Advocacy, Agua/Aqua, Food Security, Water/Agua

The Human Right to Water in El Salvador (excerpt)

Versión Español

In El Salvador, environmental activists, natural resource protectors and lawmakers are still celebrating the historical victory of the Anti-Mining law which bans “prospection, exploration, exploitation, extraction or processing of metallic minerals in El Salvador.”1

Parallel to this victory, a new old fight continues.

El Salvador has, in fact, enough water for its people, however a water crisis is rising from unethical and incompetent management of resources. This is evident in the distribution when we see exclusive residential areas, resorts, mono-cropping farms receive water while mountain towns situated along flowing clean rivers do not.2

Though the organized fight for the right to water began over a decade ago, civil society with the support of international solidarity and major religions have come together to intensify the demand to pass the bill, originally drafted in 2005, which has been since updated and since challenged by right-wing parties and the private business sector.

These affected communities themselves are developing their own water committees and receiving specialized training in the collection, storage and distribution of their own communal and household systems. As a proud member of MOVIAC, the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations, we support strengthening these leaders capacities and promote healthy, just and sustainable social changes.

Voices have been tasked to investigate an important topic facing the communities we serve and we have chosen the life and death subject on the right to water in order to spread awareness and forge solidarity. This report is close to completion however we are releasing this excerpt due to the current climate of popular movements and political decisions.

The Human Right to Water in El Salvador   (excerpt) :
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El Derecho Humano al Agua en El Salvador   (extracto)

En El Salvador, activistas ambientales, protectores del agua y legisladores siguen celebrando el histórico triunfo de la ley antiminas que prohíbe “la prospección, exploración, explotación, extracción o procesamiento de minerales metálicos en El Salvador.”1

Paralelamente a esta victoria, una nueva / antigua pelea continúa.

El Salvador tiene, de hecho, suficiente agua para su gente, sin embargo una crisis del agua está levantando de la administración antiética e incompetente de recursos. Esto es evidente en la distribución cuando vemos zonas residenciales exclusivas, complejos, granjas monoculturales reciben agua mientras que los pueblos de montaña situados a lo largo de ríos que fluyen limpios no lo hacen.2

Aunque la lucha organizada por el derecho al agua comenzó hace más de una década, la sociedad civil con el apoyo de la solidaridad internacional y de las principales religiones se han unido para intensificar la demanda de aprobar el proyecto, redactado originalmente en 2005, desafiado por los partidos de derecha y el sector empresarial privado desde el inicio.

Estas mismas comunidades afectadas están desarrollando sus propios comités de agua y recibiendo capacitación especializada en la recolección, almacenamiento y distribución de sus propios sistemas comunitarios y domésticos. Como miembro orgulloso de MOVIAC, el Movimiento de las Víctimas Afectadas por el Cambio Climático y las Corporaciones, nosotros como Voces apoyamos el fortalecimiento de estas capacidades de líderes y promover cambios sociales saludables, justos y sostenibles.

Voces ha sido encargado de investigar un tema importante que enfrentan las comunidades a las que servimos y hemos elegido el tema del agua porque es un asunto de vida y muerte también para difundir la conciencia y forjar la solidaridad. Este informe está a punto de finalizar, sin embargo estamos publicando este fragmento debido al clima actual de movimientos populares y decisiones políticas.

El Derecho Humano al Agua en El Salvador   (extracto):
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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.

Environment

El Salvador and Water: Chaos Reigns

 

DSC_0823
Do not sell water, take care of it and defend it

El Salvador is facing a water crisis. Government officials say it’s due to a climate change-induced drought. We recently argued on this blog that the crisis is the result of unregulated development on fragile aquifer recharge zones. While these are serious problems, the bigger issue for the water crisis is that no one entity is responsible for managing water resources and ensuring they are used in a sustainable manner.

In the absence of water management, chaos reigns. The National Association of Aqueducts and Sewage (ANDA) provides water to 40% of the population. Another 40% of the population depends on no fewer than 2,366 local water boards (that’s 2,366 water boards in just 262 municipalities). The rest rely on private for-profit companies, wells, and other sources. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture is supposed to regulate irrigation; while the Ministry of the Environment protects recharge zones, rivers and lakes; and the Ministry of Health makes sure water is clean. This patchwork system fails because government agencies do not fulfill their roles and no single entity is responsible.

The ensuing chaos and lack of oversight allows golf courses, bottling companies, sugarcane growers, and other private interests to use all the water they want, no matter how it affects local communities. One golf course mentioned in the news a couple weeks ago has all the water it needs while 75% of the nearby populations struggle to satisfy their daily needs. Similarly, residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután report that sugarcane growers use so much ground water for irrigation that their wells are no longer deep enough and they don’t have enough water for their small farms.

DSC_0818
The right to water as a common good

Since the early 1990s and the implementation of neoliberal economic policies, Salvadorans have struggled over two competing visions for water management. Civil society organizations and communities argue that water is a common good and access is a basic human right. Accordingly, the government should protect water resources and ensure that all people have what they need to live healthy, productive lives. Business interests and conservative politicians argue that water is a commodity to be bought and sold, and the only way to satisfy demand to privatize and let the markets take over. These competing visions are not unique to El Salvador. The United States, Bolivia, India, and other countries around the world have struggled, at times violently, over whether water is a right or a commodity.

Civil society organizations have organized protests and marches, created an advocacy coalition (the Water Forum), and drafted legislation that recognizes water as a basic human right and regulates its use. The government and private actors have taken loans from the Inter-American Development Bank to facilitate privatized use of water, and drafted a law of their own. So far, the government has done nothing, forcing communities to take care of their own needs and allowing private interests to use all the water they want.

The one positive development is the 2,366 local water boards that provide services to communities that would otherwise go without. One example of a local board is the Association of Water Users in the Rural Areas of Tonacatepeque (ABAZORTO), which serves 1,700 families on the outskirts of San Salvador. In addition to providing water, ABAZORTO protects aquifer recharge areas with reforestation and conservation activities, and promotes sustainable agriculture. ABAZORTO has a model garden with 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables where they teach local farmers how to grow without using harmful agrochemicals that pollute rivers, streams, and groundwater. They also have a team of promoters that goes door-to-door and holds workshops in schools to teach the community about water management. ABAZORTO and other water boards are doing what the Legislative Assembly and Central Government are failing to do – managing water resources in a sustainable manner. But they cannot do it alone.

This week the President of ANDA and a block of FMLN legislators requested that the Legislative Assembly declare local water boards to be a social interest and exempt them from State fees leveed for water use. They also asked the Assembly to forgive outstanding debts water boards have for past use. This kind of support is an important part of water management, but it does nothing to stop private interests from exploiting the country’s water resources. The only way to accomplish that is by passing the General Water Law that the Water Forum proposed in 2005. The law would recognize water as a right, require sustainable management of water resources and recharge zones, and regulate private, for-profit use of water.

Environmental activist Carolina Amaya says the Legislative Assembly has not passed the Water Forum’s proposed law because business interests represented by conservative politicians want control over water resources. Their inaction and ongoing lack of water management is defacto privatization, in that private interests continue to use what they want with no oversight or regulation. Until that changes, El Salvador will continue to experience water crisis, no matter how many new pumps or miles of pipes that ANDA adds to the current system.

Climate Change, El Salvador Government, Environment, Mining

MOVIAC Environmental Reflections

This morning, the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC, in Spanish), published a two-page statement in Diario Co Latino on pending environmental issues in El Salvador – the Pacific Rim claim in the World Bank tribunal and the proposed ban on mining, Climate Change and the current economic model, the recent signing of the Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, and the Legislative Assembly’s failure to recognize water as a basic human right. MOVIAC wants the new Sánchez Cerén administration and the Legislative Assembly to be doing way more than they are.

Voices staff translated the MOVIAC statement to English and have attached it below along with the original in Spanish. (We will update this post with a link to the digital copy of today’s Co Latino when it is available.)

English

0925 publicacion Reflexiones ambientales(1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourism

Tourism Plans for the Jiquilisco Bay

(Voces está trabajando para traducir este artículo al español y se publicará muy pronto)

Since at least 2004 the Salvadoran Government has been planning large-scale tourism development in El Salvador. Among the goals articulated in the development plans is for tourism to account for 10% of El Salvador’s GDP, up from 3.7% in 2005.

IMG_0363Just this week, Global Travel Industry News wrote, “El Salvador is the diamond in the rough, the potential jewel that needs the savvy hand of a smart developer who is willing and able to chip away on the rough edges to release the beauty and unbridled opportunities of the destination.”

Many people view tourism as a way to create jobs and economic growth. Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay of Usulután, however, do not want developers to chip away at their rough edges or promote development they fear will irreparably harm to their mangrove forests, estuaries, beaches and other natural resources.

Government agencies have at least three plans guiding tourism development – the Plan for the Sustainable Develop of Eco-Tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay (2007), the 2014 National Plan on Tourism (2006), and the 2020 National Plan on Tourism. The 2020 Plan proposes constructing at least 350 new hotels and resorts that will offer at least 23,000 rooms. The Plan suggests that 85% (or 298) of these 350 new hotels and resorts should be small rural or beachfront cabins with 50 rooms or less. If each small hotels maxes out at 50 rooms, in order to achieve the 23,000 room goal, the remaining 15% (or 52) hotels and resorts will have to average 156 rooms.

The Ministry of Tourism wants 1.9 million tourists to visit El Salvador in 2014, a number they want to increase to 3 million with 12 million overnight stays in 2020. In 2005 Central Americans comprised 70% of tourists in El Salvador while North Americans were only 25%. The 2014 Plan says that by 2014 Central Americans should “be no greater than 40% of all tourists” and North Americans should make up at least 45%. The 2020 plan articulates the same numeric goals, but does not state that they should limit the number of Central Americans. Additionally, the 2020 Plan wants tourists to stay at least 7 days and spend more than $160 per day.

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

While the 2020 Tourism Plan does not identify any specific region for tourism, the 2014 Tourism Plan and the Jiquilisco Tourism Plan identify the Jiquilisco Bay as an important region for development. The region’s bay and long stretch of undeveloped coastline includes miles of beautiful beaches, mangrove forests, estuaries and rivers, islands and protected park lands. In addition to hanging out on the beach and surfing, the Plans envision tourist activities such as bird watching, canoeing and kayaking, boating and sport fishing, and more.

In 2004, CORTASUR, a government tourism agency, held a conference during which a consultant recommended that the Jiquilisco Bay become the Cancun of Central America, complete with hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses and other facilities. The consultant said that the first phase for development would include building a modern, paved road out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and acquiring land. A highway out the Peninsula was completed in 2011, and shortly after the conference land speculators began acquiring land. In 2003 a hectare of land on the Peninsula cost around $1,000. In 2005 the price the same hectare of land shot up to $12,000. Prices have been on the rise ever since. The 2014 Plan identified other goals for developing tourism in the region:

 – Promoting foreign investment and local entrepreneurship to develop small, boutique hotels and eco-lodges, and restaurants;

–  Equipping, altering, and cleaning the beaches so that they meet international quality standards;

– Creating the structure for services and activities related to sport fishing, bird watching, and a coastal route;

–  Recuperating and conserving the coastal environment;

–  Building the capacity of local human resources involved in tourism and those who would come in contact with tourists to better serve their clients;

–  Improving the landscape and the beauty of urban spaces; and

–  Improving the infrastructure of the ports.

Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula
Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula

Currently the government is looking for foreign and domestic investments. The 2020 Plan says El Salvador should have at least 2000 investors in restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality services. To help out, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recently approved a $277 million grant to develop El Salvador’s southern coast. While the funds do not identify support for tourism specifically, FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran Government MCC counterpart) and the El Salvador Investment Challenge issued a call for proposals while they were developing their MCC proposal. The ESIC said the purpose was to:

“to invest in public projects that catalyze private investments in tradable goods and services thereby generating economic growth and poverty reduction. The first phase of the ESIC is a competitive call-for-ideas that would catalyze investments in El Salvador through public-private partnerships, whereby private entities identify public or quasi-public infrastructure and services that are necessary to support private investments aimed at increasing productivity and trade of goods and services in El Salvador.”

Of the 49 proposals received, 27 involved tourism infrastructure projects in Usulután, La Libertad, and La Union. (Efforts to get the names of those who submitted proposals and what they proposed were unsuccessful). MCC funds won’t be available to fund hotels, resorts, or other private investments, but they will likely be available for infrastructure projects like building secondary roads, equipping, altering, and cleaning beaches, operating a tourism police force, creating programs to train locals in tourism and hospitality services, and similar projects to make it easier to attract investments. In addition to MCC funds, the Inter-American Development Bank has approved a $25 million dollar loan for tourism projects.

Currently, opposition to the government’s tourism plan is mostly local. It appears that most Salvadorans approve of tourism as a way to create jobs and improve their stagnant economy. But many residents and organizations in the Bay area are concerned large-scale tourism, and even the small, eco-tourism projects, will harm fragile ecosystems like the mangrove forests, network of rivers and estuaries, the Bay itself, and local beaches.

According to the Mangrove Action Project, their fears are legitimate – tourism is one of the greatest threats to the world’s mangroves. Worldwide the loss of mangroves results in the decline of fisheries, and weak or lost buffers that shield populated areas from storm surges. Specifically, the Jiquilisco Bay’s mangrove forests are home to thousands of species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians and capable of absorbing more than 5 times carbon than rainforests, making them a vital asset for stopping climate change.

Environmentalists also point out that 12 million overnight stays by tourists will put an impossible strain on El Salvador’s scarce water supplies. A water expert at CESTA (the Center for Applied Technology) reports that the average tourist in El Salvador uses at least five times the water that the average Salvadoran uses. Three million tourists who are spending 12 million overnights will put an enormous strain on the nation’s water resources, which are already insufficient to satisfy the country’s demand. It is inevitable that water resources would be diverted to resorts and other tourist facilities along the coast, leaving Salvadorans with even less access to water.

Tourism can also have a tremendous impact on water quality. Three million tourists will produce large quantities of solid waste and sewage, and El Salvador lacks the facilities to manage them properly. Environmentalists fear contamination will further damage the country’s already contaminated water supplies. They also fear that construction projects, buildings, parking lots, and other development will will upset local water tables, resulting in irreversible salinization that would render them useless.

Environmentalists and local populations also fear tourism development and the MCC investments harm the four threatened and endangered species of sea turtle that use the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula beaches as a nesting ground. Approximately 40% of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific use the region to lay eggs, and in recent years communities have played an important role in protecting their nests and saving the turtle from extinction. “Equipping, altering, and cleaning” local beaches, building beachfront hotels and resorts, and allowing tourists unfettered access to beaches would likely be disastrous for these conservation efforts.

In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law...
In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law…

Locals also fear that tourism will result in their mangrove forests and beaches being privatized. Even though Salvadoran law prevents private ownership of beaches and recognizes the right for all people to enjoy unfettered access, private landowners are already fencing off sections of beach and limiting access to mangrove forests. Locals are aware that the Royal Decameron in Sonsonate have sectioned off more than a mile of beach in front of their resort, denying locals all access. This is more than just an issue of locals enjoying a swim every now and then. Many of the families that live near the coast depend on fishing to survive and must have access to the water.

Community boards in the region have also expressed a concern that land speculation is already having on their efforts to achieve food sovereignty. More than jobs, communities want to preserve their agrarian culture and ensure they can feed their families with locally produced, organic food. Just the idea that there might be tourism has already fueled a land grab in which small farms and cooperatives are sold to investors, meaning that they no longer contribute to the region’s ability to achieve food sovereignty. And once farmland is turned into a golf course, resort, or shopping center it is lost forever.

Many people in the Jiquilisco Bay region are quick to say they are not anti-tourism; they are just opposed to the scale of the government’s plan and the lack of consultation with the affected populations.

Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community's mangrove forests
Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community’s mangrove forests

La Tirana, a small community nestled in a mangrove forest, enjoys hosting bird watchers and others who regularly ask to be guided through local estuaries and forests. The community’s board even wants to build some small cabins and a comedor (eatery) so they can better host visitors. Residents are very committed to protecting the forests, despite their lack of electricity or running water. Their plans for tourism will allow them to control the number of people that come and go, the areas they visit, and the impact that it would have on the region. La Tirana residents are concerned because land speculators have purchased land in the community and they have heard of plans to build a resort and golf course next to the mangroves. The local population is adamantly opposed to these plans and has vowed to fight them any way they can.

Even though tourism enjoys national and international support as a apparent win-win way of developing the economy, locals are confident that they if they organize they can stop plans to develop hotels, resorts, shopping centers, and sport fishing in the region. Prior to 2005, most people in Cabanas supported Pacific Rim’s plans to mine gold and silver – they thought it would provide them with jobs and economic growth. But once they realized the impact mining would have on their environment, especially water resources, locals organized a strong movement against Pacific Rim and mining. Pacific Rim never got mining permits and this month the Legislative Assembly introduced a bill to ban mining in El Salvador.

Organizations and communities in the Jiquilisco Bay region understand that stopping tourism will be a long, difficult struggle. But according to a declaration they made in July,

our communities have a history of struggle and organization. This land and its resources belong to us, and our children and grandchildren, and we have the strength, courage, and moral duty to defend our lives and territory until the end.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters

Phase II: Rehabilitation

According to the Environmental Minister, more than 1500 millimeters (59 inches) of rain fell between October 10th and October 20th, almost double the rain accumulation of any other weather disaster in El Salvador since 1969. Now the rainfall is coming to an end, or at least diminishing, as a cold front moves in from the southwest. Rivers are expected to remain high, but gradually start to fall. The Environmental Ministry reports that the September 15 Dam is releasing 1800 cubic meters of water per second and that the water level of the Lempa river remains above river banks.

However, even the short-term problems are far from over. The ground remains supersaturated with water. Civil Defense authorities report that approximately 2,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent of the national territory is flooded. 4 bridges have collapsed and another 14 are damaged on key routes, limiting accessibility.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) reports that there are 38,682 Salvadorans evacuated to shelters. Although Civil Defense authorities announced today that some evacuees might begin to return home, approximately 12 percent of evacuees will need temporary housing for 4 to 6 months, according to the PAHO.

In the Lower Lempa many families have at least gone to visit their homes, but most are not yet ready to return until there is potable water.  The shelters are urging people to stay until water is restored, especially families with young children.  The water project, the collectively owned and administered water service in the Lower Lempa, said that the tubes were damaged in three different places, and one of the ruptures is still submerged in flood water.  Two different community associations and Oxfam are working to install different water tanks throughout the communities in the mean time.

agriculture, Food Security

El Salvador’s Ongoing Struggle with Food Security (Part 2)

Food security and water issues in El Salvador are partially caused and definitely worsened by the effects of climate change.  The unpredictable patterns of rainfall and drought that are characteristic of climate change negatively affect crop production, thereby leading to reduced yields and higher market prices.

 

José Camilo Rodriguez, mayor of the community of Tonacatepeque, remarked in an interview conducted by the World Bank on the stress that has been put on the poor farmers in his community, due to the effects on the market that were caused by precarious weather conditions, such as floods.

 

Floods, in addition to harming crops, often tend to lead to the contamination of rivers as sewage and rainwater combine and flow back into rivers as the floods subside. FAO estimates that a mere 16% of Salvadorans have access to water that is safe to drink.  The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) additionally notes that only 2% of the rivers in El Salvador hold water that is suitable for human consumption.  MARN alleges that one of the most contaminated rivers is the Lempa River, which reaches a large number of communities over its 360-kilometer span and is highly polluted by fecal bacteria.

 

In regards to food related security, FAO cites that 9% of the Salvadoran population is undernourished, missing about 190 calories from their diet.  Inequality in access to food is troublingly high.  Despite all of the challenges and problems the Salvadoran people face, at least a few communities have come together in community-based projects to improve their food and water security situations.

 

Grassroots community efforts to improve food security and water quality are making concrete, positive impacts in El Salvador.  We at Voices on the Border have had a direct hand in working with communities in the Lower Lempa to help develop irrigation systems that facilitate crop cultivation, especially during the dry season and periods of drought, which threaten crop yields.

 

In addition, communities in Santa Marta, El Salvador, with the help of an international NGO have successfully worked to raise fish, harvest honey, and crops.  These products are sold at market and some of the profits are invested back into the venture, to keep it growing.  This project enjoys the help of many members of the community, who take turns fishing or selling their products at market.  Grassroots level improvement of the food security situation in El Salvador is promising and seems to be gaining popularity.

 

Supplementing these grassroots initiatives are the efforts of various international organizations that have attempted to help improve the food security situation in the country.  On March 24, the USDA, under their Food For Progress (FFP) initiative, donated 30,000 metric tons of wheat to El Salvador.  The sales of this wheat are intended to generate about $11 million of revenue that will be utilized to finance infrastructure and development projects to help farmers affected by Tropical Storm Ida. Food For Progress  also urges them to take advantage of the trade opportunities afforded to them under the DR-CAFTA agreement. Since 2001, USDA has delivered 130,400 metric tons of food to El Salvador, for a total value of approximately $27.5 million.  While this form of aid seems both promising and beneficial to food security measures, due to the direct investment in domestic production El Salvadoran agriculture, other programs have not been as conscientious.

 

USAID’s “glass of milk” project, was launched in 2009 with the intention of providing a daily glass of milk to 3,790 students in 15 schools of Ataco, Ahuachapán, with the aim at improving the physical health and development of Salvadoran youth.  USAID invested $76,317 for the provision of these resources and the program was successful with the caveat that it missed a prime opportunity to invest in the Salvadoran economy.  Instead of cooperating with local dairy farmers within the country, USAID financed the importation of dried milk imported from northern US states.  This large-scale importation of milk drove down market prices for dairy products, creating adverse consequences for local dairy farmers.  While the aid of international organizations is necessary for food and water improvements in El Salvador, this project is an example of why organizations need to be wary of the manner in which they seek to make improvements.

 

Food and water security is a vital issue for communities in El Salvador who are experiencing unpleasant consequences on their agricultural sector from the economic interdependence that has arisen from globalization and the effects of climate change.  These factors continue to complicate El Salvador’s quest to better its food security situation, but through domestic investment in agricultural infrastructure and products and grassroots community efforts to promote sustainability, it is likely many of these problems could be mitigated.