Multinational corporations are increasing their control over valuable fresh water supplies, particularly in Latin America. But the people of El Salvador are fighting back.
As we enter a new period of Neoliberalism 3.0, the global economic system has become increasingly characterised as one in which natural resources are appropriated for private extraction and gain. These ‘resource grabs’ have seen the transfer of the control and benefits of a resource from communities to powerful, private actors. Ranging from land grabbing for the biofuels industry to the appropriation of the earth’s minerals, such processes push many communities to the peripheries of society, allowing large multi-national corporations to reap the benefits of the resources in question.
At the heart of this global process lies freshwater and the dissolution of the already-vague human right to fresh, clean and accessible drinking water. In many parts of the world, local waterscapes have been dramatically transformed through the neoliberal era and its commodification of water. The hydrosocial flow of the resource, already dogged by the battles of gender, class and other power hierarchies, has become dominated by international finance. This is particularly evident in the nation of El Salvador.
Despite being the region’s smallest country, El Salvador has the third largest economy in Central America and is the region’s most densely populated country. However it suffers from unprecedented levels of environmental stress and degradation. Even before accounting for the process of water grabbing, access to clean drinking water is a national problem – with demand consistently outpacing supply. An estimated 90% of its surface water is contaminated, and a 2012 survey found that only 69.8% of the nation’s rural households have piped access to water, compared to a figure of 93.5% in the urban areas. In the growing industrial area of Nejapa, located 20km north of the capital, San Salvador, problems of water-stress and restricted access have been exacerbated by the private activity of some of the world’s biggest, most profitable companies.
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