International Organizations Call on El Salvador to Recognize Human Rights to Food and Water
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Today, 132 international organizations sent a letter to El Salvador’s legislature expressing support for a proposal to enshrine the human rights to food and water in the country’s Constitution. The groups, which represent 18 countries as well as several regional and international alliances, include immigrant, environmental, labor, religious, family farmer, development, and solidarity organizations.
“El Salvador has made progress in reducing poverty but still faces multiple challenges in achieving sustainable development for all its citizens, said Stephanie Burgos of Oxfam America. “Recognizing access to adequate food and clean water as constitutional rights will help focus efforts toward overcoming hunger, disease and poverty in the country.” Raising the human right to food to a country’s highest legal status is a central tenet of the food security plan approved by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to eradicate hunger. Impoverished households often spend up to 75% of their income on food, often due to market speculation that puts even the most basic staples out of reach of many poor families. “The majority of families in El Salvador can’t count on consistent access to basic needs like food and water. So a national agreement along the lines of what’s being proposed is really necessary. It would also do a lot to increase the country’s independence and ability to weather the storm of the global market,” explained Kristi Van Nostran of Joining Hands Against Hunger in El Salvador.
According to Darcey O’Callaghan of Food and Water Watch, “This is a chance for El Salvador to set a global example. It is a state’s responsibility to protect citizens’ rights to food and water but even better, correcting inequalities improves social cohesion. We are hopeful that this constitutional law would right the wrongs that allow corporate water users to extract unabated while households struggle to brush their teeth and wash their hands.” As the letter notes, over 200,000 households in El Salvador have no running water, while beverage corporations, shopping malls, and luxury housing complexes use thousands of gallons of water daily.
The letter was delivered in the midst of an ongoing campaign by Salvadoran environmental, religious, development and community organizations to pressure their legislature to ratify a constitutional reform that would require the State to “create a policy of food and nutritional security for all residents” and “make use of and preserve water resources and ensure they are accessible to all residents.” The reform was unanimously approved in 2012 but must be ratified by the current legislature by April 30 in order to go into effect. A 2015 poll found that 85.8% of El Salvador’s population support laws to guarantee the right to water and food. The reform is supported by El Salvador’s president Salvador Sánchez Cerén and legislators from the governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), as well as the smaller parties Grand National Alliance (GANA) and Democratic Change (CD). The country’s Archbishop and the Human Rights Ombudsman also back the reform. But other parties linked to the country’s big business sector and transnational corporations are currently blocking the ratification.
As Alexis Stoumbelis of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) explained, “The proposal to ratify food and water as constitutional rights was developed in consultation with a broad representation of Salvadoran society. So it’s a big concern to see a number of political parties and their legislators, backed by powerful special interests, simply ignoring their constituents’ demands.” In February, Rep. Raul Grijalva, Ranking Democrat on the House Committee in Natural Resources sent a letter urging El Salvador’s legislature to, “ensure that governance of water resources remains under the remit of public authorities […] as they are best placed to ensure that decisions affecting access to this vital resource give primacy to the common interest rather than to individual interests.” The United Nations Development Programme classifies El Salvador as the third most unequal in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of access to water.