|Promoting a sustainable energy future|
A 12-year civil war and a series of natural disasters have left El Salvador the fourth poorest nation in an impoverished Latin America, with 50 percent of the Salvadoran population living in poverty. 90 percent of the country’s natural water is contaminated, and half the population drinks untreated water. The people of El Salvador struggle to attend to the most basic necessities while the World Bank continues pushing the disastrous recipes of privatization.
By the end of 1999, El Salvador had an external debt of $2.8 billion. Debt service amounted to 2.5 percent of GDP in 1998 and is considered moderate. The combined level of under and unemployment exceeds 50 percent. The devastating state of the Salvadoran economy renders El Salvador exceptionally vulnerable to the demands of privatization attached to loans from multilateral institutions. In 1996, the World Bank approved a $24 million loan conditioned upon the privatization of El Salvador’s public sector infrastructure, including water. It was followed by a second structural adjustment loan of $52.5 billion, a sum the desperate Salvadoran government could hardly resist.
In January 2000, the state water company raised water price by 300 percent for those who used the least water, penalizing individual customers while offering a rebate for businesses. Critics see that the rate hike was intended to smooth the way for public acceptance of the water company’s eventual privatization. However, in a country where an average worker needs three times the prevailing minimum wage to support a family, many are now forced to choose between drinking water and their children’s education.
Searching for alternatives to water privatization is not a light task, with the Salvadoran state firmly in the hands of neo-liberal elites. The National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewerage (ANDA), despite being a government agency, does not regulate or control the behaviors of private water companies, leaving much of the country’s already insufficient water service unreliable and poor in quality. In response, the people in El Salvador have begun to seek creative ways to open space for populist economic projects. Among the leaders of such projects, many are women, who are always the first ones to bear the burden of water scarcity and high rates.
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