For years a graffiti message has appeared throughout San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, as an urgent demand: Dragado ya! (meaning “dredging now!”).
Even passersby who have never set foot in the eight barrios making up the Caño Martín Peña community – a large informal settlement along 3.75 miles of canal in the central city – know the message points to the dire need to dredge the waterway, which has become so clogged with refuse that those driving by with the windows down can immediately smell the stagnant waters.
This previously neglected area was originally established on mangrove wetlands and lacks adequate water drainage systems, so even mild rain storms led to flooding that backed up sewage and polluted waters, causing health and environmental problems for its 26,000 residents.
Desperate to alleviate these issues, the local community started organising themselves to demand the dredging of the canal, but feared the rising land values and displacement of families that such neighbourhood improvement tends to bring.