How people living in extreme poverty view the term sustainable development How people living in extreme poverty view the term sustainable development

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Synthesis of interviews and visits October 2011 – January 2012 carried out with families living in extreme poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Brazil in preparation for Rio+20


The interviews and visits occured between the monthes of October 2011 until January 2012 in Honduras, Tegucigalpa- Asentamientos El Río (Barrio la Bolsa) y Flores de Oriente (Nueva Suyapa) ; El Salvador, Santa Tecla- Colonia San Rafael; Guatemala, Ciudad de Guatemala- Asentamientos Piedra Santa y Casa Cuarto Mundo, y Escuintla- Asentamiento Línea Férrea Sur; Brazil, Petrópolis- Morro dos Anjos.


1. Introduction


“We are guajeros (individuales forced to pick through garbage for a living), we are doing a favor for the planet because we take tons of garbage from the dump. For others, these things are worth nothing. However, for us, aside form being a source of income, we are doing something even better for our families moreover, for our children, for those who come after us. We are leaving behind a better planet.” (D. Sorto)


It is in the poor forgotten zones of our cities and countries where the worst effects of environmental degredation combined with social and economic exclusion are visible. We see the condition of communities without basic services for decent human development. We find adults, teenagers and children forced to work under constant risk to their lives in order to earn the minimum necesary for survival. Families are forced to live in very vulnerable areas in order to assure the securtiy that comes from ties formed within the community, invisible to the interventions of governments and international agencies.


This is the daily reality of the people interviewed in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Brazil1. Their words tell us of the injustice they live, but above all their thought and their actions in the struggle for better living conditions in their community.


2. Living Situation


2.1 Communities and Homes


The interviews confirmed to us that overall the “favelas”, settlements, or neighborhoods where the poor live, are formed by people who, for various reasons, find in them their only chance at having a roof. In order to avoid living on the street or under a bridge with their families, people gradually raise slums or “barracos” and manage to acquire a minimal infrastructure. Sometimes they even pay for their land and, generation after generation, they form a complex and lacking life style, which requires a great deal of strength and stamina to thrive in, a life style about which only those who live it can speak.


As in Honduras and El Salvador, poor communities live many difficult situations because of flooding, air pollution, poor housing infrastructure, little or poor government support, lack of work and many other challenges to living well in community. Yet people do not stop looking for possible solutions every day to improve family and community life or recognize the progress achieved by effort from one generation to another.


“One can not say anything, they own their company, made their wall to avoid contact with people in the community. (…) There are days when it’s not even raining and there is loads of water coming out (…) it’s the hot water from the company, They say that they are washing the machines; that water affects you (…) further away from there burnt oil comes out (…) They say they aren’t responsible for that, only they’re on the other side of the wall and we’re here. That machine they have over there, they grind plastic with it at night; it’s horrible.” (A. Castillo-El Salvador).


A plastic factory that empties all its waste onto local residents’ access road and also within several houses that were built behind the colony of San Rafael, in the city of Santa Tecla, El Salvador. The chemical waste pipe comes out mostly in a public space where a large number of people circulate and also where children play. The intention of those responsible is that all waste terminates in the river, without assuming any responsibility for it, nor for the people who are affected by it. Furthermore, there is the operation of the machines which cause noise and tremors day and night in the neighborhood. The residents endure this, unable to claim any legal right against the owners. This includes the serious risk of chemical contamination, the lack of silence, especially at night, and a complete neglect of the cracks that compromise the structure of local houses. They claim complete ignorance of any influence they could exercise to change their situation. They don’t know in whom to trust in order to defend themselves.