El Salvador’s Catholic bishops make safe drinking water a pastoral issue

El Salvador INFO

El Salvador’s freshwater supplies are so endangered the Catholic bishops have adopted it as a pastoral issue. It’s one they want urgent help with from both the government and the international community.

To put it bluntly, the vast majority (70 percent) of El Salvador’s 590 rivers are swamped with giant amounts of human poo and killer doses of heavy metals.

Treating the fast-dwindling water supplies as a matter of urgency, the bishops have written a statement to the government calling on everyone in the Central American country to stop polluting their precious water resource.

They should consider its necessity for life and treat clean water supplies as a human right.

They bishops statement asks the government to ratify appropriate reforms to El Salvador’s freshwater water protection and management measures.

They say much of the pollution poisoning El Salvador’s waterways comes from industries – both its own and its neighbours – discharging waste into rivers. It also comes from municipalities that do not have systems to treat wastewater or lack sanitation.

One source they quote is from a National Service of Territorial Studies report, which says only 20 percent of El Salvador’s rivers are safe to drink from.

A study on the Cérron Grande, El Salvador’s largest body of freshwater, found it to be one of Central America’s most contaminated, the bishops say.

The study found high levels of heavy metals, banned insecticides, cyanide and toxic algae.

It also found over 8.5 million pounds (about 3,860,000kg) of faeces is dumped into the river each year, causing algal blooms and eutrophication.

The bishops’ statement notes El Salvador’s rivers start in neighbouring Honduras and Guatemala – and about 42 mining projects directly threaten the transboundary basins and pollute the waterways.

Ironically, in 2017 El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining.

Yet arsenic from the mining works at neighbouring Guatamala’s Cerro Blanco mining project located just 14 kilometers from El Salvador is polluting several of the country’s waterways.

“We make a vehement appeal …to stop this project; and, we ask the international community, not to allow such a human and environmental disaster,” the bishops statement says.

El Salvador has about 2,500 water boards, plus community committees providing over 500,000 families with water. Although theoretically public works, they are regarded as private companies.

The bishops have asked the government for the opportunity to present them with their concerns about the approved law. They hope to urge the Legislative Assembly to ratify constitutional reforms on the human right to water and adequate food, already approved.

“In the name of the people, today we raise our voices to ask for this ratification.”

The “General Law of Water Resources'” purpose is to assure basins care, reforestation, guaranteeing water as a human right.

It also establishes a national authority of water resources within the Ministry of the Environment to regulate water quality.

Observers say the work has stalled over who should control the governing body: state agencies only or including representatives of the powerful commercial carbonated beverages, juices, beer and bottled water.

According to The Borgen Project, El Salvador will be uninhabitable in 80 years.


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