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  Number 430 | Mayo 2017
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Nicaragua

“The State is mainly responsable for the country’s water problems”

Reflections on the complex challenges involved in guaranteeing, conserving and caring for our country’s water supply, contrasted with the failure of the government institutions charged with seeing to those tasks.

Desirée Elizondo

Reflecting on the quality, distribution and uses of water in Nicaragua has been a pivotal part of my professional career. Back when I was a student I learned to value water as a public good, essential for life. As a public official working in different institutions over the years I also had the opportunity to see the responsibilities the various public policies have for everything related to water.

The big picture


I’d like to begin by looking at water from the broadest possible perspective: the planetary one. Water is a finite resource and the amount circulating on our planet in the cycle of water has been the same for billions of years… some say since the Earth began. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

The second thing we need to know is that less than 3% of this immense amount of water is fresh. In other words, the proportion of salt water to fresh is 40 to 1. And only 0.3% of this tiny percentage of fresh water is on the planet’s surface in liquid form. The rest is stored in subterranean aquifers or on the surface in solid form, as glaciers and snow.

The water we use is found in rivers, lakes, lagoons and springs, or is underground where we can’t see it. Underground water plays a fundamental role in providing for human needs. Some 2.5 billion individuals and hundreds of millions of farmers depend on subterranean aquifers. No less than half the planet’s population gets its drinking water from aquifers, which also supply 43% of the world’s irrigated agricultural lands.

Who’s got water…


Humanity is facing a world water crisis today because not all countries have equal amounts of it. Those in northern Africa and the Middle East have the greatest water shortages, which have triggered massive population displacements, starvation and wars.

We’ve never experienced that in Latin America, so we’re not as aware as we should be of the privilege of having so much water available to us. As a subcontinent, Latin America is very well endowed with water and some countries even enjoy a privileged abundance. The Central American region, for example, has excellent water reserves, with Panama and Nicaragua enjoying the largest amount of surface water, given their hydrography.

Countries are differentiated among other things by their average per-capita water consumption, and the same is true of people. Some individuals have the luxury of having access to enough water every day while others can only dream of it. Someone living in extreme poverty uses a maximum of 5 liters a day, while a rich person can easily use up to 350, watering the garden, washing the car, filling the kids’ wading pool… That massive gap between 5 and 350 liters is an eloquent indicator of the enormous inequity in personal water consumption.

…and how it’s used


According to National Geographic, only 0.007% of the planet’s water is available to produce energy and food for the 6.8 billion people living on Earth today. Moreover, a 2015 report by World Water Development, a United Nations agency, calculates that by 2025 more than 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with scarce water and two thirds of the world’s population will be living in areas with water stress problems.

Agriculture consumes 70% of the planet’s available fresh water, and typically does so very inefficiently. Let me offer just one powerful example: an average of 1,300 liters of water is required to deliver a single hamburger to a consumer in the United States, starting with irrigation for the pasture and the water consumed by the cattle then continuing along all the links of the industrial chain until that hamburger is assembled, packaged and sold to the customer. If today’s productive activities and consumption patterns don’t change, the forecast is that just maintaining those same activities and patterns will require 40% more water by 2030, which isn’t so very far away.

Water-related challenges


The United Nations held its first conference on water in 1977. Over the years since then extensive international legislation has been emerging thanks to growing global awareness of water-related problems.

Many technical and political challenges are involved, particularly with respect to water availability, administration and distribution. Because aquifers are underground and invisible, using them sustainably requires scientific institutions dedicated to studying them, learning about their flows and potential, and investigating their quality. Information on how much underground water we have and how, to whom and for what use it is distributed is usually controlled exclusively by government institutions and it is the State that grants other parties the right to use it.

Because Latin America has such abundant sources of water, experts say that any water crisis in the sub-continent won’t be a result of physical causes, of scarcity, but of institutional problems. According to the UN’s Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, the majority of our countries have extremely limited institutional capacity and do very little monitoring of the administrative instruments available to manage water sustainably and equitably.

This institutional weakness has enormous consequences, as it is extremely important to guarantee water for all. For that reason my central message is that water is a public good and all problems related to it can be resolved through the capacity of public institutions and the relevance of public policies.

The situation in Central America


Despite the region’s wealth of water, all Central American countries with the exception of Costa Rica use less than 10% of their available water. Even Panama, with its canal, uses only 7% of its total water supply. In Costa Rica, which takes greater advantage of its water, 90% of the volume used goes to hydroelectric generation.

Nicaragua takes the least advantage of the water available to it: only 1.03% according to Global Water Partnership publications. Some 80% of this goes to agricultural irrigation and 14% to industrial uses. Only the remaining 6% is used for human consumption. This inequality in its use and distribution tells us that discussing water means discussing public policies, because the fact that water is a common good makes its distribution and decisions about its uses national policy issues. Water should first be guaranteed for the entire population and only after that should there be discussion of what other uses should prevail: how much for agriculture, industry, electricity generation…

What is Nicaragua’s problem?


Nicaragua is prized for its per-capita amount of water, particularly thanks to Lake Cocibolca, which is threatened by the construction of that interoceanic canal we’ve curiously heard nothing about recently. Cocibolca forms part of the Río San Juan hydrographic basin, which is the most important basin in Central America. It has the capacity to provide drinking water to the country’s entire population and, as environmental expert Jaime Incer Barquero is fond of repeating, we could even export water to neighboring countries. The populations of Juigalpa and San Juan del Sur are already drinking water from that lake. The country’s two other important basins are those of the Río Grande de Matagalpa, which feeds several hydroelectric plants, and the Río Escondido, both of which drain into the Caribbean Sea, as does 93% of Nicaragua’s surface water.

Given our abundance of water, the million dollar question is why it’s so scarce in so many geographic areas, the service is so deficient and so many people consume water of insufficient quality. To address this complex reality, we first have to ask ourselves how much we even know about this set of problems. We also need to draw a line marking before and after 2007, when the current government returned to office. Since that year information has no longer been available and perhaps doesn’t even exist, the relationship with the institutions has become increasingly difficult, public institutions all over the country are following centralized guidelines laid down in Managua, and the arenas for citizen’s participation have become ever more closed.

The current government crisis and total absence of institutions has unquestionable repercussions for a resource as vital as water. We already know that the poorest populations, which are also the ones furthest from public services, are the ones mainly suffering from water scarcity, and not because there’s insufficient water or no way to provide it. The real problem is that the companies that manage the water supply systems aren’t interested in making sure water gets to populations that can’t pay for it. Water requires investments, sometimes very large ones, so getting safe water to poor and rural populations should stop being a business and be seen as an investment based on social responsibility.

A brief review of water’s institutional history


We went through more than two decades of institutional reforms until the National Water Authority was finally created in May 2007. Let’s quickly go back over that institutional history.

A public administration concern that always existed during those decades was the overlapping functions in water-related institutions and the abundance of legislation with a sectoral viewpoint. The Ministry of Health’s water legislation had a public health perspective, while that of the Nicaraguan Institute of Water and Sewage (INAA) was based on administering the potable water systems it managed. Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry’s water legislation focused on agricultural production and irrigation and the Nicaraguan Institute of Energy (INE) saw water as an energy resource. This obviously created some institutional conflicts with regard to the standards, regulations and monitoring of the nation’s hydric resources. I was working in the Ministry of Environment and National Resources (MARENA) in the mid-nineties, and remember us constantly insisting on the need for a single lead institution and a national hydric resource plan. That’s when those two public policy goals began to be in the spotlight.

A commission was created back in 1983 with the all-embracing name of National Hydric Resources Commission. I participated in it in 1987 while I was working at the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Reform, and can confirm that it saw water mainly from an agricultural perspective. In 1994, in a new political setting, the commission was given a broader vision, at least on paper. It was defined as an arena for planning and harmonizing all sectoral policies related to water, thus resolving conflicts over its use. But it only consisted of state institutions and ministries, with no representation from civil society organizations.

Service functions separated from regulatory ones


That reform was motivated by the move to privatize public services. The pre-privatization agenda included institutionally separating service functions from regulatory ones, which was a crucially important objective. This process effectively resulted in the selling off of the distribution systems for both electricity and telecommunications, while their regulatory aspect remained in state hands. In the case of water, which the government of the time was also anxious to privatize, that objective gave the National Hydric Resources Commission political clout and led to the defining of INAA as the lead water entity and the creation of the Nicaraguan Water and Sewage Company (ENACAL), charged with providing drinkable water. The two began operating as separate state entities in 1998, each with its own legal framework, but in the end water distribution, at least for individual consumption, was never formally privatized.

Meanwhile the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER) and MARENA remained responsible for seeing water as a natural resource, and that has always been the Achilles heel. Given water’s fundamental importance and the need to resolve conflicts over its uses, many of us continued insisting on the need for a supra-state institution with its own juridical framework that could move beyond the sectoral norms on water the country had grappled with for years. It was our dream because such an institution would help us understand how the country was doing with respect to water.

Lots of money spent on a collapsed institutionality


With the promulgation of the Environmental Law in 1996, MARENA began working on a water law and a hydric resources management law. As there was plenty of money from donors at the time to realize all those dreams, numerous proposals and plans were drafted, including a regional water resources plan. A Global Water Partnership subsidy has been in place in Central America since that time under the sponsorship of the Central American Integration System’s Environmental and Development Commission. Danish cooperation and the World Bank accompanied the entire process.

Significant resources have been donated to Nicaragua to draw up and implement an institutional and legal framework for water. A National Hydric Resources Policy was finally approved in 2001, and then in May 2007, after various versions, the Water Law (Law 620) itself was approved and the long-awaited National Water Authority (ANA) was created, although it took another three years for a director to be appointed and for it to begin to function.

Accounts of all the funds used and their impact should exist somewhere, but regrettably there’s nothing. Even now, the World Bank has a project to prepare a national water resource management plan in relation to water piping. It’s worth asking whether it’s a good time to continue preparing plans right now, when all water-related public institutions have collapsed. My recommendation to the World Bank would be to stop spending money on a plan until we have institutions to implement it honesty and responsibly. We hope the base studies done for this new planning stage will be made public and at least be of use to academia.

INETER and the macro- and micro-managing of water


INETER was pivotal throughout that prolonged institutional process as it became the central institution dealing with water as a resource. It has the mandate to manage the pluviometer network around the country, do territorial planning, conduct studies on both surface and underground water and its availability, and manage the hydrographic basins. Compared to similar institutions in other Central American countries, and I know them all, INETER was a model institution until 2007 because of its team’s scientific level. And given that it concentrated all the technical divisions, it had the capacity to respond to and manage innumerable strategic functions for the country’s urban and rural development.

Because water management is national and local at the same time, it’s extremely important that the municipalities and their communities have precise knowledge of their water situation, including the situation in their region as a whole. No other resource is as vulnerable and as sensitive to in situ administration as water.

From the management point of view, a hydrographic basin could be as tiny as a hollow on a farm. Each source of water, however small, has its own water catchment and draining system. And that turns the provision of water into an extremely local affair. What someone does on a farm on the upstream part of a basin can leave the neighbor further down without water. Any development, well, road infrastructure, highway, agricultural plantation, topographic alteration, clear-cutting or even wall could and in fact does affect water systems.

That’s why knowing about and managing hydrographic basins is so important, particularly in the country’s central and northern areas, where the population depends on surface water, which is always managed within a hydrographic basin. Those zones are also where Drinking Water and Sanitation Committees (CAPS), made up of municipal government officials and community members, are managing the rural and community water systems. At last count 5,200 CAPS were operating around the country. The water sources used by their small rural water supply systems are usually superficial, such as a river, arroyo or spring, although many wells are also locally administered. Because of this, INETER and MARENA should be providing information to each municipality, each mayor’s office, on how all their water sources are doing; it’s one of their main tasks.

So what became of INETER and that whole process?


But everything changed starting in 2007. The scientific information INETER published up to that time began to peter out. I gather the government assigned it to study the state of the country’s hydrographic basins for the interoceanic canal project, but none of that information, if it exists, has been published or made available in any way. The only thing on INETER’s web page now is administrative information and the text of laws; there’s none of the technical information the institution used to provide, which was so valuable to us. With ever less official public information, and none of it current, no one dares give figures about the situation of Nicaragua’s hydric resources anymore. As a result, all studies and publications only recycle outdated information.

We also know less and less from MARENA. I can’t help but wonder how the head of that institution can justify also being a National Assembly representative. It would appear that none of these posts is seen as important or meriting full-time work, as INETER’s director has been changed five times over the ten years this government has been in office.

Is the Water Law obeyed and the National Water Authority functioning?


We have 21 main hydrographic basins. Despite being above all a scientific-technical issue, they are also very important administratively to permit the fair distribution of water and the punishment of polluters. One of the most important advances in the Water Law approved in 2007 was thus the creation of administrative basin authorities. The basic questions each basin authority must be able to answer include how much water is available, what its quality is, how it’s distributed and what conflicts exist over its use. Is that being implemented today? I’ll answer with another question: if an advance as important as municipality autonomy has been destroyed, how can the municipal government possibly head up these basin authorities to ensure they work autonomously, efficiently and in a decentralized manner?

The big issue in the Water Law has to do with water concessions and fees. The ANA is an institution with its own budget and was assigned extremely important functions, having to inventory all of the country’s water resources, grant concessions to dig wells and charge fees for the water consumed from those wells. But we have no idea what the ANA is it actually doing.

What we do know is that we have no updated and public inventory of water resources. We also know that water concessions have been given out, but have no idea of the criteria and standards that were applied. And what about the charging of fees? There’s no standard or regulation for such an important issue. How many private wells exist in the country? How much water is extracted from them? And how much is paid for that water? Until the ANA publishes its standards, presents us with water inventories, tells us how many concessions it has granted or establishes tariffs, I would say it’s an institution that exists only on paper; an institutional fraud.

Water is in fact privatized


In my view water in Nicaragua has been privatized for some time now. Given that the main use of water in our country is for private purposes—80% for agriculture and 14% for industry—and all that water has never been inventoried or even charged for, I think it’s only fair to assert that our water is effectively privatized.

The private sector has been hogging the greatest amount of water used in our country without paying for it. For example, agricultural irrigation comes from wells and that water isn’t paid for. The private sector has most of the major wells. ENACAL, the state water distribution utility, administers 200 wells to provide drinking water to the population, while private companies take out huge amounts of water from 300 private wells for their own agricultural and industrial businesses, including water, beer and soft-drink bottling companies. And that’s without mentioning all the small artesian wells everywhere.

The water from those wells is too important to have been privatized and available without cost because it’s subterranean, and nearly all of us depend on that water for life. Underground water supplies 90% of Nicaragua’s drinking water supply systems.

Let’s now look at the issue of drinking water


Institutionally speaking, potable water is almost always linked to the issue of sanitation. But over the years this sector has acquired its own dynamic and coordinating arenas for the central purpose of linking investments to community drinking water systems. As a result, there has been greater participation in those arenas by national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community administrative bodies.

The current lack of institutional information about the drinking water situation in rural districts and urban barrios forces us to turn to the media. The official media offer some data on coverage and the independent ones report on the problems they uncover. We’re told that 60% of the drinking water users in urban areas are supplied by ENACAL, and 30% in rural areas by the 5,200 CAPS, with another 10% covered by departmental or municipal companies. It’s also said that 93-97% of the country’s urban population and 40%-67% of the rural population has “safe” drinking water coverage, but I think that’s more propaganda than truth. I’m more inclined to trust the Pan-American Health Organiza-tion’s 2011/2012 Nicaraguan Demographic and Health Survey, which s the latest one done. It reports that 66% of the country’s houses have access to a drinking water network, with either a faucet in the yard or pipes in the house, but the percentage varies drastically by geographic zone. The PAHO study says that 91.2% has access to this service in urban areas, but only 30.5% in rural ones. The two Caribbean regions are the least connected to drinking water networks, but do have access to abundant surface water and lots of artesian wells. The important issue to learn there is the quality of the water they consume.

Reforesting is the best solution for the dry corridor


With respect to water shortages, the most critical municipalities are those of the dry corridor, which runs from Las Segovias in the north of the country down through the central and southern Pacific regions. This zone has been a priority for donors, but its situation is much more complex than just the lack of water. Those municipalities have the highest poverty and population dispersion rates, making it difficult to access public services and install collective water supply systems. Such a dry ecosystem requires effective methods to exploit the small amounts of rainfall and make better use of the underground water, which is also in short supply.

These tasks are too much for small NGOs because the infrastructure needed to use underground water is always costly. Among other things it requires expensive hydrological studies as well as studies on the delimitation of aquifers and the flow among them. What NGOs can help with is water harvesting, which is at least a palliative measure. A poor peasant family in the dry corridor would have to have a very large storage system to harvest enough water for the five or six dry months of the year.

Improving the situation in this sizable dry area requires public investments and the management of all its natural ecosystems. We know forests are the great water highways given the natural system of evaporation-transportation that passes through trees’ leaves, so the most efficient way to ensure water to the populations in the dry corridor would be to create great forest masses there and in surrounding areas. Creating such a water highway should be a priority of any public policy that genuinely seeks to resolve the problem and improve people’s lives.

Forests are intimately linked to water, making it critical to care for them, not only in what is currently the dry corridor. Maps show savage deforestation in the past ten years in Nicaragua, where the deforestation rate had been more or less controlled or stabilized before, although not reversed. The uncontrolled expansion of corporate cattle ranching and agriculture starting in 1995 has more recently turned into a tremendous avalanche advancing on forested lands. The most important remaining reserves are the forests of the indigenous territories, which are currently facing massive challenges and threats.

Water quality contaminants


The quality of the water the population drinks is another great challenge, and varies drastically by area. ENACAL studies have demonstrated huge variations in the water quality of both rural and urban supply systems. In 2007 ENACAL investigated the quality of water supplied to 455 rural communities and determined that it contained fecal coliforms in 55.3% of the cases and didn’t comply with physical-chemical standards in 42%, while 11.5% exceeded the standards for arsenic in drinking water and 20% contained pesticides.

Arsenic: We’ve known since the eighties that Managua’s water has high concentrations of heavy metals. The latest reference studies were conducted in 2004 by Japanese cooperation officials, who have studied Managua’s aqueducts most seriously. They showed that some ENACAL wells supplying Managua were contaminated with arsenic and lead. I use the word “contaminated” because the concentrations found are higher than PAHO’s recommended limits. Those studies were so forceful they recommended that ENACAL purify the water and keep it under strict control and monitoring. Based on that, the Bolaños government invested in drilling new wells for Managua.

Arsenic, which is also reported in Nicaragua’s central zone, is a natural contaminant and acute arsenic intoxication produces a severe cutaneous lesion. The first case of arsenic poisoning was detected in 1996 in the community of El Zapote, municipality of San Isidro, department of Matagalpa.

Studies done by UNICEF in 2002 and 2003 estimated that 5.7% of the country’s water supply points had arsenic concentrations exceeding the limits established by PAHO, with levels of up to 28% in contaminated areas. Taking a conservative average of 200 users per water system, the study calculated that approximately 55,700 people in Nicaragua were ingesting water contaminated with arsenic in amounts not apt for the human system. This is serious because the probability of suffering cancer is estimated to be 100 times greater for people drinking water with concentrations of 50 micrograms of arsenic per liter than for those drinking uncontaminated water.

Mining: Mining is another long-time source of water contamination in the country, releasing lead, mercury, cyanide and arsenic into the rivers. There are rivers contaminated with these dangerous metals in the three municipalities of what is known as the Mining Triangle (Rosita, Bonanza and Siuna) as well as several mining municipalities of the department of Chontales.

Pesticides: Used massively in the country’s agricultural activity, pesticides seep into the aquifers. More than 90% of agricultural crops use chemical products.

Bad production practices: Some practices employed by sugar refineries and agrochemical and pharmaceutical companies have also posed a risk. Although they bury their toxic waste and expired products, they eventually make their way into the aquifers, causing illnesses in nearby communities. MARENA and the ministries of health and agriculture are responsible for inventorying, monitoring and preventing these practices, but we no longer have any information from these institutions and therefore know nothing about whether that is still happening. Many other sources of contamination, such as free trade zone assembly plants, tanneries, cooking oil industries and the like should also be inventoried and monitored.

Another problem is found in many of the mangrove areas of the departments of León and Chinandega, where the San Antonio and Monta Rosa sugar plantations and refineries are located, as well as peanut plantations and other irrigated crops. All use large quantities of underground water, which could cause salt water intrusion, contaminating the drinking water sources in these areas. Some studies are already reporting such problems.

The Río Grande de Matagalpa is also affected on its long trip from the Matagalpa mountains to the Caribbean Sea, as it receives wastewater runoff from the de-pulping and processing of coffee beans grown in those mountains. Moreover, all the once-deep rivers that flow into the Caribbean coast lowlands are the main recipients of the sedimentation produced in the highlands of the three hydrographic basins that empty into the Caribbean, which is a problem that has increased with the loss of forests in those areas.

Managua’s a time bomb


We can’t fail to mention the specific problems of the capital, which is a chaotic, vulnerable city. Managua is a time bomb due to very special characteristics that require drastic territorial and urban planning measures.

First of all, ENACAL is totally responsible for all water supplied in the capital except for the private wells opened in the new high-ticket residential housing tracts that form Managua’s urban sprawl. But ENACAL’s aqueduct system is now so old and inefficient that the studies by Japanese cooperation calculated that 40% of the water circulating through its pipes since 2005 is lost to leaks. Just modernizing the drinking water pipes to eliminate the leaks would increase the amount of water in the capital.

Even more importantly, the city’s drainage system collapsed a long time ago. The recharge area of Managua’s principal aquifer is in the Managua and Carazo highlands. Making the Southern Basin a protected zone is thus essential if we want to avoid huge risks. Sub-basin 3 is particularly important to Managua as it provides of the drinking water reserves that supply a good part of the city. That green area is also vital for infiltrating water and holding back sedimentation.

We need to remember that Managua was inundated by a torrent of mud from that zone a century ago, when it still had a small population. It’s a tragedy that could be repeated today, causing human, material, economic, social and environmental damages that are hard to calculate.

The capital city, leveled by two violent earthquakes over the last 80 years, currently has a constructed area of around 150 square kilometers, with over a million people now living in a that relatively small space. Managua always gets flooded when it rains heavily given the 17-km-long slope between the city’s highest zone, in El Crucero (more than 900 meters above sea level), and its lowest point (only 45 meters above sea level). That will continue until serious investment is made to retain, infiltrate and otherwise provide for the runoff of all that water.

Managua’s rain runoff channels overflow with the avalanches of water flowing through them with each storm during the rainy season, particularly since people continue to throw garbage in them, further restricting their capacity to move the rushsing water. Things have only gotten worse with the city’s disproportionate growth and recent urban sprawl, with residential areas in Ticuantepe and Veracruz paving over the land with cement.

A failed attempt to get things under control


In 2001-02, when Herty Lewites was mayor of Managua, I coordinated a study to assess the drainage system of Managua’s entire strategic zone and propose control measures, especially for the water runoff channel that runs from El Crucero to the airport, and is the one that represents the greatest risk to the city. We studied the hydraulic works needed to ensure adequate drainage, with plans, designs, everything… And what happened? By 2005-06, when the financing had been obtained for the infrastructure, the designs were no longer relevant; the urbanization rate had increased 300% in that same period of time. The city had entered such an uncontrolled urbanization process that what had been an area of forests, agriculture and water infiltration just a couple of years earlier was by then cement. Rainwater ran over it even faster and more violently, overflowing the existing channels more rapidly and inundating at-risk areas with even greater force. The change was so great we had to repeat everything we’d done in two years of scientific and technical studies.

In 2007, when Ruth Selma Herrera was named director of ENACAL, she took this whole problem so seriously she began to regulate urban development in that strategic zone of Managua. She conducted a huge campaign, supported by the technical studies done by the mayor’s office and ENACAL, and tried to institute planning of the area’s urban growth. She also fought for the increasingly costly and enormous infrastructure works needed to stop the increased runoff caused by the new housing tracts and thus guarantee infiltration of the water that’s later supplied to the population for its consumption. But she was fighting for a hot potato, because the economic forces behind these housing developments are very powerful. So Managua has continued growing uncontrollably. And we know perfectly well that the sediments accumulated at 900 meters could inundate Managua and bury us all. The mayor’s office recently announced an urban planning proposal, but the mayor’s own secretary, Fidel Moreno, admitted to La Prensa that he doubted they had the institutional and political capacity to put it into practice.

Building up in Managua


Managua’s urban development is now entering an era of vertical growth in which new multi-story buildings are going up for both offices and residences. I don’t think the environmental and social impact studies or the measures that need to accompany this new sort of social housing construction exist for this type of urban growth. It’s very different for a city to have a few vertical office buildings than to predetermine that form of future growth for it. Serious compensations must be considered and integrated into those developments rather than just leaving them to the criteria of the developers. This discussion has barely gotten off the ground and I only hope the common practice of putting the cart before the horse isn’t repeated yet again.

The Managua mayor’s office has an excellent team of technical planners who also worked with Herty Lewites when he was mayor and then with Dionisio Marenco, who followed him. Zoning plans exist for Managua, as do rules for soil use established by the urban growth norms. But we’ve seen urban tracts encroaching on the hills with no mitigation measures. Will there be a new administration in the Managua mayor’s office after this November’s municipal election that is capable of halting that advance and disposed to conserve a green zone that can serve as a buffer to protect Managua and those of us who live in it?


Desirée Elizondo is an agronomist specializing in soil and water.

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