In a statement issued Monday, the Catholic bishops of El Salvador urged preventative legislation against the privatization of water sources.
A “General Water Law that guarantees this fundamental human right” to water access should be pushed in the lawmaking process, the statement said. It added that leaving the allocation of water to private entities is “absolutely anti-democratic.”
El Salvador legislators have begun debate on a national water law. Some lawmakers are pushing for more private-sector involvement in managing water in the country.
Several data sources show that El Salvador lacks consistently safe water for its citizens. According to the Water and Sanitation for Health Watch (WASHwatch), Salvadorans are increasingly using water from a “limited” source - one that takes a total of over 30 minutes to collect water from.
Certain geographical areas of the country have more limited access to water than others. The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) between the World Health Organization and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund released data indicating a significant disparity in clean water availability between urban and rural areas in El Salvador.
As of 2015, 77 percent of urban areas are within “safely managed” water services, which means that water sources are “located on the premises, available when needed and free from faecal and priority chemical contamination.”
In rural areas, however, “safely managed” water services are nearly non-existent. About 83 percent of the drinking water in rural areas is considered “basic,” indicating that any of the criteria for “safely managed” water may be absent, but it does not take longer than 30 minutes to collect.
Nearly 17 percent of rural areas collect water from “limited sources,” where the collection time is greater than 30 minutes, or they gather water straight from a lake, river, canal, pond, irrigation canal, dam or stream.
“It is up to the State to be the legitimate guarantor of the right to water for all,” the El Salvador bishops said in their letter. Therefore, the committee that governs such a guarantee must have equal and strong citizen representation.
The people should also exercise their right to be heard on this topic, the bishops said, for “an unjust law that violates the rights of the people can not be admitted.”
“As pastors,” they said, “we are witnesses of the clamor of our people, who ask for clean water in all homes and who could not pay the costs if such vital liquid became a commodity that is subject to the laws of the market.”