The Price of Bukele’s State of Emergency in El Salvador

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Human Rights

A group of alleged gang members is presented to the media by police authorities in El Salvador on Jul. 20 as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the war against gangs waged in this Central American country under a state of emergency. But families of detainees and human rights organizations warn that in many cases they have no links to criminal organizations. CREDIT: National Civil Police

A group of alleged gang members is presented to the media by police authorities in El Salvador on Jul. 20 as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the war against gangs waged in this Central American country under a state of emergency. But families of detainees and human rights organizations warn that in many cases they have no links to criminal organizations. CREDIT: National Civil Police

SAN SALVADOR, Aug 5 2022 (IPS) – The body of Walter Sandoval shows a number of dark bruises on his arms and knees, as well as lacerations on his left eye and on his head – signs that he suffered some kind of violence before dying in a Salvadoran prison, accused of being a gang member.


The evidence of the beating is clear in photographs that Walter’s father, Saúl Sandoval, showed to IPS.

Walter, 32, was one of those who died in Salvadoran prisons after being detained by the authorities in the massive raids that the government of Nayib Bukele launched at the end of March, under the protection of the decreed state of emergency and the administration’s fight against organized crime and gangs.

The young man, a farmer, died on Apr. 3, in the parking lot of the hospital in Sonsonate, a city in the west of the country where he was transferred, already dying according to the family, from the police station in Ahuachapán, a city in the department of the same name in western El Salvador.

He had been transferred to the police station after his Mar. 30 arrest in the Jardines neighborhood of the municipality of El Refugio, also in the department of Ahuachapán.

“They tortured him in the dungeons of the Ahuachapán police station,” his father told IPS.

He added that his son had been hanging out with friends, getting drunk. A few minutes later, a police patrol picked him up on charges of being a gang member, which the family vehemently told IPS was not true.

“He never received medical assistance, he died in the hospital parking lot,” the father added.

“They tortured him in the dungeons of the Ahuachapán police station. He didn’t receive medical assistance, he died in the hospital parking lot.” — Saúl Sandoval

He says the only explanation he has for why the police detained Walter is because “they wanted to get the day’s quota.” What he meant is that police officers are apparently supposed to arrest a specific number of gang members in exchange for benefits in their assigned workload.

Deaths like Walter’s, if the participation of police is confirmed, are the most violent and arbitrary expression of the human rights violations committed since the government began its plan of massive raids, in what it describes as an all-out war on gangs.

Since late March, the Salvadoran government has maintained a state of emergency that suspended several constitutional guarantees, in response to a sharp rise in homicides committed by gang members between Mar. 25 and 27.

In those three days, at least 87 people were killed by gang members, in a kind of revenge against the government for allegedly breaking an obscure under-the-table agreement with the gangs to keep homicide rates low.

The state of emergency has been in place since Mar. 27, extended each month by the legislature, which is largely dominated by the ruling New Ideas party. Since then, violent deaths have dropped to an average of three a day.

Among the constitutional rights suspended are the rights of association and assembly, although the government said it only applies to criminal groups that are meeting to organize crimes. It also restricts the right to defense and extends the period in which a person may be detained and brought before the courts, which is currently three days.

The government can also wiretap the communications of “terrorist groups”, meaning gangs, although it could already do so under ordinary laws.

After the state of emergency was declared, homicides dropped again to around two or three a day, and there are even days when none are reported.

But some 48,000 people have been arrested and remanded in custody, accused by the authorities of belonging to criminal gangs. And the number is growing day by day.

However, the families of detainees and human rights organizations complain that among those captured are people who had no links to the gangs, known as “maras” in El Salvador, which make up an army of a combined total of around 70,000 members.

On Jun. 2, rights watchdog Amnesty International stated in an official communiqué that “Under the current state of emergency, the Salvadoran authorities have committed massive human rights violations, including thousands of arbitrary detentions and violations of due process, as well as torture and ill-treatment, and at least 18 people have died in state custody.”

But President Bukele, far from being receptive to criticism, dismisses and stigmatizes the work of human rights groups, referring to their representatives as “criminals” and “freeloaders” who are more interested in defending the rights of gang members than those of their victims.

Walter Sandoval is one of the young men who have died with signs of torture in El Salvador's prisons under the state of emergency in force in the country since the end of March. The police captured him without any evidence linking him to gangs, said the young man's family - part of a pattern that has been documented by human rights organizations. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Sandoval family

Walter Sandoval is one of the young men who have died with signs of torture in El Salvador’s prisons under the state of emergency in force in the country since the end of March. The police captured him without any evidence linking him to gangs, said the young man’s family – part of a pattern that has been documented by human rights organizations. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Sandoval family

Silent deaths and torture

The local human rights organization Cristosal has documented nearly 2,500 cases of arrests which, according to the families, have been arbitrary, with no basis for their loved ones to have been detained under the state of emergency.

The organization has also monitored press reports and social networks and has carried out its own research to establish that, as of Jul. 28, some 65 people had died while detained in the country’s prisons or in police cells as part of the massive police raids.

Some of the deceased showed obvious signs of beatings and physical violence, as was the case with Walter and other cases that have been widely reported in the media.

The official reports of these deaths received by family members are vague and confusing, such as that of Julio César Mendoza Ramírez, 25, who died in a hospital in San Salvador, the country’s capital, on Jul. 15.

The official report stated that he had died of pulmonary edema, i.e., his lungs filled with fluid, but also stated that the case was “being studied.”

Suspicions that the deceased were victims of beatings and torture during their imprisonment are not ruled out by their relatives or by human rights organizations.

“The cause of death given to the relatives in the hospital sometimes differs from the legal medical examination, and that leads one to think that something is going on,” lawyer Zaira Navas, of Cristosal, told IPS.

She added: “There are also families who say they were told it was cardiac arrest, but the victims have bruises on their bodies, which is not compatible (with the official version).”

And in the face of doubts and accusations that beatings and torture are taking place under the watchful eye of the State, the authorities simply remain silent and do not carry out autopsies, for example, which would reveal what really happened.

Navas remarked that, even within the state of emergency, “the detentions are arbitrary” because the procedure followed is not legally justified and many people are detained simply because of telephone complaints from neighbors – with which other human rights defenders coincide.

Another problem is that among these 2,500 complaints by families, about 30 percent involve detainees who have chronic diseases or disabilities or were receiving medical or surgical treatment, according to Cristosal’s reports.

The prison staff do not allow family members of the sick detainees to bring their medication, although in a few rare cases they have authorized it.

“We have seen deaths because it is presumed that they have been tortured, beaten, etc., but there have also been deaths of people who have not been given the medication they need to take,” Henri Fino, executive director of the Foundation for Studies on the Application of Law (FESPAD), told IPS.

Regarding the dubious role played by the government’s Institute of Legal Medicine (IML), in charge of conducting the forensic examinations to inform families about the cause of deaths, Fino said that in his opinion it has no credibility.

Especially, he added, now that members of the so-called Military Health Battalion have been stationed since Jul. 4 at several IML offices, presumably to assist in various tasks, including forensic exams, given the shortage of staff.

“What collaboration can they (the military) provide, if they are not experts, and the only reason they are in the IML is to exercise oversight?” Fino said.

Media war

Some of the people who have died in jails or prisons, who were arrested under the state of emergency, were described by the local media as victims of arbitrary, illegal detentions, in contrast with Bukele’s propaganda war claiming that all the detainees are, in fact, gang members.

The press has highlighted the case of Elvin Josué Sánchez, 21, who died on Apr. 18 at the Izalco Prison located near the town of the same name in the department of Sonsonate in western El Salvador.

The media have referred to him as the “young musician”, because he had been learning to play the saxophone, and they have described him as a decent person who was a member of an evangelical church in the area.

But according to neighbors, Sánchez was well-known as an active gang member in his native El Carrizal, in the municipality of Santa Maria Ostuma, in the central department of La Paz.

“They saw him well-armed on farms in the area, along with other gang members, and he told the owners not to show up there anymore, or they would kill them,” a resident of that municipality, who asked not to be identified, told IPS.

Contradictions like this have strengthened local support for Bukele’s insinuations that the independent media are in favor of gang members and against the government’s actions to eradicate violence in the country.

In fact, opinion polls show that a majority of the population of 6.7 million support the president’s measures to crack down on the maras.

But even though Sánchez was recognized by neighbors as a gang member, his arrest should have been carried out following proper procedures and protocols, based on reliable information proving his affiliation to a criminal organization.

This is something the police do not usually do in these massive raids where it is impossible for them to have the evidence needed on each of the nearly 48,000 detainees.

Nor did the fact that he had been a gang member merit him being beaten to death, since his human rights should have been respected, said those interviewed by IPS.

  Source

U.S.-Latin America Immigration Agreement Raises more Questions than Answers

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories

Migration & Refugees

A hundred Central American migrants were rescued from an overcrowded trailer truck in the Mexican state of Tabasco. It has been impossible to stop people from making the hazardous journey of thousands of kilometers to the United States due to the lack of opportunities in their countries of origin. CREDIT: Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

A hundred Central American migrants were rescued from an overcrowded trailer truck in the Mexican state of Tabasco. It has been impossible to stop people from making the hazardous journey of thousands of kilometers to the United States due to the lack of opportunities in their countries of origin. CREDIT: Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

SAN SALVADOR, Jul 19 2022 (IPS) – The immigration agreement reached in Los Angeles, California at the end of the Summit of the Americas, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, raises more questions than answers and the likelihood that once again there will be more noise than actual benefits for migrants, especially Central Americans.


And immigration was once again the main issue discussed at the Jul. 12 bilateral meeting between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Biden at the White House.

At the meeting, López Obrador asked Biden to facilitate the entry of “more skilled” Mexican and Central American workers into the U.S. “to support” the economy and help curb irregular migration.

Central American analysts told IPS that it is generally positive that immigration was addressed at the June summit and that concrete commitments were reached. But they also agreed that much remains to be done to tackle the question of undocumented migration.

That is especially true considering that the leaders of the three Central American nations generating a massive flow of poor people who risk their lives to reach the United States, largely without papers, were absent from the meeting.

Just as the Ninth Summit of the Americas was getting underway on Jun. 6 in Los Angeles, an undocumented 15-year-old Salvadoran migrant began her journey alone to the United States, with New York as her final destination.

She left her native San Juan Opico, in the department of La Libertad in central El Salvador.

“We communicate every day, she tells me that she is in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and that everything is going well according to plan. They give them food and they are not mistreating her, but they don’t let her leave the safe houses,” Omar Martinez, the Salvadoran uncle of the migrant girl, whose name he preferred not to mention, told IPS.

She was able to make the journey because her mother, who is waiting for her in New York, managed to save the 15,000-dollar cost of the trip, led as always by a guide or “coyote”, as they are known in Central America, who in turn form part of networks in Guatemala and Mexico that smuggle people across the border between Mexico and the United States.

The meeting of presidents in Los Angeles “was marked by the issue of temporary jobs, and the presidents of key Central American countries were absent, so there was a vacuum in that regard,” researcher Silvia Raquec Cum, of Guatemala’s Pop No’j Association, told IPS.

In fact, neither the presidents of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, or El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, attended the conclave due to political friction with the United States, in a political snub that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago.

Other Latin American presidents boycotted the Summit of the Americas as an act of protest, such as Mexico’s López Obrador, precisely because Washington did not invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which it considers dictatorships.

 From rural communities like this one, the village of Huisisilapa in the municipality of San Pablo Tacachico in central El Salvador, where there are few possibilities of finding work, many people set out for the United States, often without documents, in search of the "American dream". CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

From rural communities like this one, the village of Huisisilapa in the municipality of San Pablo Tacachico in central El Salvador, where there are few possibilities of finding work, many people set out for the United States, often without documents, in search of the “American dream”. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

More temporary jobs

Promoting more temporary jobs is one of the commitments of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection adopted at the Summit of the Americas and signed by some twenty heads of state on Jun. 10 in that U.S. city.

“Temporary jobs are an important issue, but let’s remember that economic questions are not the only way to address migration. Not all migration is driven by economic reasons, there are also situations of insecurity and other causes,” Raquec Cum emphasized.

Moreover, these temporary jobs do not allow the beneficiaries to stay and settle in the country; they have to return to their places of origin, where their lives could be at risk.

“It is good that they (the temporary jobs) are being created and are expanding, but we must be aware that the beneficiaries are only workers, they are not allowed to settle down, and there are people who for various reasons no longer want to return to their countries,” researcher Danilo Rivera, of the Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies, told IPS from the Guatemalan capital.

The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection states that it “seeks to mobilize the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas.”

The Declaration is based on four pillars: stability and assistance for communities; expansion of legal pathways; humane migration management; and coordinated emergency response.

The focus on expanding legal pathways includes Canada, which plans to receive more than 50,000 agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean in 2022.

While Mexico will expand the Border Worker Card program to include 10,000 to 20,000 more beneficiaries, it is also offering another plan to create job opportunities in Mexico for 15,000 to 20,000 workers from Guatemala each year.

The United States, for its part, is committed to a 65 million dollar pilot program to help U.S. farmers hire temporary agricultural workers, who receive H-2A visas.

“It is necessary to rethink governments’ capacity to promote regular migration based on temporary work programs when it is clear that there is not enough labor power to cover the great needs in terms of employment demands,” said Rivera from Guatemala.

He added that despite the effort put forth by the presidents at the summit, there is no mention at all of the comprehensive reform that has been offered for several years to legalize some 11 million immigrants who arrived in the United States without documents.

A reform bill to that effect is currently stalled in the U.S. Congress.

Many of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States come from Central America, especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as Mexico.

While the idea of immigration reform is not moving forward in Congress, more than 60 percent of the undocumented migrants have lived in the country for over a decade and have more than four million U.S.-born children, the New York Times reported in January 2021.

This population group represents five percent of the workforce in the agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors, the report added.

 Despite the risks involved in undertaking the irregular, undocumented journey to the United States, many Salvadorans continue to make the trip, and many are deported, such as the people seen in this photo taken at a registration center after they were sent back to San Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Despite the risks involved in undertaking the irregular, undocumented journey to the United States, many Salvadorans continue to make the trip, and many are deported, such as the people seen in this photo taken at a registration center after they were sent back to San Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

More political asylum

The Declaration also includes another important component of the migration agreement: a commitment to strengthen political asylum programs.

For example, among other agreements in this area, Canada will increase the resettlement of refugees from the Americas and aims to receive up to 4,000 people by 2028, the Declaration states.

For its part, the United States will commit to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Americas during fiscal years 2023 and 2024.

“What I took away from the summit is the question of creating a pathway to address the issue of refugees in the countries of origin,” Karen Valladares, of the National Forum for Migration in Honduras, told IPS from Tegucigalpa.

She added: “In the case of Honduras, we are having a lot of extra-regional and extra-continental population traffic.”

Valladares said that while it is important “to enable refugee processes for people passing through our country, we must remember that Honduras is not seen as a destination, but as a transit country.”

Raquec Cum, of the Pop No’j Association in Guatemala, said “They were also talking about the extension of visas for refugees, but the bottom line is how they are going to carry out this process; there are specific points that were signed and to which they committed themselves, but the how is what needs to be developed.”

Meanwhile, the Salvadoran teenager en route to New York has told her uncle that she expects to get there in about a month.

“She left because she wants to better herself, to improve her situation, because in El Salvador it is expensive to live,” said Omar, the girl’s uncle.

“I have even thought about leaving the country, but I suffer from respiratory problems and could not run a lot or swim, for example, and sometimes you have to run away from the migra (border patrol),” he said.

  Source

Poor Families Clash over Water with Real Estate Consortium in El Salvador

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Alex Leiva, holding his baby girl, uses the water he managed to collect in barrels at 4:00 a.m., the only time the service is provided in Lotificación Praderas, in the canton of Cabañas, on the outskirts of the municipality of Apopa, north of the Salvadoran capital. The families of this region are fighting in defense of water, against an urban development project for wealthy families that threatens the water resources in the area. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Alex Leiva, holding his baby girl, uses the water he managed to collect in barrels at 4:00 a.m., the only time the service is provided in Lotificación Praderas, in the canton of Cabañas, on the outskirts of the municipality of Apopa, north of the Salvadoran capital. The families of this region are fighting in defense of water, against an urban development project for wealthy families that threatens the water resources in the area. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

APOPA, El Salvador , Jun 6 2022 (IPS) – Alex Leiva woke up at 4:00 a.m. to perform a key task for his family’s survival in the Salvadoran village where he lives: filling several barrels with the water that falls from the tap only at that early hour every other day.


If he does not collect water between 4:00 and 5:00 AM, he will not have another opportunity to fill the barrels for another two days.

“That’s what I have to do. Sometimes I manage to fill three barrels. The service is provided every other day,” Leiva, 32, a video producer, told IPS.

“It’s difficult to be in a situation like this, where the water supply is so inefficient,” he added.

The water is not provided by the government’s National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (Anda) but by the Water Administration Board (Acasap).

In El Salvador there are at least 3,000 of these boards, community associations that play an essential role in the supply and management of water resources in rural areas and the peripheries of cities, in the face of the State’s failure to provide these areas with water.

Leiva lives in Lotificación Praderas, in the Cabañas canton, on the outskirts of the municipality of Apopa, north of the country’s capital, San Salvador.

This northern area covering several municipalities has been in conflict in recent years since residents of these communities began to fight against an urban development project by one of the country’s most powerful families, the Dueñas.

The Dueñas clan’s power dates back to the days of the so-called coffee oligarchy, which emerged in the mid-19th century.

Ciudad Valle El Angel is the name of the residential development to be built in this area on 350 hectares, and which will require some 20 million liters of water per day to supply the families that decide to buy one of the 8,000 homes.

The first feasibility permits granted by Anda to the consortium date back to 2015.

The homes are designed for upper middle-class families who decide to leave behind the chaos of San Salvador and to live with all the comforts of modern life, with water 24 hours a day, in the midst of poor communities that lack a steady water supply.

“There are people in my community who manage to fill only one barrel because there isn’t enough water pressure,” said Leiva, the father of a five-year-old boy and a nine-month-old baby girl.

Valle El Angel is an extensive region located on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano, in territories shared by municipalities north of the capital, including Apopa, Nejapa and Opico.

A general view of Parcelación El Ángel, in the Joya Galana canton, in the municipality of Apopa, near San Salvador. The community is fighting to defend the few natural resources that survive in the area, including a stream that originates in the micro-basin of the Chacalapa River. Water in the area is scarce, while Salvadoran authorities endorse an upscale real estate project that will use millions of liters per day. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A general view of Parcelación El Ángel, in the Joya Galana canton, in the municipality of Apopa, near San Salvador. The community is fighting to defend the few natural resources that survive in the area, including a stream that originates in the micro-basin of the Chacalapa River. Water in the area is scarce, while Salvadoran authorities endorse an upscale real estate project that will use millions of liters per day. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Unfair justice

Sociedad Dueñas Limitada, the consortium managing the urban development project, received the definitive green light to begin construction: a thumbs-up from the Constitutional court, which on Apr. 29, 2022 rejected an unconstitutionality lawsuit filed in October 2019 by environmental organizations and communities in northern San Salvador.

The lawsuit was against a dubious agreement signed in 2016 between that company and Anda, which manages water in the country. The deal granted the project 240 liters of water per second – that is, about 20 million liters a day.

The consortium intends to dig eight wells in the area. Water will be extracted from the San Juan Opico aquifer, as well as from shallower groundwater from Apopa and Quezaltepeque.

“These agreements open the door to this type of illegal concessions handed over to private companies…it is a situation that is not being addressed from a comprehensive perspective that meets the needs of the people, but rather from a mercantilist perspective,” lawyer Ariela González told IPS.

She is part of the Foundation of Studies for the Application of Law (Fespad), a member of the Water Forum, which brings together some twenty civil organizations that have been fighting for fair and equitable distribution of water in the country.

González added: “It is our public institutions that legalize this dispossession of environmental assets, through these mechanisms that allow the companies to whitewash the environmental impact studies.”

The organizations and local communities argue that water is a human right, for the benefit of the community, and also insisted in the lawsuit that the aquifers are part of the subsoil, property of the State.

Therefore, if any company was to be granted any benefit from that subsoil, the concession could have to be endorsed by the legislature, which did not happen.

Sara García and Martina Vides are members of an ecofeminist collective that has been fighting for five years to prevent the construction of a large residential project in the area, Ciudad Valle El Ángel, owned by one of the most powerful families in El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sara García and Martina Vides are members of an ecofeminist collective that has been fighting for five years to prevent the construction of a large residential project in the area, Ciudad Valle El Ángel, owned by one of the most powerful families in El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The resolution handed down by the Constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court comes at a time when people have lost trust in the Constitutional court in this Central American country of 6.7 million people.

The five Constitutional court magistrates were appointed without following the regular procedure on May 1, 2021, when the new legislature was installed, controlled by lawmakers from President Nayib Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas, which holds 56 out of 84 seats.

“This government continues to benefit big capital and destroy local territories,” Sara García, of the ecofeminist group Kawoc Women’s Collective and the Let’s Save the Valle El Ángel movement, which forms part of the Water Forum, told IPS.

García´s fellow activist Martina Vides added: “We want protection for the aquifers and to prevent the felling of trees.”

Both women spoke to IPS on a rainy gray afternoon on the last day of May, in the Parcelación El Ángel, where they live, in the Joya Galana canton, also in the municipality of Apopa, which is in the middle of the impact zone.

A short distance away is the river that provides water to this and other communities, which originates in the micro-watershed of the Chacalapa River. Water is supplied under a community management scheme organized by the local water board.

Vides pays six dollars a month for the water service, although she only receives running water three or four days a week.

According to official figures, in this country 96.3 percent of urban households have access to piped water, but the proportion drops to 78.4 percent in the countryside, where 10.8 percent are supplied by well water and 10.7 percent by other means.

Since the Ciudad Valle El Angel project began to be planned, environmentalists and community representatives have been protesting against it with street demonstrations and activities because it will negatively impact the area’s environment, especially the aquifers.

The struggle for water in El Salvador has been going on for a long time, with activists demanding that it be recognized as a human right, with access for the entire population, because the country is one of the hardest hit by the climate crisis, especially the so-called Dry Corridor.

For more than 10 years, environmental and social collectives have been pushing for a water law, reaching preliminary agreements with past governments. But since the populist Bukele came to power, the progress made in this direction has been undone.

In December 2021, the legislature approved a General Water Resources Law, which excluded the already pre-agreed social proposals, although it recognizes the human right to water and establishes that the water supply will not be privatized. However, this is not enforced in practice, as demonstrated by the Dueñas’ urban development project.

A vendor of a traditional ice cream in El Salvador, made with shaved ice bathed in fruit syrup, waits for customers on one of the streets of Parcelación El Ángel, in the municipality of Apopa, north of the capital. The locality is one of the epicenters where poor families have been organizing to block a residential development project, which will affect the local water supply and worsen the water shortage in the area. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A vendor of a traditional ice cream in El Salvador, made with shaved ice bathed in fruit syrup, waits for customers on one of the streets of Parcelación El Ángel, in the municipality of Apopa, north of the capital. The locality is one of the epicenters where poor families have been organizing to block a residential development project, which will affect the local water supply and worsen the water shortage in the area. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Not the only one

The residential development project is neither the first nor the only one in the area.

Residential complexes of this type have already been built in that area for the upper middle class, thanks to investments made by other wealthy families in the country, such as the Poma family.

And the same type of agreements have been reached with these other companies, in which the consortiums receive an endorsement to obtain water for their projects, said González.

The same thing has happened in the surroundings of the Cordillera del Bálsamo, south of the capital, where residential projects have been developed around municipalities such as Zaragoza, close to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.

In Valle El Ángel there is also at least one company whose main raw material is water. This is Industrias La Constancia, which owns the Coca Cola brand in the country and other brands of juices and energy drinks, located in the municipality of Nejapa.

González, the Fespad lawyer, said that there should be a moratorium in the country in order to stop, for a time, this type of investment that threatens the country’s environmental assets, especially water.

But until that happens, if it ever does, and until the water supply improves, Alex Leiva will continue to get up at 4 a.m. every other day to fill his three barrels.

“What can we do? We have no choice,” he said.

  Source

Water Harvesting Strengthens Food Security in Central America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SENSEMBRA, El Salvador , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – At the school in El Guarumal, a remote village in eastern El Salvador, the children no longer have to walk several kilometers along winding paths to fetch water from wells; they now “harvest” it from the rain that falls on the roofs of their classrooms.


“The water is not only for the children and us teachers, but for the whole community,” school principal Angelica Maria Posada told IPS, sitting with some of her young students at the foot of the tank that supplies them with purified water.

The village is located in the municipality of Sensembra, in the eastern department of Morazán, where it forms part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a semi-arid belt that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to some 11 million people, mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture.

In the Corridor, 1,600 kilometers long, water is always scarce and food production is a challenge, with more than five million people at risk of food insecurity.

In El Guarumal, a dozen peasant families have dug ponds or small reservoirs and use the rainwater collected to irrigate their home gardens and raise tilapia fish as a way to combat drought and produce food.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a (rainwater harvesting) system like this.” — Angélica María Posada

This effort, called the Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS), has not only been made in El Salvador.

Similar initiatives have been promoted in five other Central American countries as part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

The aim of the RHS was to create the conditions for poor, rural communities in the Dry Corridor to strengthen food security by harvesting water to irrigate their crops and raise fish.

In Guatemala, work has been done to strengthen an ancestral agroforestry system inherited from the Chortí people, called Koxur Rum, which conserves more moisture in the soil and thus improves the production of corn and beans, staples of the Central American diet.

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador's eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school's roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador’s eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school’s roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The best structure for conserving water is the soil, and that is where we have to work,” Baltazar Moscoso, national coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger Free, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala City.

Healthy schools in El Salvador

The principal of the El Guarumal school, where 47 girls, 32 boys and several adolescents study, said that since the water collection and purification system has been in place, gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced.

“The children no longer complain about stomachaches, like they used to,” said Posada, 47, a divorced mother of three children: two girls and one boy.

She added, “The water is 100 percent safe.”

Before it is purified, the rainwater that falls on the tin roof is collected by gutters and channeled into an underground tank with a capacity of 105,000 litres.

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank which supplies students, teachers and the community.

The school reopened for in-person classes in March, following the shutdown declared by the government in 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a system like this,” added the principal.

There are 40 families living in El Guarumal, but a total of 150 families benefit from the system installed in the town, because people from other communities also come to get water.

A similar system was installed in 2017 in Cerrito Colorado, a village in the municipality of San Isidro, Choluteca department in southern Honduras, which benefits 80 families, including those from the neighbouring communities of Jicarito and Obrajito.

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Vegetable gardens and tilapias boost food security

About 20 minutes from the school in El Guarumal, following a narrow dirt road that winds along the mountainside, you reach the house of Cristino Martínez, who grows tomatoes and raises tilapia in the pond dug next to his home.

The ponds are pits dug in the ground and lined with a polyethylene geomembrane, a waterproof synthetic material. They hold up to 25,000 litres of rainwater.

“The pond has served me well, I have used it for both the tilapia and watering tomatoes, beans and chayote (Sechium edule),” Martínez told IPS, standing at the edge of the pond, while tossing food to the fish.

The cost of the school’s water harvesting system and the 12 ponds totaled 77,000 dollars.

Martínez has not bothered to keep a precise record of how many tilapias he raises, because he does not sell them, he said. The fish feed his large family of 13: he and his wife and their 11 children (seven girls and four boys).

And from time to time he receives guests in his adobe house.

“My sisters come from San Salvador and tell me: ‘Cristino, we want to eat some tilapia,’ and my daughters throw the nets and start catching fish,” said the 50-year-old farmer.

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to FAO estimates, the ponds can provide about 500 fishes two to three times a year.

The ponds are built on the highest part of each farm, and the drip irrigation system uses gravity to water the crops or orchards planted on the slopes.

Tomatoes are Martínez’s main crop. He has 100 seedlings planted, and manages to produce good harvests, marketing his produce in the local community.

“The pond helps me in the summer to water the vegetables I grow downhill,” another beneficiary of the programme, Santos Henríquez, also a native of El Guarumal, told IPS.

Henríquez’s 1.5-hectare plot is one of the most diversified: in addition to tilapias, corn and a type of bean locally called “ejote”, he grows cucumbers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and various types of fruit, such as mangoes, oranges and lemons.

“We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. He sells the surplus produce in the village or at Sensembra.

However, some beneficiary families have underutilised the ponds. They were initially enthusiastic about the effort, but began to let things slide when the project ended in 2018.

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

An ageold Chorti technique in Guatemala

In Guatemala, meanwhile, some villages and communities are betting on an agroforestry technique from their ancestral culture: Koxur Rum, which means “wet land” in the language of the Chortí indigenous people, who also live in parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

The system allows corn and bean crops to retain more moisture with the rains by combining them with furrows of shrubs or trees such as madre de cacao or quickstick (Gliricidia sepium), a tree species that helps fix nitrogen in the soil.

By pruning the trees regularly, leaves and crop stubble cover and protect the soil, thereby better retaining moisture and nutrients.

“Quickstick sprouts quickly and gives abundant foliage to incorporate into the soil,” farmer Rigoberto Suchite told IPS in a telephone interview from the village of Minas Abajo, in the municipality of San Juan Ermita, Chiquimula department in eastern Guatemala, also located in the Central American Dry Corridor.

Suchite said the system was revived in his region in 2000, but with the FAO and Amexcid project, it has become more technical.

As part of the programme, some 150 families have received two 1,500-litre tanks and a drip irrigation system, he added.

“Now we are expanding it even more because it has given us good results, it has improved the soil and boosted production,” said Suchite, 55.

In the dry season, farmers collect water from nearby springs in tanks and, using gravity, irrigate their home gardens.

“Many families are managing to have a surplus of vegetables and with the sales, they buy other necessary food,” Suchite said.

The programme is scheduled to end in Guatemala in 2021, and local communities must assume the lessons learned in order to move forward.

  Source

Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Global Governance, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories, Special Report, TerraViva United Nations

Environment

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.


“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”

  Source

Semiarid Regions of Latin America Cooperate to Adapt to Climate

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, South-South, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Combating Desertification and Drought

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2020 (IPS) – After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.


In Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, the Gran Chaco Americano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC), successful local practices will be identified, evaluated and documented to support the design of policies that promote climate change-resilient agriculture in the three ecoregions.

This is the objective of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo, an initiative financed by the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), the Argentinean Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) and the National Development Foundation (Funde) of El Salvador.

DAKI stands for Dryland Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The project, launched on Aug. 18 in a special webinar where some of its creators were speakers, will last four years and involve 2,000 people, including public officials, rural extension agents, researchers and small farmers. Indirectly, 6,000 people will benefit from the training.

“The aim is to incorporate public officials from this field with the intention to influence the government’s actions,” said Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo and one of the leaders of the Brazilian organisation ASA.

The idea is to promote programmes that could benefit the three semiarid regions, which are home to at least 37 million people – more than the total populations of Chile, Ecuador and Peru combined.

The residents of semiarid regions, especially those who live in rural areas, face water scarcity aggravated by climate change, which affects their food security and quality of life.

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the webinar that launched the project, stressed that the initiative was aimed at “amplifying and strengthening” isolated efforts and a few longstanding collectives working on practices to improve life in semiarid areas.

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The practices that represent the best knowledge of living in the drylands will be selected not so much for their technical aspects, but for the results achieved in terms of economic, ecological and social development, Barbosa explained to IPS in a telephone interview from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, where the headquarters of ASA are located.

After the process of systematisation of the best practices in each region is completed, harnessing traditional knowledge through exchanges between technicians and farmers, the next step will be “to build a methodology and the pedagogical content to be used in the training,” he said.

One result will be a platform for distance learning. The Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, also in Recife, will help with this.

Decentralised family or community water supply infrastructure, developed and disseminated by ASA, a network of 3,000 social organisations scattered throughout the Brazilian Northeast, is a key experience in this process.

In the 1.03 million square kilometres of drylands where 22 million Brazilians live, 38 percent in rural areas according to the 2010 census, 1.1 million rainwater harvesting tanks have been built so far for human consumption.

An estimated 350,000 more are needed to bring water to the entire rural population in the semiarid Northeast, said Barbosa.

But the most important aspect for agricultural development involves eight “technologies” for obtaining and storing water for crops and livestock. ASA, created in 1999, has helped install this infrastructure on 205,000 farms for this purpose and estimates that another 800 peasant families still need it.

There are farms that are too small to install the infrastructure, or that have other limitations, said Barbosa, who coordinates ASA’s One Land and Two Waters and native seed programmes.

The “calçadão” technique, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into a tank that has a capacity to hold 52,000 litres, is the most widely used system for irrigating vegetables.

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil's semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil’s semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

And in Argentina’s Chaco region, 16,000-litre drinking water tanks are mushrooming.

But tanks for intensive and small farming irrigation are not suitable for the dry Chaco, where livestock is raised on large estates of hundreds of hectares, said Gabriel Seghezzo, executive director of Fundapaz, in an interview by phone with IPS from the city of Salta, capital of the province of the same name, one of those that make up Argentina’s Gran Chaco region.

“Here we need dams in the natural shallows and very deep wells; we have a serious water problem,” he said. “The groundwater is generally of poor quality, very salty or very deep.”

First, peasants and indigenous people face the problem of formalising ownership of their land, due to the lack of land titles. Then comes the challenge of access to water, both for household consumption and agricultural production.

“In some cases there is the possibility of diverting rivers. The Bermejo River overflows up to 60 km from its bed,” he said.

Currently there is an intense local drought, which seems to indicate a deterioration of the climate, urgently requiring adaptation and mitigation responses.

Reforestation and silvopastoral systems are good alternatives, in an area where deforestation is “the main conflict, due to the pressure of the advance of soy and corn monoculture and corporate cattle farming,” he said.

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

More forests would be beneficial for the water, reducing evaporation that is intense due to the heat and hot wind, he added.

Of the “technologies” developed in Brazil, one of the most useful for other semiarid regions is the “underground dam,” Claus Reiner, manager of IFAD programmes in Brazil, told IPS by phone from Brasilia.

The underground dam keeps the surrounding soil moist. It requires a certain amount of work to dig a long, deep trench along the drainage route of rainwater, where a plastic tarp is placed vertically, causing the water to pool during rainy periods. A location is chosen where the natural layer makes the dam impermeable from below.

This principle is important for the Central American Dry Corridor, where “the great challenge is how to infiltrate rainwater into the soil, in addition to collecting it for irrigation and human consumption,” said Ismael Merlos of El Salvador, founder of Funde and director of its Territorial Development Area.

The CADC, which cuts north to south through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is defined not as semiarid, but as a sub-humid region, because it rains slightly more there, although in an increasingly irregular manner.

Some solutions are not viable because “75 percent of the farming areas in the Corridor are sloping land, unprotected by organic material, which makes the water run off more quickly into the rivers,” Merlos told IPS by phone from San Salvador.

“In addition, the large irrigation systems that we’re familiar with are not accessible for the poor because of their high cost and the expensive energy for the extraction and pumping of water, from declining sources,” he said.

The most viable alternative, he added, is making better use of rainwater, by building tanks, or through techniques to retain moisture in the soil, such as reforestation and leaving straw and other harvest waste on the ground rather than burning it as peasant farmers continue to do.

“Harmful weather events, which four decades ago occurred one to three times a year, now happen 10 or more times a year, and their effects are more severe in the Dry Zone,” Merlos pointed out.

Funde is a Salvadoran centre for development research and policy formulation that together with Fundapaz, four Brazilian organisations forming part of the ASA network and seven other Latin American groups had been cooperating since 2013, when they created the Latin American Semiarid Platform.

The Platform paved the way for the DAKI-Semiárido Vivo which, using 78 percent of its two million dollar budget, opened up new horizons for synergy among Latin America’s semiarid ecoregions. To this end, said Burneo, it should create a virtuous alliance of “good practices and public policies.”

  Source