Gloria Silvia Orellana
The Environment Commission has had slow pace recognized Congresswoman Lourdes Palacios, fifth Secretary of the Legislative Assembly and member of the Environment and Climate Change Commission, a she evaluates the progress of the legislature that is about conclude.
"It has not been possible to advance discussion on issues that are critical to the Salvadoran population in areas such a as the General Water Law, Metal Mining, Solid Waste Management and Pesticides Convention. They touch many economic interests," she said.
- How is the discussion on the General Water Law progressing?
Unfortunately for ARENA to talk about water is a thorny issue. They always sought to privatize the resource, privatize services the National Water and Sewage Administration(ANDA) and let the market set the price of this resource, leave to the whims of supply and demand.
There precedents from previous ARENA governments that privatization was always their objective. We realize now why they always defunded ANDA, not only through the embezzlement of millions of dollars that took place (such as the case of Carlos Perla), but through their efforts to make it fail as a public institution in order to have a justification to privatize it.
This new entity would be predominantly private and thus would have control of a natural resource. Privatization was first raised since by Alfredo Cristiani when he became president; but our party FMLN has always considered water as a public good.
- Why does ARENA claim the discussion of the Water Act as electioneering?
At no time has the issue been about elections for the FMLN. This coming March, the General Water Law would have been in discussion for 9 years at the Legislature. And through all this time, we have stressed the need for this country to have this important instrument of public policy.
For the FMLN the General Water Act is a commitment to our country and throughout the various legislative platforms we have raised its recognition as a human right in the Constitution of the Republic to prevent its private management.
- If the General Water Law is not approved, will you have lost six years of legislative work?
Here we can say that ARENA has had an electioneering attitude. In April 2011 they voted for the constitutional reform to recognize water as a human right so that their voters did not bleed.
But their support for the reform is not generating revenues or profit because big business (who are ARENA’s main supporters) are opposed to the recognition of water rights, so the party has withdrawn its support to ratify the reform.
So party that previously voted in favor the reform has now changed its mind and it has failed to ratify the reform in this second. Of course they are looking at water as a merchandise to privatize it and to generate profit.
We believe that deep down inside ARENA never had an interest in seen the population with decent living conditions; because water is a social determinant of health, according the WHO. We are not only talking about access, we are also talking access to good quality water. If we privatize this public good, it can cause increased social and environmental vulnerability.
- What is your reading of UN call to declare water a human right in the country?
It seems most appropriate that the UN is calling on the country and the Legislature to approve the right to water, because the discussion is current, these rights could be recognized with the votes of the members of the legislative assembly.
And although UN call is not binding, the call is for member countries to comply with the UN recommendations of 2006 to recognize water as a human right, is for this reason that these life projects were introduced at the Legislature.
- Why the reluctance to ratify the human right water?
Recognizing the right to water in the Constitution of the Republic we are setting the stage for the discussion of the General Water Law, which has at its core the debate of private or public management.
We (FMLN) are following and support the resolutions of the United Nations that recognize water as a human right. In his observation 15, the UN mandates states not only to ensure the human right to water but access to water of good quality. From that we assume the necessity to rescue our ecosystems and the rights of nature to reproduce water.
- How should water be managed?
Water management should be done in a participatory manner at local and national level, with a vision-for watershed protection, so to speak, because we must understand water from the first droplet formed in the sky that later falls and becomes part of our aquifers and travel to our bodies of water (rivers, lakes, lagoons), I mean since it is reproduced in nature.
We also have to manage the use we make of water as humanity and the way we return it to nature. That's water management, it is management that seeks to assert the right to water as a human right. But ARENA does not want this right to be recognized with the reform of Article 69 of the Constitution of the Republic, which also includes the recognition of the human right to food.
- What is the water situation in our country?
It is an increasingly critical situation in El Salvador. The levels of availability of clean water per person per year are worrisome, also scarcity which is increased by soil erosion and by not having land suitable for filtration into aquifers. Historically we have had a policy of excessive deforestation and the last remaining forest areas have been cleared to make way for shopping centers or housing subdivisions. So we have a critical situation because clearly for profit, commercial interests are opposed to regulation.
- What has been the role of environmental NGO's in the topic?
Environmental organizations brought forwards our proposals for the protection of water, it was not the government -then- who submitted these proposals.
As FMLN we consider that UN call must be addressed, we cannot really afford to go another 5 or 9 years in this situation, because then the damage will be irreversible and if we add the impact of climate change, it will be difficult avoid.
- Have we made progress in the topic of Metal Mining?
As FMLN we have proposed to the Legislative Assembly the prohibition of mining activities that damage our ecosystems and our environment since 2006. Studies conducted by social organizations and other investigations that have come to the attention of the Ministry of Economy have allowed us to understand that we lack the conditions in El Salvador for the development of metal mining.
We hold the view that this is harmful to El Salvador, territorial boundaries are only 20,000 square kilometers, and if we don’t treat our natural resources with affection and effective socio environmental care, mining would only leave more environmental vulnerability.
Our position will always be that there is no technology to sustain the so called “green mining” and there is simply no way to sustain this industry in our country.
- What are the developments in the Convention on Pesticides?
We at the commission received commendations to the proposed law on the use of pesticides that were made by president Mauricio Funes, it is what we are currently studying at committee. Our last meeting was during World Day against the use of pesticides.
Last December we also received correspondence from Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES) reminding us the discussion is pending in the legislative committee, it is a pending agenda item at the commission.
The Legislature has been too slow in these matters. We are only three and a half months away from finishing this term and has not been possible to advance the discussion on issues that are critical to the Salvadoran population, it is a debt that we have with the country.