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NEWS: Right to water bill debate expected in El Salvador by year end

The Inter Press Service reports, “A bill (named the General Water Law) for protection, recovery and use of water resources in El Salvador, drafted by a platform of about 100 social, religious and academic organisations (belonging to the umbrella group Water Forum), has been bogged down in parliament for the past five years in spite of the country’s water crisis. …(But) Gloria de Ávila of Alianza por el Agua, a network of over 330 public and private institutions in Spain and Central America working for the right to water, said she was optimistic that parliament would resume debate on the issue before the end of the year. ‘This is the closest we have ever come to achieving a law; we are going to make a great effort for it to be approved before the end of the year,’ she told IPS.”

“The bill before Congress stipulates, among other things, that access to water is a human right, and that all persons without distinction are entitled to have access to it in sufficient quantities. It also provides for a regulatory body called the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), and states that water is a public good, and therefore its protection and use must take into account the common good, satisfying first, human needs, then those of living things and the country’s ecosystems, and finally agriculture and electricity generation. …Under the bill, commercial and industrial use of fresh water would be conditional on ensuring universal human domestic consumption first. …The Water Forum proposal would place a two-year limit on permits for industrial and commercial water use, with the possibility of renewal. A water use tax would be levied, at a rate to be set by CONAGUA.”

There had been hope that when the “leftwing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) took office in June 2009 (there would be) a change of direction that would support a sustainable water policy. But nothing happened, although environment ministry officials say the government is drafting a bill on the issue. …While political debate languishes, climate change is driving the country to the point at which demand for water exceeds the available supply, and quality declines, described as a situation of water stress. …When the debate on the Water Forum’s bill is finally resumed, it is likely that legislators will modify it or even remove controversial points, and add articles from the government’s proposal when it finally becomes available.”

The Council of Canadians has been raising concerns about how a Canadian mining company could violate the United Nations recognized right to water in El Salvador. In mid-September, IPS reported, “Peasant farmers from the northern Salvadoran province of Cabañas fear that mining operations (by Vancouver-based Pacific Rim) planned for the region will consume 30,000 litres of water a day, drawn from the same sources that currently provide local residents with water only once a week. Environmentalists and experts have also warned that if the operations begin…the cyanide that would be used by Pacific Rim to extract gold and silver could contaminate the area’s groundwater and soil.”

Maude Barlow’s paper, ‘Our Right to Water: A People’s Guide to Implementing the United Nations’ Recognition of the Right to Water and Sanitation’, is already available in Spanish. That document can be read at http://canadians.org/water/documents/RTW/RTW-es-web.pdf. Plans are now underway for a sixth chapter specific to El Salvador – and written by allies there – to be added to this report for wide-distribution and posting on our website. More on that soon.

You can read more about our right to water campaign at http://canadians.org/water/issues/right/index.html. For campaign blogs related to Pacific Rim in El Salvador (including their CAFTA investor-state challenge), please go to http://canadians.org/blog/?s=%22el+salvador%22+%2B+%22pacific+rim%22. The IPS article is at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105626.