El Salvador, a Central American state lying beneath Guatemala, is undergoing a fight for natural resources of unprecedented extremes. Experts say that if the small country continues on this poor environmental trajectory, within the next 80 years results could lead to the complete exhaustion of the country’s water resources. El Salvador’s economy is reliant on agriculture, most notably coffee, so the lack of water would pose a great threat to this sector and the country’s overall stability. The country is riddled with gang activity, violent murder rates, and corruption, making reversing this environmental situation a challenge.
Being the most densely populated country in Central America, tensions run high over territory lines and gang affiliation. According to Al Jazeera, this July brought a rare day when not a single killing was recorded. This was the country’s only eighth murder-free day in 19 years. El Salvador’s Justice Minister Rogelio Rivas said there were a total of 154 killings in July – down from 291 during the same month last year. The country battles severe gang violence as economic instability and insecurity push Salvadoran youth to join gangs extremely young. Most recent accounts have estimated that there are roughly 60,000 gang members across El Salvador.
Human Rights Watch has long described the country as holding one of the world’s highest homicide rates. The organization stated the main reason over these fights is territory control. “Gangs kill, disappear, rape or displace those who resist them, including government officials, security forces, and journalists,” the Human Rights Watch El Salvador Report states. The turf wars are predominantly between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and its rival gang Barrio 18, who are involved in drug trafficking and organized crime.
With major water banks and resources lying in between combating gang territories, finding water has posed struggles to women and families who predominantly gather water. Local women who rely on the water as their source of employment are unable to cross gang boundaries for fear of getting killed, which compromises their sources of income.
On top of the water resources being hard to gather, what reserves are available are being heavily polluted by unregulated industrial wastewater. Without regulations and sanctions, major companies like Coca Cola and sugar cane plantations are guzzling industrial and agricultural waste water into nearby communities. Wherever factories are located, untreated wastewater is sure to be found nearby. Corporations have kept quiet on their waste and its effect on the nearby ecosystems and communities.
El Salvador’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) has stated that at least 90% of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated by untreated sewage, agricultural and industrial waste.
While the country’s gang violence and extreme murder rates garner the lions share of focus, whether on a global or local scale, this pressing problem should be at the forefront of El Salvador’s legislative agenda. In order to preserve the country’s resources and support the economic reliance on agriculture, water sanitation and protection must be a crucial focus moving forward. As stated, within the next 80 years the country could face complete water depletion, which would force global involvement and assistance to El Salvador. I believe if El Salvador wants to maintain their country’s independence, the government needs to begin making crucial structural changes regarding water supply and sanitation.
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