THE GENERAL LAW ON WATER RESOURCES APPROVED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY LEGALIZES WATER INJUSTICE, PROMOTES THE THEFT AND DISPOSSESSION OF WATER IN THE TERRITORIES
San Salvador, December 22, 2021. On December 21 of this year, the ruling party of the Legislative Assembly approved the General Law on Water Resources. Following the approval, environmental organizations such as the Water Forum, the National Alliance against the Privatization of Water, the Roundtable of Churches in El Salvador and the Central American University state the following:
The Law continues to harm the rural and urban Community Water Systems. It maintains the privatizing spirit in which it was presented last June by the President of the Republic. It is a Law that deepens water injustice as it includes mechanisms that will generate more injustice, such as the collection of the taxes from community water systems, and the use of water supply systems that don’t consider access for the population's domestic consumption a priority.
In El Salvador, there are more than 2,500 rural and community water systems that supply almost 25% of the Salvadoran population. The absence of the State that has historically neglected its responsibility has forced local communities to assume water supply by themselves, with the support of NGOs and international aid.
Although the Law recognizes community water systems in a nominal way, it does not provide a mechanism to recognize their non-profit social function and the exemption from paying taxes. By not incorporating this mechanism, community water systems will be obliged to pay taxes and increase service rates of their users, who are often the most impoverished communities in the country.
Although the Law regulates domestic use and human consumption as a priority, it does not regulate how water should be supplied to populations. The first two meet the basic family needs for food, personal hygiene, cleaning, including raising domestic animals that do not constitute a commercial or lucrative activity; but the supply systems for populations should be collective, not for profit and capable of providing water in sufficient quantity and quality for the communities. The community water systems are a good example of these systems. Consequently, by not incorporating a regulation for water supply as priority for domestic use in the article 63, the law would generate a conflict between the supply for the general population and the supply for industrial use, risking that supply systems prioritize the latter.
The law does not solve the injustice generated by the agreements signed between ANDA and construction companies. Another mechanism that generates water injustice, and favors theft and dispossession, are the private agreements between ANDA (National Association for the Management of Sewers and Aqueducts) and the oligarchies of the construction industry. This Government continues to sign agreements between ANDA and the construction oligarchies, providing them with water extraction concessions to supply their urban development projects, thereby generating scarcity in impoverished populations; two emblematic cases of these practices are the Agreements signed between ANDA and the Dueñas and Poma families, which unconstitutionally allocate more than 25 million liters of water per day. With this amount of water ANDA could supply half a million people, ending shortages and injustice in impoverished municipalities of Apopa, Tonacatepeque, Cuscatancingo, Soyapango, Ilopango and San Martín.
This Law does not resolve these injustices, because its content does not regulate ANDA´s operations, it does not oblige them to review the current cooperation agreements with construction companies, and it does not make it subordinate to the ASA (Salvadorean Water Authority) established in the law. Considering that the ASA will be in charge of reviewing such permits and will be the competent authority to process new authorizations for exploitation in accordance with the respective regulations; the use of water for large urban projects should be considered as industrial and commercial projects, due to their lucrative purpose, as such they should be expressly regulated so that their permits are not prioritized as priority needs, as it has been done to date.
The Law does not solve the injustice that is generated in the coastal marine territory of the country. The illegal exploitation carried out by the sugar agribusiness in the coastal zone, who hide behind the structural weaknesses of the MAG (Ministry of Agriculture), entity in charge of regulating the use of water for agricultural irrigation, benefits the sugar oligarchy (headed by the Regalado and Wright Families) who freely use all the surface and groundwater of the coastal territories, often times without permits and paying a pittance for its use. This Law, however, does not seek to strengthen the institutional framework of the MAG.
The Law denies citizen participation. This Law creates a bureaucratic, vertical and centralized institutional framework that continues to deny citizen participation by not recognizing the territorial watershed committee structure proposed by social organizations.
This Law is generic as it does not try to resolve the crisis situation in the country. It does not develop a sustainable watershed management system at the national level, nor it establishes measures aimed at the protection and conservation of the Lempa River. Despite the fact that is the most important strategic aquifer reserve in the country and that it is currently in crisis, it does not grant a Special Administration Regime, nor does it address in detail a Water Planning System, nor the cross-border threats that may impact its basin.
It is a law that will privatize water in El Salvador. According to Article 71 of the law, the ASA will authorize the use of water to private sectors in quantities equal to or greater than 365,000 cubic meters of water per year for 15 renewable years, with no upper limit on the quantity of water concessions for commercial purposes, compromising the priorities for domestic human consumption and creating conditions for the violation of the human right to water of the population, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.
As social organizations, we will continue to demand a General Water Law that guarantees sustainability and the human rights of the population, above the interests of any oligarchic group in the country.
Water is not for sale, it is cared for and defended!
Water is a right, not a commodity!