To prevent water privatization: the next battle for Salvadorean environmentalists

P. Cabezas

More than one hundred member organizations of the Alliance Against the Privatization of Water in El Salvador mobilized throughout the country to deliver letters to regional Legislative offices to reject a recently proposed "Comprehensive Water Law", presented to parliament by a coalition of right-wing parties.

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The letter condemns renewed attempts to privatize water resources in the country and demands the reopening of the discussion on the General Water Law proposed by environmentalist movements in 2006.  

 

“We want to express our deep rejection of the Integral Water Law proposal presented in mid-June by the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) before the Legislative Assembly and supported by ARENA and other right-wing parties.  We believe that its contents are intended to implement a model of privatized management, where commercial use will be prioritized above the human rights of people and nature.” the letter stated.

The first attempt to legislate the use of water in El Salvador was introduced in 2006 by members the Water Forum, (Foro de Agua), a coalition of environmental and social organizations that advocate for the implementation of the human right to water in El Salvador. The Foro submitted a draft bill to propose a legislative framework to publicly manage scarce water resources in the country and to prioritize public access over business use.  Government officials at the time dismissed the bill as unnecessary claiming the use of water use was already regulated by different government institutions including the Ministry of the Environment, MARN, and the autonomous water administration agency, ANDA.    

The idea of a general water law received a boost in 2010 after the United Nations issued a resolution on the right to water. Following the resolution and the UN call for member states to “provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all”, members of the Water Forum introduced a new proposal to reflect the principles established by the UN and a proposal to amend the constitution to enshrine the rights of food and water as basic human rights.  

In March 2012, the executive branch of the government introduced its own Water Legislation through the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, MARN. The bill was welcomed by social organizations who had participated widely in a public consultation process led by the legislative Commission on the Environment and Climate Change.

In 2013 ninety two articles of the proposed legislation were discussed and approved by the environment and climate change commission, but talks stalled by the end of the year as the 2014 electoral campaign occupied the minds of legislators.

In the meantime, pro-business groups actively organized their supporters to promote their own vision of a water law which included heavy involvement of the private sector in the administration of water through an organization called the Roundtable on Water, founded the National Association of the Private Enterprise ANEP and the Foundation for the Development of El Salvador FUSADES .

The March 2014 legislative elections changed the political balance of power at the legislature, the left leaning FMLN, which supported the bill proposed by social organizations, lost an important number of seats; and with it, its capacity to coalesce a legislative majority with the support of minor political parties.  The right wing ARENA and GANA parties strengthened their collective majority, however no moves were made to privatize water, until recently.

On June 13th, a representation of all right wing political parties submitted a bill named the “comprehensive water law” claiming that they had the support of wide sector of business, government and civil society organizations and publicly asking the legislature to expedite the approval.

But the move backfired.  Within days of the announcement a wide variety of civil society organizations began to denounce the proposal as a privatizing attempt. Other institutions such as the Human Rights Ombudsman Office, the Central American University, and the Catholic Church, through Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar, joined the chorus and asked to be part of the discussion to ensure that legislators commit to public access and distribution of water as a priority for the upcoming water legislation.

“The population has the right to water and the church is working to guarantee that right.” Bishop Alas stated to a local news outlet.

The public outcry and the relentless campaign launched by the Alliance against the Privatization of Water in El Salvador has so far managed to stop the discussion to expedite the privatization bill at the legislative assembly.  Leaders of the anti-privatization movement, however, don’t rule out the possibility of escalating their actions should any attempts to privatize continue. 

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