Both water and sanitation are crucial to survival and a decent life. The water crisis has affected many countries and millions of people, but El Salvador, home to 6.1 million people, is dangerously close to running out of water. El Salvador’s abundant water resources are also grossly polluted, with only 10 percent of surface water safe to drink. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in El Salvador.
10 Facts About Sanitation in El Salvador
- Environmental degradation is a constant threat to the quality of water. El Salvador is prone to natural disasters like hurricanes and droughts, simply because of its geological location. But deforestation and animal migration also impact water sources, leaving the poorest inhabitants with contaminated water.
- The Cérron Grande is El Salvador’s largest body of freshwater and is one of the most contaminated in all of Central America. An investigation conducted by the Salvadoran Association of Human Aid Pro-Vida showed high levels of heavy metals, banned insecticides, cyanide and toxic algae. In addition, more than 8.5 million pounds of feces are deposited into the Cérron. This medley of contagions causes algal blooms and eutrophication. The National Service of Territorial Studies reports that only 20 percent of national rivers are safe to drink from.
- Residents fiercely oppose the privatization of water. In recent years, the government has attempted to implement a water tax, further limiting access to water. Academic and religious institutions, environmental organizations and community forums push legislatures to protect their water sources. The leftist political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front also fights for the protection of water rights and equitable distribution.
- Historically, water management is controlled by big businesses. Examples are industrial plantations, luxury housing developments and bottling companies. In fact, a subsidiary of ABInBev called La Constancia fills thousands of Coca Cola cartons a day. Situated on top of a major aquifer in Nejapa, over a decade of industrial waste has severely polluted the San Antonio water source. 30,000 residents rely on San Antonio for drinking, hygiene and cooking.
- Mining heavy metals had a drastic consequence. In 2010, it was estimated 12 million ounces of gold and 78 million ounces of silver were available to mine. According to the International Ecological Engineering Society, 950 tons of cyanide and roughly 22 million liters of water are required daily for extraction. Protesters say “No to mining, yes to life,” demanding a ban on mining due to the contaminate risks to the waterbeds and the industrial use of such large quantities of water. In 2017, El Salvador banned mining, but the pollution left behind permanently tainted the quality of water.
- Experts predict El Salvador will be uninhabitable in 80 years. The water crisis continues to worsen for low-income and extremely poor households. The downward environmental trajectory in tandem with growing economic instability leads to young Salvadorans joining gangs to gain access to water. There are an estimated 60,000 gang members in El Salvador and water sources are often located between combating territories. Access to water is extremely controlled and many women and children risk their lives to collect it.
- Regulating water through legislation is the first defense against distribution inequality. The General Water Law, first introduced in 2006, defines, and therefore protects, access to water as a human right. It also promotes universal access to water sources. Most importantly, it implements community consultation in national decision-making regarding water and sanitation.
- Millennium Challenge Corp. committed to a 5-year investment compact with El Salvador in the amount of USD $449.6 million. The Water and Sanitation Sub-Activity was created to target the poorest parts of the Northern Zone and increase access to regulated water and sanitation systems. The Sub-Activity also provided technical assistance for maintenance and system sustainability which consequently lead to employment opportunities. Through the MCC, Compact Water and Sanitation Sub-Activity installed new or upgraded pre-existing pipelines in more than 7,500 homes.
- Ride4Water dedicates bike riding to raising money for clean water. Founder of Ride4Water Ryan Delameter uses the proceeds gained from long-distance riding to improve the access and quality of water. Ride4Water has installed Hollow Fiber Membrane Filtration Systems across three regions and 60 homes. The filtration system traps any harmful bacteria and microorganisms contaminating the water.
- Companion Community Development Alternatives, a non-profit organization dedicated to making potable water distribution a reality, uses solar power to bring clean water to villages. The solar retrofit was completed in 2019 and has reduced bills, operation and maintenance of water systems by $250-300 per month, lowering the overall expenses for families. By utilizing the sun, water is pumped 300 meters (~984 feet) from a spring and stored in a water tower. Chlorinated water is then distributed directly into homes. These solar-powered water systems belong to the people and can never be privatized.
Sanitation and water accessibility are often connected issues. In El Salvador, water is disappearing, compromising sanitation and health. These 10 facts about sanitation in El Salvador bring awareness to this very serious issue. With continued efforts by non-profits and other humanitarian organizations, however, water access and sanitation in El Salvador will hopefully improve.
– Marissa Taylor