Inter Press Service News Agency
Cabrera, 59, was born here in the village of Los Vásquez, in the municipality of Soyapango, around 12 km from San Salvador. The district suffers from water shortages, particularly in the past two decades, due to unplanned urban sprawl and population growth. "There are households that haven't received water for two years, and when they do, it's murky and yellowish, "says Cabrera, one of the leaders of the Comité de Contraloría de Consumidores y Usuarios de Soyapango (CCUS), a local community consumers group. That contrasts with the statistics offered by the government in its first report on fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), published in 2004, which stated that El Salvador had achieved the goal of reducingby half the number of households without access to clean water. The report said that 24 percent of Salvadorans lacked access to clean water in 1991, compared to 12 percent in2002. That included piped water in the home, wells or public faucets. The international community is halfway to the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 to meet the commitment of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger from 1990 levels, as well as seven other MDGs aimed at improving quality of life for the world's people.One of the three specific targets set by the MDG on ensuring environmental sustainability is to reduce by half theproportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Ana Ella Gómez of the non-governmental Consumer Defence Centre (CDC) questions the government'sstatistics, telling IPS that the authorities often fiddle with the numbers. "The problems of access, availability and quality of water are getting worse and worse," says Gómez, who is incharge of research in the CDC, which is dedicated to lobbying for public access to basic services like power,telephones and water. The installation of faucets and pipes "does not necessarily mean people actually have potable water," she said.
According to U.N. statistics, around two million children around the world die from water-related diseases every year, and more than one billion people lack access to clean water. Although there are no uniform statistics on coverage and availability of water in the country, civil society groupsand international agencies like the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) say El Salvador ranks last in LatinAmerica in terms of piped water coverage. UNDP official Carlos Acevedo acknowledges that U.N. parameters for assessing the progress made by countriesare "not particularly exacting" and that in some cases, rainwater catchment tanks are counted when measuringaccess to improved water sources. Acevedo, a chapter coordinator for the UNDP Human Development Report on El Salvador, agreed that thiscountry has met the MDG target on water access. But he added that over the last three years, the country hasfallen behind again due to lack of continued public investment, waste of water resources, and population growth. In addition, cases of corruption were discovered in the Administración Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (ANDA), El Salvador's main water and sanitation company. Carlos Perla, president of the enterprise from 1994 to2002, is now in prison on charges of corruption. Acevedo told IPS that water quality in this Central American country is a "disaster" and added that "no one is recommended to drink the water provided by ANDA or any other provider."ANDA claims to provide water treatment and distribution services to 4.4 million of El Salvador's 6.5 million people. Meanwhile, the number of people drinking bottled water is growing, and the companies that sell such water makean estimated 43 million dollars a year, according to UNDP figures. Good business, despite the fact thatindependent studies have warned that fecal coliforms have even been found in bottled water.IPS received no response from the current president of ANDA, César Daniel Funes.Several studies that have been recognised by the government estimate that 90 percent of surface water in thecountry is polluted, because there is no control on the dumping into rivers and lakes of wastewater from industryand agriculture or urban sewage, due to the lack of treatment systems in some urban and rural areas. Acevedo criticised "the lack of public policies and regulations" aimed at addressing the problem, which he said isoften due to the existence of "vested or private interests, or to shortsightedness, which stand in the way ofcomprehending that the question of water is strategic for the country."
Currently, no company that draws on the underground aquifers for industrial use is taxed for water usage, andone-quarter of approximately 1,000 companies dump their wastewater and sewage with no treatment at all,according to a CDC report. The president of the National Association for the Defence, Development and Distribution of Water at the RuralLevel (ANDAR), Julio Menjívar, said the countryside has been "marginalised in all of the projects for potable waterand sanitation. "Menjívar estimates that 2.9 million of El Salvador's seven million people live in rural areas, and that 1.5 millionrural residents have no access to reliable water sources. He also noted that a survey carried out by ANDAR in 532 communities found that "30 percent of surface sourcesof water have disappeared in the last 20 years" as a result of deforestation and erosion. ANDAR, whose goal is community empowerment based on self-sustainability, is made up of 152 locallyorganisedwater systems that directly or indirectly distribute water to more than 100,000 people in 863communities. The water is piped from wells and other sources, for which ANDAR charges 6.80 dollars a month for10 hours of supplies every two days. "Although the water comes from sources in rural areas, it is urban areas that benefit, later dumping the pollutedwaters (in the form of sewage) into the countryside at no cost whatsoever," said the community activist, whowondered how the country would develop if people lack something as basic as clean water. Meanwhile, Rosa Juárez, a young resident of Los Vásquez, a poor neighbourhood of shacks made of sheet metaland rough boards, said that with the exception of Jan. 22 and May 10, no water has flowed through her pipes inthe last two years, even though her bill continues to arrive from ANDA charging her 10.12 dollars a month -- asmall fortune in a country where roughly half of the population lives below the official poverty line. "It is an illusion that El Salvador will meet the goal of access to clean water by 2015," said Gómez. (FIN/2007)
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