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Clean Water for El Campo

By Jesús Aguado

The dream of Midday Rotary and CEDESA is to build a rainwater cistern for every family without access to clean water for consumption. It has been eight years since the construction of the first cistern, and so far only 1000 families have one. However, this number is big for all those who want the construction. It is expected to improve the quality of life of “those forgotten.” The number is immense for Rotary and CEDESA, too, because the “white buckets” mean hope for health and life to the people who have one.

The Ceremony

Sara Hernández, a 30-year-old woman, lives in La Vivienda de Abajo. At her home, members of Rotary and CEDESA cut the ribbon to celebrate the construction of rainwater cistern number 1,000. During this interview, Hernández tried to cover her mouth with her hand, but she could not deny the yellow color of her teeth, a pigment caused by fluoride in the polluted water of the area. She lives in the house next to the one where the potable water well was drilled, but it makes her sad that she cannot drink the water. “It can only be used for washing dishes and our clothes or for watering the plants,” she commented.

Now Sara knows that the color of her teeth is not genetic; she knows that it was caused by the overload of fluoride in the water from the Laja River, where they used to drill rustic wells to collect the water to drink. But she is not worried about the color of her teeth. Now she is concerned that several people in the community have kidney problems due to the water. Hernández mentioned that there is a woman in the community suffering skeletal fluorosis. “I know now that the disease deforms the bones and also makes them fragile. It is easy to have a broken bone.”

The families of Vivienda have had to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. Hernández said that she is happy with the cistern because now the family of eight members will have clean water the entire year for cooking and drinking.

At the community plaza, the arrival of the 1,000th rainwater cistern was celebrated, and there CEDESA and Midday Rotary gave an award to Dr. Marcos Adrián Ortega—investigator from the Institute of Geosciences of the National Autonomous University of México—for his scientific contribution to the rural communities of the Aquifer of the Independence.

The Problem

CEDESA is an organization based in Dolores Hidalgo that has provided agricultural and livestock information for more than 50 years to the rural communities from three municipalities: San Miguel de Allende, Dolores, and San Diego de la Unión.

Graciela Martínez, Chela, is the enthusiastic woman behind the cisterns. She arrived in San Miguel de Allende with the idea of helping people to live and grow, creating “community,” and she also wanted to improve the lives of the people by constructing cisterns to harvest rainwater, which could be used for growing organic farms in the backyards. They built 100.

Later, Martínez attended a forum where Dr. Marcos Ortega was talking about the use and managing of underground water. According to Martínez, he talked about the problem with the water in the Aquifer of the Independence. It was then Graciela realized that people did not need the cisterns to grow the orchards but to drink healthy water and to prevent diseases.

Marcos Ortega told Atención that the first studies of the water in the aquifer were conducted by the UNAM in 1998. He explained that the mayors from several cities (San Diego de la Unión, San Luis de la Paz, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores, and others) needed to make decisions, and they could not do that because CONAGUA (National Commission of Water) and the State Commission of Water did not have clear information on the water quality in the area. Then the mayors requested an investigation.

An integral study of the underground water was conducted, said Ortega, for the first time; “Seventy-five chemical elements from the table were used for the first time in Mexico to understand the water behavior and its interaction with the soil and the rocks, to understand its age and origin.

In the water of the aquifer, we found an overload of arsenic that causes cancer and fluoride that causes damage not just on the people’s teeth but also in the neurotransmitters, that is to say that the children’s IQ decreases between 30-40 percent and besides, it causes depression, which has been related to suicide,” said Ortega. He also commented that in 1998, 5,000 were diagnosed with a disease caused by water. Currently he does not know the numbers but calculated that there must be 50,000 people sick from the water. However, regardless of the evidence, “the authorities do not want to acknowledge the problem.”

For Ortega, those responsible are CAN and CEAG because “they have not fulfilled their duties, and they do not do anything to prevent Guanajuatenses from drinking the contaminated water.” By the end of 1990, there were 2,500 wells and half of them should not have been authorized. In addition, 80 percent of the water in the aquifer was misused in the agriculture due to bad practices.

The solutions

Dr. Ortega said he was happy about the award given to him by CEDESA and Rotary, although he said it also should have been given to UNAM. Some of the solutions to prevent people from drinking this water, said Ortega, are the construction of the rain harvest cisterns, the construction of ecological filters, and most important, the prevention of the waste of water in agriculture.

The numbers

Each cistern has a cost of 9,000 pesos. Those who benefited have invested at least 250 hours in the construction. Rotary has invested close to USD$500,000 in eight years in three municipalities. In San Miguel there are cisterns in Alonso Yáñez, Banda, Capaderillo, Cinco Señores, Cruz del Palmar, Guerrero, Los Magueyes y Toriles, among other communities.

Orchards in the backyards

Amigos de la Vivienda is a community organization that has established 40 family vegetable gardens, plus one at the secondary school. They achieved the construction, with CEDESA and Rotary, of 41 cisterns in the community. In partnership with Amigos de los Animales, 189 animals have been neutered, and they have also worked to solve medical issues for 20 people.


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