efe-epaCholuteca, Honduras

The southern Honduran city of Choluteca is once again suffering under an intense drought affecting its 200,000 residents and the local farming sector, which cannot use water from the Choluteca River as before since it has been under a private use concession for years.

During the months of April and May, the Choluteca River has been practically dry, profoundly affecting the water needs of local residents and farmers, limiting agricultural production and raising the costs of certain economic activities like sugar cane growing which, in those particular months, requires huge quantities of water for irrigation.

Mayor Quintin Soriano told EFE that if the river were under control of the municipality two kilometers (1.25 miles) of its length would be used for "canals like everywhere in the world" to alleviate the serious drought in the area.

In that way, when it rains a good quantity of water could be stored and the city would always have what it needs in this rather arid region, added Soriano, who this year began his fourth consecutive term as mayor.

He said that the person to whom the concession was granted to exploit the river water "for cash" has had it for several years and that is not something that was done by the present national government of Juan Orlando Hernandez. Moreover, the Choluteca River, which arises in the central part of the country, is the only river in Honduras under that type of regime.

"This gentleman has had the concession for almost five years ... Now we're waiting for it not to be renewed," Soriano said, adding - however - that things are "up in the air" because "the political will doesn't exist" to resolve the matter.

He also says that the sugar cane growers "have drilled too many wells" for irrigating their crops.

"It's not that I'm against these companies, the sugar cane growers ... but they've drilled too many wells. That is a problem. There are sugar cane growers who have 500 wells. That is an ecological crime because they're stealing all the water from us," he said.

Everyone in the region's productive sector - farmers, livestock raisers and industrialists - agrees that the main problem in the area is water.

The former president of the Association of Cattle Raisers of Choluteca, Francisco Argeñal, told EFE that "everything can be summed up in trying to do a macro project ... to resolve the water problem once and for all."

He added that the river "causes damage in the winter months because the water goes directly to the sea (the Gulf of Fonseca on the Pacific) and causes flooding."

Due to accelerated deforestation and other environmental problems, at that time the river water creates more destruction than benefits, as can be testified to by thousands of residents of Choluteca and other municipalities like Marcovia who have suffered flood damage to homes and other property.

Argeñal agrees with the mayor and representatives of the productive sectors that the solution is to build a big dam in the Morolica sector, which would generate electricity, store water for many communities, provide irrigation water for productive sectors and promote tourism.

The cost for such a dam would be about $1 billion, double what it would have cost when it was first suggested back in the 1980s, said Argeñal.