MANAGUA – A municipal ban on construction along Managua’s main aquifer – and some of the capital’s most attractive real estate – has pit environmentalists against developers in a battle over the future of the capital city.
After years of a private-sector housing boom that has produced thousands of homes in gated communities, the municipal government of Managua and the Nicaraguan Water and Sewage Company (ENACAL) in February enacted a construction ban for 57 kilometers of prime property along the southeastern corridor of the city, including a 4-kilometer extension of the Carretera Masaya, from kilometers 13-17.
The reason for the ban, according to the mayor’s office, is simple: to curb unregulated urban development that is threatening to deplete and contaminate the city’s main source of drinking water – a subterraneous aquifer that flows from outside of Granada to the northern side of Managua. Parts of the aquifer parallel stretches of the Carretera Masaya, which has become the new real estate hotspot for Managua’s southeastern expansion.
Developers claim the construction ban is going to be murder on the economy.
Nelly Ramírez, general director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Urbanization Developers (CADUR), told The Nica Times that the construction ban has directly affected 25 urbanization projects, or 3,600 housing units, representing $155 million in investment. In addition, she said, CADUR estimates that between 20,000 to 25,000 construction jobs are in jeopardy due to the building moratorium.
Last month, CADUR appealed the moratorium before the Managua Tribunal of Appeals, which decided April 2 to submit the case to the Supreme Court, according to court clerk Indira Larias.
Ramírez said CADUR already considers the appellate court’s decision an indication that the moratorium is incorrect, and is calling on government officials to sit down and dialogue with developers to arrive at a solution that all sides can agree to.
Greens on Board
Renowned environmentalist Jaime Incer said he supports the building moratorium even though it’s an extreme measure.
“It’s necessary,” he told The Nica Times.
“The city of Managua is growing rapidly and it can’t get water from its own lake, which is contaminated, so it needs this subterranean source.”
Urban expansion along Managua’s main aquifer is problematic for two reasons, Incer said. First of all, more pavement and rooftops means that less rainwater is actually filtering through the volcanic soil to feed the subterraneous aquifer, thereby threatening the water supplies to the rest of the city. And secondly, he said, “Urban development always produces contamination,” which could poison the aquifer.
Cirilo Otero, president of the Center for Research on Environmental Policy, said the aquifer in question supplies some 95% of Managua’s 107 wells. The problem with unregulated and disorderly urban expansion, Otero said, is that deforestation threatens the watershed and construction of latrines threatens to perforate the water supply.
Otero, too, thinks the moratorium was the right thing to do, and says the problem is that the government didn’t do it sooner and hasn’t done a good job explaining the reasons for its decision, which has caused resentment among developers and the national construction chamber.
All or Nothing
Incer, the country’s most internationally recognized environmentalist, says the root problem here is that few people respect the laws and regulations put in place to protect the environment, and that the government doesn’t enforce its own legislation. That combination of factors has led to a situation in which the only measure the government is left with is to declare a complete ban on certain activities, such as logging, fishing and now construction along Managua’s aquifer.
Though Managua has had building regulations in place since 1982, they are oftentimes ignored.
“It seems that here the laws are made to be broken,” Incer said. “Many of the laws look very nice, and are the product of lots of debate in the legislature, but in the end they are inapplicable and there are no institutions that are capable of getting people to comply with them.”