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Referendum Held to Declare Water a Human Right in Suchitoto, El Salvador

An Historic Effort, Defiance in Suchitoto 

Press conference for the human right to water [May 28, 2017].

Water is a scarce resource for many millions of people around that globe who struggle daily to obtain water for consumption and other necessities. Millions of children are dying every year because of preventable illnesses contracted from contaminated water, and with increasing frequency drought is devastating some of the poorest countries in the world, worsening hunger and malnutrition.

Delegate and international observers in voting center Manuel Ungo [May 28, 2017].

This past Sunday, May 28, 2017, was an historic day for the municipality of Suchitoto in El Salvador. The people of Suchitoto were asked to vote on an important topic: WATER, the base of life now and for future generations. The effort was carried out by local organizations and citizens that established commitments to declare the right to water a human right, thus making it a priority for the population through the efficient use of hydrological resources in all sectors, and seeking water sustainability to confront one of the biggest global challenges of water scarcity. During the popular referendum, the effort had the support of local, national, and international organizations who were accredited as observers of the process in 10 voting centers throughout the municipality.

What is the significance of the popular referendum for the human right to water in Suchitoto?

Youth empowering the population, campaigning in visits from one house to the next.

According to the organizations heading the struggle, this effort, through the popular referendum for the human right to water, seeks to regulate activities that affect the integral management of water in order to guarantee its sustainability, and ensure that the general public be the priority in its distribution. The referendum put into practice a mechanism of citizen participation, in which the citizens are consulted in order to reclaim their right and responsibility to manage and conserve water resources.

With the referendum, Suchitoto was at the point of declaring 100% coverage of drinkable water, in order to considerably reduce the number of people currently suffering from lack of this essential resource.

Do you agree that Suchitoto should declare water a human right?

People making their presence known to say yes to the human right to water [May 28, 2017].

Through this closed question, the people were called on to express their opinion and vote yes or no. The electoral register was the same one used in the last elections, from March 1, 2015. For the referendum to be  valid, it was necessary to have 40% of the number of voters that participated in the elections for municipal councils in March 2015.

This practice of civic engagement last Sunday culminated in 3,564 citizens casting their votes –  37% of the 40% necessary for the result to be legally binding. Of the 3,564 citizens who voted, 96% said “yes” to the human right to water; however the popular referendum was not able to obtain the 40% of registered voters (3,864 votes) so that the results could become law.

“We believe that we have made an effort that has been an example of citizen participation in Suchitoto. We’ve lived an important experience in citizen participation, with organizations from this municipality and organizations that collaborate with the municipality, alongside the mayor’s office. We’ve carried out a mechanism given to us by law that almost no one dares to launch. We’ve shown an historic defiance this day and we need to recognize that.” – said Morena Herrera, Director of the Feminist Collective of Suchitoto

In spite of the results of this process, the commitment to continue efforts to motivate public politicians to guarantee the protection of natural resources in Suchitoto will not be halted.

Right now, El Salvador is in the midst of a water crisis. According to environmental experts, El Salvador has experienced five consecutive years of drought, which has led to a reduction in the main water levels. In many places, the topic of the approval of the General Law of Water, presented in the Salvadoran Parliament, is being addressed. There are two draft bills: one presented in 2012 by then minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, Hernán Rosa Chávez, and another proposal submitted by social organizations, initially outlined in 2006 and later updated in 2011.

A man votes in the popular referendum [May 28, 2017].

In light of this national situation, Mayor of Suchitoto Pedrina Rivera said, “The municipality of Suchitoto is committed to keep fighting, so that the Legislative Assembly approves the draft of the law that has already been introduced for 10 years and doesn’t have the backup of 43 votes so that it can be approved.”  

– by Susana Ruíz, Facilitator, El Salvador

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