Protest seeks legal change to make water a human right

A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela Some of the protestors seeking change in the water law.

Water brought together a handful of people to protest in front of Castillo Azul at the legislative center Wednesday.

A group called the Red Centroaméricana de Acción del Agua organized the rally to bring attention to the fact that water in Costa Rica has been privatized to the degree that areas in several cantons do not have daily access to potable water. These same people receive water in a truck every two days, and they can’t afford to purchase bottled water, so the majority drink contaminated water, said Andres Mora, spokesperson for the Red Centroamericana de Acción del Agua.

“We have the most contaminated rivers in Central America,” said Mora.

The organization supports these cantons and has pushed for the legislature to approve a constitutional reform to a section from the 1940s that will be more relevant to this time, he said.

“We need to reform the water law because we are living in different conditions. We need a water law, and, lastly, water should be a human right,” said Mora. “Water for human consumption is a top human right. Water should principally be available for human use, and then it can be privatized.”

The organization and community leaders of the cantons were supported by three lawmakers who joined the press conference during a recess from assembly hearings. Juan Carlos Mendoza García, president of the assembly, Carmen María Granados Fernández from the party Acción Ciudadana, and José María Villalta Florez-Estrada from the party Frente Amplio showed up in the Salón de Beneméritos de la Patria y Ciudadanos de Honor to say a few words about the importance of water to these people and the disgrace of government to allow so much time without voting on the reform.

“What is happening in these communities should not be happening in this country today,” said Mendoza. He added that water is a human element that should not need a law for accessibility.

Eight years ago the same communities went to the Asamblea Legislativa and demanded a reform to make water a human right in Costa Rica, they were told it was in the process. Nothing has changed. Five years ago in Siquirres, Limón their water was tested and found high levels of contamination from the pineapple and banana farms of the region. This has caused an increase in deformed babies and chronic disease among newborns said Haydee Quiroz Nuñez, community leader.

According to Mora, the biggest threats to potable water in Costa Rica are pineapple farms, urban and tourist expansion, Central Valley industry and open air mining. Last week the Sala Primera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia confirmed the annulment of an open air mining concession. Pineapple operators frequently plant too close to waterways, and chemical runoffs get into the water supply.

“This is an issue of health and life,” said Granados.

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