“[W-22] Water insecurity has various aspects. At its most basic level, drought can threaten the lives and the livelihoods of people. Although cases of people literally dying of thirst are, thankfully, rare, there are more frequent cases of famine caused by the loss of peoples’ livelihoods, namely their cattle, their crops and common property resources they depend on. At one stage removed is the insecurity of important economic sectors dependent on water, such as irrigated agriculture, power, industry, or tourism. There is also the insecurity posed to the environment from water shortages, for instance, the loss of rare or beautiful habitats and the death of wildlife. Finally, the loss of water security can be costly and inconvenient to users who have built their lifestyles, households and working environment around ample water use.” Managing Water Scarcity for Water Security – Prepared for FAO by J.T. Winpenny
In a blaring two page spread Prensa Libre covered the news of Guatemala’s pending water shortage. The article was long on dire facts and short on solutions; it stated that regional policy makers are not aligned and that scientists remain unresolved about how to (legally and actually) alleviate Central America’s acute water stress. The lack of leadership in this situation is particularly distressing since it appears that high water insecurity will be very damaging to the several indigenous Districts that we follow.
Here, in Guatemala, where many farmers grow coffee and bananas for export, United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) and NGOs have taken steps to improve local food production by funding and promoting community gardens and greenhouses. However, neither the UN-FAO nor the various NGO’s that implemented these necessary improvements have the staff or the political standing to see their initiatives though the coming disaster. (The UN-FAO report cited above is almost four years old.)
The causes of the drought are myriad and the climate change ones are the most hotly contested. But, sustainability experts tell us that agriculture takes massive amounts of water (sometimes as much as 80% of what’s available) and that a shortage of it at the “wrong time” in the growing cycle will definitely downgrade the yields on the family gardens average 2.5 acre plots. Yet, there seems to be no official urgency to reallocate the increasingly scarce resource, nor are there any specific plans to slow excess water consumption. Worse, there is no budget to do the obvious, like seeking out and plugging leaks and/or determining where to build containers to harvest rain water in the wet season. (Some communities like Patanatic have received a few RotoPlast drums intended for storing water for their gardens. Yet, more than half the families there still need some kind of water receptacles to keep their fragile seedlings alive.) There are welded plastic containment pools that might be more cost effective than the Rotoplasts and as useful but the question arises about how does the water get equitably distributed when these are public and best installed in high flat places?
Along with this extremely bad news about water, Central America’s coffee fungus is causing a local state of emergency that threatens to devastate some families around Solola’s Lake Atitlan particularly in the small fincas near San Antonio Chacaya. But, while the coffee “Rust” can be burnt away and some plantations could be restored over the next three or four years, without action,the drought will continue to slam the region and hurt the poorest. Clearly, the region and, most certainly, the country needs an expert to step in and be given the power to regulate and conserve water.