Indigenous Communities in Mexico Struggle Amidst Climate Change Crisis

Activists and young environmental advocates gathered to draw attention to the severe impact of climate change, particularly the distressing scarcity of clean water. Despite Chiapas being previously perceived as a region rich in water resources, the grim reality unfolds in urban and rural areas, where access to this essential resource remains elusive, further exacerbated by the looming threat of droughts due to the climate crisis.

Indigenous people perform a ritual

Photo: 10/24/2023. Indigenous people perform a ritual to thank Mother Nature for water, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. EFE/Carlos López

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Leer en español: Comunidades indígenas en México luchan en medio de la crisis del cambio climático

The impact of the climate change crisis is particularly severe for indigenous peoples in the state of Chiapas, located in the southeastern region of Mexico. On the occasion of the International Day Against Climate Change, activists gathered to shed light on the critical situation these communities face, particularly concerning water scarcity.

An Urgent Call for Action

Over a hundred children adolescents, and eleven environmental advocacy organizations issued a compelling call to municipal, state, and federal authorities during this event. Their appeal? To prioritize access to clean water and sanitation for the youth and children of Chiapas and across Mexico.

In recent years, Chiapas has often been perceived as a region abundant in water resources, fostering the notion that water-related issues are resolved. However, as Fermín Reygadas, director of the organization Cántaro Azul, pointed out, the reality in both urban areas and rural communities tells a different story. Water is often inaccessible, failing to reach schools and homes.

While the region boasts significant water resources in its major rivers, such as the Grijalva and Usumacinta, as well as its vast reservoirs, including Angostura, Malpaso, and Chicoasén, the ongoing crisis of climate change has resulted in more frequent and severe droughts. Consequently, the urgency of addressing this water scarcity issue is becoming increasingly evident.

An Alarming Discovery: Water Contamination

The event also brought to light the region's water contamination issue. Paloma Mejía, director of the organization Agua Segura en Escuelas, highlighted the gravity of the situation, revealing that the water used for human consumption is contaminated with fecal matter, including bacteria that can cause diseases like typhoid fever.

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, a city within Chiapas, stands out as a clear example of the water crisis. It notably lacks adequate water treatment systems, exacerbating water contamination issues. This predicament is compounded by the accelerated pace at which the planet is warming due to increased greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Also read: Latin America's Pivotal Challenge in Confronting the Climate Crisis

As the region grapples with ongoing droughts, communities are beginning to experience unprecedented water-related challenges. Increasingly, they compete for access to water sources, leading to rising tensions. The fear is that these conflicts could intensify, making it even more challenging to address the water crisis effectively.

The Voices of Youth

During the event, Maya Tzeltal and Tzotzil children and adolescents from municipalities such as San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Tenejapa, Chamula, Zinacantán, San Juan Cancuc, Oxchuc, and Huixtan shared their experiences regarding water in their communities. Most notably, they emphasized the absence of piped water in their homes and the lack of rainwater harvesting systems, reflecting the ongoing challenge of securing safe water and sanitation.

Margarita Argüello Hernández, a 14-year-old indigenous Tzeltal girl, shared her family's experience, stating, "We don't have piped water at home; we fetch water from the spring and rely on rainwater, even for drinking." These testimonies underscore the region's critical need for improved water and sanitation infrastructure.

Elena Reygadas, a young student, also spoke out, emphasizing the importance of ensuring adequate water supplies in schools to meet personal hygiene needs, particularly for adolescent girls during their menstrual cycles.

A Sobering Reality

With a population of approximately five million people, Chiapas faces a stark reality where over two million individuals lack access to clean water. On average, families are forced to make do with a mere 20 liters of water per day, insufficient to meet the needs of their entire households.

The International Day Against Climate Change, designated by the United Nations, serves as a reminder of the critical role human activities play in driving climate change, mainly through burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. The day serves as a call to raise awareness, promote understanding, and issue warnings about the consequences of climate change and its threats to life on our planet.

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