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Celebrating brave female activists this International Women’s day

Today is International Women’s Day 2017, and we wish to celebrate the amazingly brave women we work with around the world.

Elena Albarado Salues is one of these women; a strong community leader, Elena leads environmental campaigns against hydroelectric dam in her home community of Omoa, in northern Honduras.

Elena Hydroelectric Dam Omoa

Environmental campaigner and community activist, Elena Albarado Salues, Omoa, northern Honduras.

Here is her story.

Elena Albarado Salues (58), a grandmother of seven from Omoa, is on a mission to end corruption between energy companies and the government in Honduras.

Despite years of intimidation and death threats, she is not afraid to stand up for the rights of her neighbours, whose water is being contaminated and cut off by large hydroelectric dams being built on local rivers.

Standing overlooking one of these dams in Los Laurelas on the Malomso River she explains: “Honduras is called a poor country but it has potential. The problem is that the people aren’t benefitting. The people who build the dams are the same people that are in the government and these are linked to the companies. Even the President has interests in hydroelectricity.

“Energy should be cheap here but it’s more expensive. It’s sold to the grid and the politicians decide on the price of energy. They sell it for a very high price because they benefit financially. Because of this, people can only see the disadvantages of the dams.

Dam builders frequently cut corners when building the dams using cheap, weak materials and electricity blackouts are common. The problem affects up to 150,000 people in Omoa town.

Local mother Idira Flores (38) says that the water pressure has dropped since the dam was built. Her water is cut off for one day a month.

“One day the water is off, the next it is on. Not long ago we had no water for three days. We have water pressure in the lower taps, but not in the higher taps.

“From time to time the water is murky and when they were building the dam the water was just mud. Before the dam was built the water was clean. I’m not happy because any day there can be no water.”

The company building the dams has offered the community help to bring water from a different water source to the population, but in return they have asked for an agreement that they can take all the water they want in exchange.

Already the river water at Los Laurelas is visibly low. By law, 10%-20% of river flow should be maintained when a dam is built, but there is only about 1% left around this dam according to Elena.

Hydroelectric Dam Omoa

Visibly low river flow due to the hydroelectric dam, at Los Laurelas, Honduras.

The dirty, stagnant water is also bringing increased disease.

“After the dam was built we did research and discovered that diseases that went away long ago came back, for example, yellow fever and gastrointestinal problems,” says Elena. “The heath system is weak as the government doesn’t fund it and people don’t have money for hospital or medication. They are poor, have problems with the water and no healthcare. Do they just want us to die?”

It’s a question Elena has faced personally. “Lobbying against the dams it is very dangerous. “It can get people killed. The perception is that if the council is against them (the activists), it’s ok to kill them.”

Elena has survived assassination attempts and is aware of the serious threats to her own life.

“The town council threatens me and tells me not to talk about certain things. The instructions are coming from higher up.

“Once we went to protest against the building of gas tanks on the waterfront. We were chased by a car and shot at. We had to escape.

“I spoke at a town council meeting and said I was being threatened and told I would die any day. I said publicly that if that happens the gas company will be responsible and the threats stopped.”

Elena cites recently assassinated environmental campaigner, Berta Caceres, as her hero and inspiration. Berta was murdered when campaigning against a hydroelectric dam like this one.

Elena at the Hydroelectric Dam, Omoa

Elena Albarado Salues overlooking a hydroelectric dam on the Malomso River, northern Honduras.

“I am sad that she died, but happy that the killers are shaking with fear. Thanks to international support and advocacy, we could keep the investigation open and now the man in charge of the company building the dam is one of those that has been arrested alongside former army staff.

“It shows the state’s involvement. This has been established thanks to international pressure. The US said that it would cut aid unless something happened. It will be a massive scandal if the links are proven.”

Against this backdrop Elena manages to keeps her focus with an iron will.

“I don’t get nervous,” she says. “Most people get nervous but I have been blessed with a gift of keeping my cool.”

This year’s Lent campaign is focusing on communities at risk in Honduras. Find out more: www.trocaire.org/lent

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