A horse wades through a sea of plastic bottles, cans and green waste that fills El Salvador’s largest freshwater lake – dramatic images that show how a major source of drinking water is being neglected despite growing global environmental concerns.
The Cerron Grande reservoir is known as Suchitlan, which means “place of flowers” in the Nahuatl language, and the Cerron Grande Nature Reserve is home to fish, waterfowl and mammals, such as cougars and ocelots.
The protected area on paper is, in fact, one of the most polluted waters in Central America.
The government’s failure to deal with waste that overflowed into important water reservoirs comes as world leaders met in Egypt last week to discuss environmental priorities at the COP27 climate conference.
The waste that enters the reservoir originates from the Lempa River, which flows from the Guatemalan highlands through neighboring Honduras, before settling in the Cerron Grande, located below El Salvador’s largest hydroelectric dam.
The untreated waste of the capital of Salvador is also swept away by the Acelhuate river before it reaches Lempa, piling up more waste.
Officials in the nearby town of Potonico, which has been heavily affected by the waste, say that although the residents are not to blame for the contaminated water, their health and lives are paying the price.
El Salvador is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Its popular president Nayib Bukele has focused on rounding up suspected gang members and boosting the economy with controversial bets on volcano-driven Bitcoin mining, which has shown little results.