The March Toward Unsustainability in El Salvador Gains Speed

Mauricio Funes

An environmental analysis of the first two years of Mauricio Funes’ Administration.

An environmental analysis of the first two years of Mauricio Funes’ Administration.

In the last year, El Salvador has been cited in at least three reports issued by international institutions that have credibility among public officials, politicians and businesspeople. However, this grave situation has gone unnoticed since then, to the point where it is referred to as an exagerration or attempt to discredit certain actors.  According to ECLAC, we already suffer from hydric stress, meaning the availability of water for human consumption tends to be less than 1750 mts3 per person per year. In the 2010 Report of the Global Fund for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, our country tops the list of highest-risk countries in the world: 88.7% of the territory is considered at risk of disaster, and 95.4% of the population is at risk. At the same time, the organization Germanwatch located in El Salvador in the first place in the Global Climate Risk Index 2009.

Regarding the environment, there are several rather unfavorable recent reports produced in the country, including from government agencies. In terms of water quality, the Ministry of Environment announced in March this year that none of the water samples tested last year resulted in the level of excellent, only 2% were good, and rest was fair, poor or very poor. Of total surface water samples tested, 90% are not drinkable by conventional methods and 88% of those from the Lempa River, including three highly polluted rivers (Acelhuate, Dirty and Suquiapa) showed that the water is not even suitable for irrigation.

Similar or worse results are obtained when evaluating the situation of inland and coastal marine ecosystems, agricultural biodiversity and increasing food insecurity and nutrition, environmental quality of cities, including solid waste pollution and waste, along with the sonic, electromagnetic, and visual pollution, among others. In this context, due to the social, economic, and political vulnerability accumulated for decades in El Salvador and its interaction with environmental degradation, climate risk and other threats such as earthquakes and epidemics put the majority of the population at great risk of disasters, especially the most impoverished and vulnerable sectors.

Despite this difficult situation, in his first two years of presidential administration, touted as the government of change, Mauricio Funes has shown a remarkable insensitivity and unjustified dismissal of the environmental crisis that the country suffers from, and he accelerates progress towards the social and environmental unsustainability inherited from previous governments. It is no coincidence that in his annual address to the nation in the Legislature this past June 1st, he did not even remotely address any central element of this problem.

As if that were not enough, the other government bodies such as the Legislature and the Judiciary branch also accompany Funes down this unfortunate path.  The lack of creation of environmental courts and the recent court ruling favorable to employers in the case of lead pollution in Sitio El Niño illustrate this.   The passing of the Law on Land Management and Development earlier this year benefits real estate speculations and ignores the environmental role of the territories and ecosystems of the country.  These actions typify this Legislature’s neglect. It is clear that environmental problems are not a priority for any public institution in the country.

Contrary to the sustainability and quality of life of the population, this administration continues to promote social and environmental projects with severe damages to infrastructure, energy, agriculture, investment, trade, tourism, and housing developments, among others. In addition, it continues to strengthen and look for new free trade agreements with the European Union and Canada, and exerting their status in CAFTA.

Meanwhile, big business, with increasing dominance of transnational corporations, continues to enjoy incentives, permissiveness, and impunity in its destructive practices, which convert the remaining ecosystems and natural resource into booty that they must continue exploiting to the maximum.

Like previous years, this June 5, 2011, there is nothing to celebrate. In these two years of the government of change, beyond the propaganda, there are no new public policies to halt environmental destruction or guide our country towards a path of social and environmental sustainability.  In the end, we have arrived at 22 years of neoliberal policies that privatize and commodify life and the common natural goods.

Angel Maria Ibarra Turcios is an environmentalist and the President of Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña, UNES.

Translation by Maggie Von Vogt, Communications, UNES.