulation that guarantees access to potable water to the Salvadoran people” (El Diario de Hoy, 29 March 2010). Given El Salvador’s extremely high rate of pollution and water contamination, one might assume the water issue would receive somewhat immediate attention from the Committee.  Palacios notes, however, that the Environmental Committee has made surprisingly little process on this or any other issue.

Representative Palacios laments that many perceive the Environmental and Climate Change Committee as “a commission that exists only in name”; perceptions will not change if the new Committee on the Environment and Climate Change fails to act on key and urgent issues facing the country.