Water is lifeblood of the planet and all living things depend upon it. Yet we have very unusual attitudes about it in the U.S. In many locations drinking water is so cheap that we use it to water our lawns and fill our toilets. What a waste. On the other hand, we think nothing of paying $4 for a bottle of water at a movie theater or sporting event. In Guatemala, that would be over half a day’s salary for most people.
Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church in Kansas City (www.pineridge.org) has been installing drinking water purification systems in Guatemala for eight years through a program sponsored by Living Waters for the World (www.livingwatersfortheworld.org). At Pine Ridge we work with fire fighters in Guatemala (Bomberos) to install water purification and bottling facilities in fire stations. They then provide purified drinking water to their communities. The treatment systems we install include sediment filters, fine filters with activated carbon, ozone disinfection, and bottle disinfection and filling. The first photo below shows the treatment system components and the second photo shows the bottling operation.
Water availability in most Guatemalan communities is sporadic. Where water is supplied it may only be available for an hour or two each day. And in virtually every location it is not disinfected, so illnesses spread through the water. Wastewater treatment is rare in Guatemala, so toilet waste either goes to sumps in the ground or into nearby streams, further contaminating the water supplies.
Our recent projects are located in agricultural regions of western Guatemala where plantations grow Palm oil, bananas, melons, and other produce that we widely consume in the U.S. We consume a surprising number of products from Central America. Just look at the ingredient list of cookies and baked goods in your grocery store and see how many contain palm oil for one example.
Unfortunately, in many countries, Guatemala included, there are numerous stories of small farmers driven off their lands to make way for the corporate plantations, streams being diverted to the plantations, and water supplies becoming polluted by the agricultural runoff and processing wastewater. Palm oil plantations have an especially contentious reputation for these reasons plus habitat destruction. In our work we have heard stories and been shown photos of people who swim in local streams getting skin rashes and becoming sick.
Through our clean water projects in Guatemala I came to realize how much the toil of people in other countries supports our lifestyle, and how our consumption affects their communities. Today we are truly a global community. So in helping the people of Guatemala, we are helping unseen people who help us too. We are truly all related, no matter where we live.
Clean water is life. Please treasure it, conserve it, and support projects that provide clean water to others when you have an opportunity to do so.