Blog Action Day -- the right to water
October 15 is Blog Action Day. Thousands of blogs today are devoted to the single issue of water.
Water is a a paradox in El Salvador. At many times there is too much water, and floods destroy crops or heavy rains produce landslides burying homes. And yet hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans lack a source of clean potable water for their daily living.
According to Salvadoran government statistics, only 78.7% of homes in the country have access to clean, piped water. While the percentage of homes with potable water is 90% in urban areas, the total is only 56.7% in the rural areas of the country. These statistics put El Salvador behind most other countries in Latin America according the to the Monitoring Program of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
An El Faro article describes what it is like to live without dependable potable water access:
Rosa Villalta lives four blocks from an improved source of drinking water. His family depends on two points of supply, like 86 others living in the community of El Cañita, south of San Salvador. The first, a waterhole on the edge of a ravine barely 70 yards from his home. The second an ANDA pump that supplies water to several surrounding neighborhoods but seems to be insufficient to provide service to the community.
At one time, about 15 years ago, the Villalta family could still wash clothes on the banks of the creek El Garrobo, next to the memorial park, Gardens of Remembrance. Not anymore. Every day, Rosa Villalta pays a dollar for pitchers to fill the two barrels that are next to her pila. The water they get at home, shared with seven other adults and six children, is a yellowish water, with a residue of waste, soil, leaves and branches.
The same article makes the point that having pipes to your home does not mean that there is water flowing through them. In some parts of the country, water flows an average of perhaps 3 or 4 hours a day. The national water authority ANDA states that it does not have the capacity to provide service throughout the day to everyone.
Another El Faro story makes the point that access to water is most costly for those who can least afford it:
Macro figures [about water access], however, dilute the micro stories. For a few, the water problem is summed up in being unable to refill the pool with the desired frequency, for others it is that not every day of the year liquid jets out, for another group, there are more hours without service than hours with, there are those for whom the problem is to pay the bill, or whether the water they are drinking is really clean, and for the least of all, just a few liters per day represents an entire family's concerns...
Ironically it is in places like this, where any depiction of the misery always fall short, where the cubic meter of water is the most expensive to pay. Except when it rains, getting a gallon of water is more expensive for this group than for those who can not fill the pool with the desired frequency.
When you do not have a water system in your community, getting water becomes a major expenditure of family income and time. Usually these families will buy large containers of water from a truck which drives through the neighborhood. When your income is $5 a day, a few dollars for water is a great burden. There may be a source of water, perhaps a well, some distance away. Family members, usually the women, end up spending their time simply hauling water back to the home. That water may, or may not, come from a safe drinking source.
As a consequence of El Salvador's failure to provide sufficient and equitable distribution of water, a social movement has grown up to demand that water be treated as a fundamental human right. Many of these organizations have come together in the Water Forum for El Salvador. The forum advocates for improved availability and quality of water for Salvadorans. Another group advocating on the water issue is the Center for the Defense of the Consumer. As part of its mission, the CDC notes that it receives thousands of complaints each year about water delivery in El Salvador.
For several years, the Forum and other civil society groups have demanded approval of a general water law by the National Assembly. But, as this Voices from El Salvador post describes, the law has been stalled for more than 4 years:
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....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.
The present government has announced no major initiatives to improve the water situation in the country. That's a tragedy, because so much needs to be done.