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.

Climate Change, El Salvador Government, Environment

Durban, El Salvador and Climate Change

Since Tropical Storm 12-E poured 55 inches of rain on El Salvador just two months ago, high-ranking government officials have jointed communities in the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco in speaking out against climate change. Unfortunately, the principal emitters of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change do not seem to be listening.

President Funes recently stated, “Climate change has harmful effects on societies, and particularly our country.” Minister of the Environment Herman Rosa Chávez said in the days after the flooding, “El Salvador is one place on earth that is already suffering from climate change.” Communities in the Lower Lempa held a forum earlier in the year in which residents discussed how climate change was already affecting their lives, including extreme droughts and flooding, as has been the pattern for the last few years.

Climate change has also been in the news because of the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held November 28 to December 11 in Durban, South Africa. For those in the Lower Lempa who are still recovering from the October floods AND trying to prepare for future extreme weather events, there was a lot at stake in the Durban negotiations. Climate change is a reality in their communities and if the global community does not agree to cut emissions, Tropical Storm 12-E will become a way of life.

The Economist summarized the Durban agreement as “a quid pro quo between the European Union and big developing-country polluters, especially China and India.” The agreement failed to consider the demands and pleas from smaller economies (and smaller emitters) such as El Salvador. The deal requires that EU countries continue reducing emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change under the existing Kyoto protocol. The U.S. never signed on to Kyoto and Canada just dropped out, so the Durban agreement did not affect their current emissions-status. The main provisions of Kyoto were set to expire in 2012, but under the agreement they will be extended. In the meantime, developed and developing countries will work together to produce a new agreement by 2015 that will be implemented by 2020. The Kyoto protocol does not require developing or poor countries to reduce emissions, and under the Durban compromise they will remain exempt until the new agreement goes into affect.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) maintains a database of CO2 emissions for each country. Based purely on output, China emits the most greenhouse gases – 7,707 million metric tons of CO2 (2009). The U.S emits the second highest levels of greenhouse gases – 5,425 million metric tons of CO2 (2009). China, however, emits only 5.83 metric tons of CO2/capita, while the U.S. emits 17.67 metric tons of CO2/capita. India emits the 3rd highest levels of greenhouse gases – 1,591 million metric tons of CO2 (2009), which is only 1.38 tons/capita. El Salvador, in comparison, emitted only 5.93 million metric tons of CO2 (2009), which is 0.98 tons of CO2/capita.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, analyzing EIA figures from 2008, concluded,

“The picture from these figures is one where…. developed countries and major emerging economy nations lead in total carbon dioxide emissions. Developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while some developing countries lead in the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions. Obviously, these uneven contributions to the climate problem are at the core of the challenges the world community faces in finding effective and equitable solutions.”

This was the tension at Durban. Larger emerging markets –China and India – are not bound by the Kyoto protocol and did not want to be bound under a new agreement. Their argument is that per capita, they emit far less than developed countries and limits on emissions would hinder their ability to develop and lift their populations out of poverty. This argument was more promulgated by India – China, which has fairly high levels of per capita emissions appears to realize that they need to take steps to cut emissions by developing clean energy sources.

Similarly, developed nations don’t want to put themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” with such large economies as China and India by agreeing to expensive emission reductions that developing countries don’t have to worry about. Many other countries participating in the Durban Conference are like El Salvador –small economies with relatively low emissions that are suffering the effects of climate change, but lack the economic or political capital to force the larger countries to cut their emissions.

As the Economist points out, the U.S. should be pleased with the outcome of the Durban Conference. The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto protocol because it did not require developing nations to cut emissions. The Durban agreement, however, lays the groundwork for requiring that all nations cut emissions of greenhouse gases, but puts it off until 2020.

This past Monday, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now dedicated her entire broadcast to the Durban Conference.  Kate Horner, who is a policy analyst for Friends of the Earth International, said on Monday’s show,

“The outcome of the talks here in Durban is, unfortunately, a very weak agreement that lacks in ambition, equity and justice. The Kyoto protocol… will continue only as an empty shell. Several countries – namely, Canada, Russia, and Japan – have refused to put new targets on the table, and the countries that have signed up have only offered really shockingly low levels of ambition… The United States has weaseled out of every promise that it has made, including to take on comparable action to other developed countries in line with its historic responsibility for contributing to this problem.”

She also said the Durban Platform, “is really not the important milestone in building a climate regime that many have called it, including the United States and the European Union… the most damaging part of it is it’s an attempt to shift the burden of this problem on developing countries who have contributed less.”

Salvadoran Environmental Minister Herman Rosa Chávez spoke at the conference, highlighting the effects of climate change on Central America. He called for the Conference to address three essential issues: fund the Green Climate Fund, expansion of adaption efforts, and serious mitigation commitments from developed and principal emitters.

This week, Salvadoran environmental groups held a forum in San Salvador to discuss the Durban Conference. In a statement released after the forum, the environmentalists criticized the international community and Salvadoran government for failing to take appropriate action to address climate change. Pointing out that international studies have identified El Salvador as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, participants emphasized that if polluters don’t cut emissions, average temperatures in El Salvador will rise 6 degrees Celsius.

The Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Central American Integration System (SICA) met yesterday in San Salvador in advance of the SICA summit that begins today. The purpose of their meeting in advance of the summit was for the Consultative Group for the Reconstruction of Central America to create an action plan for helping the region adapt to climate change. Addressing the meeting on Wednesday, President Funes said,

“The proposal of the meeting with the Consultative Group is not to get resources, its to put the Central American region and particularly El Salvador on the international agenda, and that the impact that climate change is having is more visible.”

What is clear post-Durban is that the countries that are responsible for emitting the most greenhouse gases that is causing climate change are more motivated to protect their short-term economic development than preventing long-term disaster. It is also apparent that countries like El Salvador that emit low levels of greenhouse gases but are experiencing the extreme weather patterns associated with climate change have little influence over the discussions. As Tropical Storm 12-E showed Central Americans, doing nothing to prevent climate change is not really an option. But it seems that’s exactly what the principal emitters are doing – nothing.

 

Advocacy, Equality, violence, Womens issues

Women in El Salvador and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

For some, it was a day of turkey feasts and family gatherings, but for many more, November 25th was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Designated by the United Nations back in 1999, it now marks the beginning of a 16-day campaign of activism that culminates in Human Rights Day (December 10).  According to the United Nations Population Fund, November 25th marks the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence by highlighting 16 forms of gender violence and proposing 16 ways to stop it (read more here on UNFPA’s page and on Rutgers’ official campaign page).

In El Salvador, Contrapunto prefaced the holiday by featuring two articles addressing the status of women in the region.  One article, “The ‘sin’ of being a women in a machista country,” highlighted the high level of violence women in the country face, pointing out that El Salvador has the world’s highest “femicide” or homicide rate for women of 129.46 per million women.  The article denounces not only the physical violence women face, but also the sexual violence, and recounts a recent case where evangelical pastor Antonio Moreno was arrested and charged in the rape of 13 female minors and two male minors.  The author also decries El Salvador’s 197% increase in violence against women from 1999 to 2009, according to United Nations Development Program representative Richard Barath.

Violence against women comes in many forms, some of which are less obvious to a largely patriarchal society in which male abuse of women can be considered “normal,” the author states.  The Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo de la Mujer (ISDEMU) (Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development) gathered data this year for its Second National Report on the Situation of Violence Against Women in El Salvador and reported that from January 1 to November 5, 2010, the institute handled 6,320 cases of violence against women.  The National Civil Police (PNC) gave equally alarming figures, stating that there were 477 women murdered from January to October 2010, with 193 of those murders occurring in the capital city alone.  Ima Guirola of the Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer “Norma Virginia Girola de Herrera” (CEMUJER) summarized the figures differently:  in 2010, a woman is murdered every 13 hours.  85% of reported cases involve a perpetrator known to the women, and 76% of women who have suffered sexual abuse faced that abuse when they were younger than 19.  Both institutes have denounced what they consider to be cultural legitimization of violence against women coupled with a lack of strong institutions for criminal prosecution.

Another article in the same publication, entitled “Discrimination against women is latent,” focused on the November 17-19 visit of Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, Rapporteur on the Rights of Women from the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (see IACHR press release here).  Mejía Guerrero acknowledged that there was political will to see an end to violence and discrimination against women, but stressed that the government needed to take more steps to improve the situation on many levels, with special attention to the weaknesses in the justice system.  Mejía Guerrero judged El Salvador’s judicial system to be weak due to the large number of cases of violence against women that go unpunished because of “a lack of tools that facilitate the investigation process and victim’s compensation.”  According to the Attorney General’s Office, of the 6,803 cases of sexual crimes against women that took place between 2008 and 2009, only 436 have obtained convictions.  Mejía Guerrero stated that the problem is also a regional one, which encompasses a wide range of discrimination against women, including economic, social, and cultural rights.  According to a 2009 report by Consejo por la Igualdad y la Equidad (CIE), El Salvador has a 14% gap in salary between men and women, with women also reporting numerous labor violations such as unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, and exploitation.

Given these troubling statistics, the situation women face in El Salvador is as unacceptable as it is worrisome, and merits serious attention by the Funes administration.  Given the government’s pro-life crackdown and constitutional amendments that go to extreme lengths in order to preserve a life beginning at the point of conception, it is puzzling why the government has not done more to advance and protect the rights of women once they are indeed born.