Clean Water: A right or a Privilege?

by Zaklina Mazur, AGR

A lakeI wake up in the morning and make my way to the kitchen. I grab the coffee pot and  sleepily walk towards the sink. I turn the faucet on and fill the pot. With sleepy eyes I set the coffee maker and make my way to the bathroom. I have a shower.

The hot water feels good after the cold air of the early morning. I dry off and change into my work clothes. I turn on the tap and brush my teeth. The coffee is ready. It’s the Guatemalan brew that smells wonderful in the morning. I live in Ontario and before the day has started I have used a lot of clean drinking water without thinking twice. This is the typical start to my day. It is much different than a typical day in Guatemala.

The weather is hot, and the sun warms your body in the mountainous highlands of rural Guatemala. There are bushes and fruit trees everywhere, but vegetation is dry as it has not rained recently. It is a A poor village roaddifferent life here. Simpler, sunnier, happier. People smile as they pass each other. “Hola”. “Buenos dias”. The women are tasked with washing clothing and food preparation. These are tasks that require water, or “agua” in Spanish.  Many rural areas do not have public services, such as running water, or a sewage system. The women clean their clothing in rivers or lakes, but this adds to the pollution levels in the water. A polluted beachThere are no public services or water treatment centers. In another community, there is an area with many wash sinks, or “pilas” where, depending on the day and time, women or men wash clothes. Everyday around noon the women also wash dishes. Water is scooped from the center of the large pila with a small bowl and poured over the pots and pans. A rag with soap is used to clean the surfaces, then rinsed and drained out of the sink. The water in the center is always drawn from with a bowl so as not to contaminate the “clean” water in the center. In other communities, as there are no pipes that pump water up to communities, often men and A crowded marketwomen have to carry buckets of water from a water source, to the community. Water is used to bathe with as keeping clean removes the layer that traps in heat on a scorching summer day. We have all been told to wash our hands after using the rest room and before eating, but what happens when clean water is scarce? Washing in dirty water can lead to illness caused by swallowing amebas, parasites, and contagious bacteria such as typhoid. As our tap water is drinkable, we rarely think of the impact not having access to clean water can have. There are no long morning showers in potable water here.

“Agua pura”, or purified water is too expensive for the average family. Sewage systemWater can be filtered through a clay pot “eco filter” which can make the water potable. When you research these filters, you will find they originated in Guatemala in 1981. Tiny pores are created in the pot while cooking in the kiln. Water can then be passed through the pores, leaving 98% of the bacteria behind. As the pot is painted with colloidal silver, the last 2% is killed when it passes through by an electrostatic charge. We encountered another filtration system at the Instituto Meso-Americano de Permacultura. This filter is composed of 3 stages of “filters” starting from large rocks, to fine pebbles. Our guide told us that the water at the end would be so clean that when if trickles into a pond of fish, the fish would live.

Let us take a step back and remember water is essential for humans, A natural welldirectly and indirectly. It is essential not only for humans to drink, but also for all living organisms.  Water is essential for livestock such as chickens that will further serve as food, weather by producing eggs, or meat. Water is used to grow food, another necessity to life. Without water, there is no livestock, no crops, no food. Water used for anything other than drinking is untreated and may contain bacteria, or other microorganisms. It is used to wash  food  or  food  contact  surfaces  such  as  knives  later  used  to  cut  a papaya, avocado or mango as clean water is scarce. There was a women’s co-operative that farmed fish in order to provide protein to their families. They stood tall and smiled as they showed us their pond full of tilapia of various sizes. The pond was fed by a river that originated upstream, which meant that clean water was always circulating in the pond.

Many communities had shared that their source of water was being diverted. Rivers were stolen to feed large plots of private land not limited to rubber tree, sugar cane, African palm oil and banana plantations. In A protest rallysome cases the water was poisoned from mineral extraction. During the rainy season,  the area floods where a river used to be. A new route is forged through the land, sometimes flooding homes and forcing people out. In April of 2016, there was a march for water (Marcha por el Agua) in an effort to bring attention to thelack of water in rural communities. The march started in 4 locations, and ended in the capitol city on April 22, 2016 – Earth Day. Some people marched for 11 days and over 250 km. The final count was 15,000 people!

As the struggle continues, a new hope for clean water is in motion. The will of the people can inspire. A few years ago a community that was displaced to a sticky hot and dry land without nearby water had to transport potable water in water-cooler jugs of potable water. Two years later, the community has a water tank that collects rain and runoff from nearby mountains which feeds the entire community.  And the name of this community you ask? Nuevo Amanecer – New Dawn.

Clean water should not be a privilege but a right for all.