Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rio Sucio Update

While in San Pablo Tacachico for the women’s vegetable garden workshop (pictures, an update and a youtube video will be coming your way shortly!), we took advantage of the trip to visit UCRES headquarters and talk with Alex, UCRES President, about a number of current events in the area.

The main topic we discussed was the Río Sucio, the heavily polluted river that runs through communities of San Pablo Tacachico and El Paisnal that many families depend on for cooking and cleaning, for cattle and crops.

During the week of June 5th, International Environment Day, the social movement in El Salvador hosts forums, concentrations and marches, press conferences, radio and television interviews and other activities to raise awareness about the situation of the environment in El Salvador. In the context of these activities, UCRES will host a forum in El Paisnal and San Pablo Tacachio to draw attention to the state of the Río Sucio and raise awareness about rescuing the river, organic farming and practices that pollute and harm the river as well as demand that public officials and government offices act to protect and clean-up this dirty river.

Thanks to mining activities in neighboring Guatemala, the Lempa river and Suchitlan reservoir are being contaminated. People that visited the Lempa River during holy week vacations to swim and cool off encountered skin diseases and fungus in the following days. Fish that are taken out of the Suchitlan reservoir, a dangerously contaminated body of water, have been found to have high levels of contaminants. The Department of Agriculture and Livestock is debating whether to declare these fish not suitable for human consumption. They are caught between “the sword and the wall” (a rock and a hard place), though, because if they do so, 5,000 fisherman and their families will lose their only source of income, which will have ripple effects on the economy of the entire region. Before, environmental concerns weren’t on most people’s radar; now, as it affects more people, more attention is being paid to pollution and cleanup.

UCRES is spearheading the formation of a regional roundtable for coordination of the rescue of the Río Sucio, which will involve local governments, local police, health departments, representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock, community organizations and NGOs working on the issue. With all of these important actors in coordination, the hope is to raise more awareness and coordinate advocacy activities with greater impact. It also means protection for activists and organizers; in light of the most recent acts of violence in San Juan Opico, people in the region live in fear of continued violence, and a broader movement means less visibility for each of the actors.

After the devastating floods last November of the Río Acelhuate, which called attention to the vulnerability of the communities along the river’s banks as well as the high levels of pollution in the river, the Department of the Interior has established and participated in an inclusive committee for the river’s rescue. This committee has organized cleaning campaigns and stated an intention to pressure companies along the Acelhuate to treat their water before dumping it and is a good precedent for government and civil society coordination that UCRES has actively participated in.

In recent month, the press has given good coverage to factories along the Rio Sucio, talking about treatment plants and job creation. The most recent study of the Río Sucio was done in 2008 and another study, to compare levels of contamination and belie private business’ claim that they are not polluting the river, is past due. UCRES, taking advantage of the roundtable, will be working to pressure government institutions to get the study done, working with UCA students doing their social service hours in the region.

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