Guatemala: The torment of living without water in a country that has too much

Guatemala has twice the availability of water than the world average, but 90% of its sources are contaminated and millions of people suffer daily ordeals to obtain it, due to decades of poor state administration.

"The river brings waste and even corpses from the Guatemala City dump", Migdalia Hernández, a Mayan teacher who lives in San Antonio Las Flores, a community that has become the drain of the country’s capital, tells EFE.

Hernández and 1,200 families in this village live surrounded by three polluted rivers and they only have water once a weekwhich is barely enough to cover their needs.

Magdalena González lives in a similar crisis, in San Pedro la Laguna, on the shores of Lake Atitlán, in western Guatemala, where water only arrives three times a week.

History repeats itself, even in the heart of Guatemala City in residential areas, where the service is not regular.

Guatemala is a country full of water resources but where 6 out of 10 homes do not have drinking water and 5 out of 10 are not connected to the drainage network, according to United Nations data from 2021.


"There is no authority that responds to the crisis", Hernández counts with annoyance.

The residents of San Antonio Las Flores, a village in the municipality of Chinautla on the outskirts of the Guatemalan capital, have had to devise their own distribution system to obtain water.

In 2022, the residents, most of them bricklayers, taxi drivers, security guards and seamstresses, raised funds to connect their houses to a spring in the mountains that surround them, far from the contamination of the Las Vacas River.

The thick, brown flow of Las Vacas carries some 9,000 tons of solid waste per year from Guatemala City and invades with a fetid smell the houses of those who live on the banks of this river of black waters.

"The municipality does not fix anything, we have to devise solutions to have water"says Enrique Monroy, a 52-year-old resident of San Antonio Las Flores.

Monroy, faced with the scarcity of water, he built his own 25 meter deep well in his backyard and thus supplies his family for 4 years.


"The lake is sick and is going to die"says Magdalena González as she fills two sacks with bottles, syringes and all kinds of plastic found on the shores of Atitlán.

El Atitlán is a lake surrounded by three volcanoes and the second largest Guatemala with 130.1 kilometers of extension in the department (province) of Sololá, in the west of the country.

González is part of a group of 300 Tz’utujil Mayan women who, since 2009, have been volunteering to remove solid waste from the beach of San Pedro La Laguna, located in the lake basin.

El Atitlán, deified by thousands of foreign tourists, suffers serious ecological deterioration as a result of wastewatersolid waste, agricultural runoff, among other problems that concern the communities that inhabit it.

"For us Lake Atitlán is like our mother, we have a very strong connection"explains to EFE Nancy González, who coordinates the women who have organized in defense of water.

In the bars, hotels and restaurants of the town, packed with visitors, water is not a problem, as the service is constant for now.

In contrast, in the houses of the original inhabitants, the liquid barely arrives three times a week and in minimal quantities, according to complaints from indigenous women who claim to be the most affected by the growing crisis.


Guatemala City is not escaping from the growing crisis and for years, residents of popular neighborhoods in the center and north of the city have begun to denounce the shortage.

"We cannot cook, bathe or wash our hands", Aarón Aguilar, a resident of the Ciudad Nueva neighborhood, told EFE, where at least 400 houses have suffered from irregular drinking water service since 2019.

Aguilar assures that the Municipality of Guatemala has justified rationing water twice a week by saying that "is running out nationwide".

However, according to the World Health Organization (PAHO), Guatemala produces 97 billion cubic meters of water, an amount that is above the world average.

"In recent years They have built three gigantic buildings in the neighborhood and one even has a pool", Aguilar explains as he points to the 14-story apartment complex that was built one block from his residence.

Despite the water situation, the Guatemalan municipality authorized 3,307 constructions of residential buildings in the capital in the last 10 years, according to data requested by EFE.

The indigenous communities and inhabitants of the largest city in Guatemala warn of a growing crisis in a country where there is no national water law and in the last 30 years seven legislative attempts to regulate the use of water have failed.

In 2021, the United Nations published that if Guatemala managed water correctly, it could offer 31 liters a day to each of its inhabitants.


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