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On the Ground: San Cristobal, Chiapas - Dirty Water on a Death Bed

Oscar Beard | 09.12.2006 23:12 | Oaxaca Uprising | Repression | Social Struggles | Zapatista | World

The latest report on polluted water resources and corporate privatisation from IMC correspondent Oscar Beard in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

A Barrio lying on the edge of a polluted stream
A Barrio lying on the edge of a polluted stream

River bed of dried raw sewage
River bed of dried raw sewage

Main sewer exit for San Cristobal homes into the river
Main sewer exit for San Cristobal homes into the river

Pipes run direct from homes into the river
Pipes run direct from homes into the river

Barrio women and children washing clothes in the river
Barrio women and children washing clothes in the river

Ironic: Coca Cola and a river of shit!
Ironic: Coca Cola and a river of shit!

Finally, after four days, I can finally keep my food down, or stop it exploding out the other end in a manner that could have me branded a weapon of mass destruction.

Sure, I can laugh about it now, not too much, as the strain still hurts like hell in the gut, but at 4am on Thursday morning it was no laughing matter.

Everyone in Mexico gets sick sooner or later, more so here in Chiapas, the poorest state in all Mexico, with the richest natural resources - water, biodiversity, oil, petrol, gas, lumber, minerals.

Some people get sick because of the food, especially raw food, others from the water. Me, I got sick some four hours after returning from filming and cataloguing the pollution to San Cristobal’s natural water resources.

With one member of La Otra Campaña and another journalist we toured the southern and northern barrios of the town, where most the indigenous population live, in some of the poorest conditions I have ever seen.

Homes are erected from tin and wood. Most have no electricity or access to clean water. They rely on the only river in San Cristobal for all their needs. Six years ago the river was clean enough to wash in, to play in and to drink from.

Now that river is drying up, and what water still flows across its beds is contaminated, fuelling Typhoid and Malaria outbreaks.

Why has this happened in such a short time?

Well, for one, the Mexican government paid out for sewage pipes to take waste from the homes. But they never paid out for a sewage plant. The waste runs directly into the river.

Raw sewage now lies thick on the river beds. Dried up areas of the river are hard to be around for more than a few minutes, the stench becoming unbearable, especially to one who the night before got stinking drunk in a fit of depression due to learning too much too fast about the dire situation these people face every damn day.

Pesticides, the most commonly used being Monsanto’s “Roundup” - which contains 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic, originally used to make 50 percent of the compound that created Agent Orange – pours from arable land directly into the river.

Then there is the ongoing construction of roads, bridges and houses that has blocked and covered the natural path of the river, cutting off the flow of the water.

For years the people of San Cristobal collected their drinking water from 17 natural reservoirs, because it was cheaper than buying bottled water from named brands like Coca Cola, Cadbury and Danone.

Five years ago there were only six reservoirs left, today there are only four, the others destroyed by housing projects and pollution.

Who is one of those profiting from those housing projects?

Pablo Salazar, the Chiapas state governor, who is also a very good friend of President Felipe Calderon.

Who benefits from the natural water supply being polluted?

Coca Cola, Cadbury and Danone, and a few other water companies owned by the San Cristobal aristocracy. But Coca Cola pretty much have the strangle hold on the water supply.

With little to no accessible safe natural water left, the people either buy their purified water or they take their chances with the polluted water.

The poor, who can not afford luxuries like bottled water, have no choice but to risk their lives every time they take a drink.

There is still some pure naturally-occurring water here, but Coca Cola slapped a large factory over the two wells and this is where all San Cristobal’s “Real Thing” is bottled.

One bottle of purified water will cost you three or four times as much as a bottle of Coca Cola, the indigenous people being sold The Real Thing at half price. Until they dominate the market that is. Then - as with all current forms of capitalism - watch the price sky rocket.

In San Cristobal de Las Casas over 100,000 people have no access to clean water. In the barrios surrounding the town skin disease, dietary illnesses, Typhoid and Malaria are rife.

Within fours hours after walking on dried river beds of raw sewage I was sick. Real sick. A night of diarrhoea and projectile vomiting was followed, I am told by one visitor, with mass delusion and hallucinations backed up with a dangerous temperature, despite my vague recollections of shivering from cold.

This is what I received after spending just four hours in such areas of contamination. The people of the barrios live day and night by the river.

Four days later I have just enough strength to write any reports or post to Indymedia, which is why only a select few have heard anything from me in the last few days.

The hallucinations have stopped, now I am only haunted by fluctuating pain in my stomach and incredibly weird dreams of Mexicans viciously deformed by Leprosy and Elephantitis.

And through all this, through rancid poverty, through deadly disease, do certain corporations, one in particular – “Holiday’s are coming” – see fit to profit from the privatisation and greed-headed ownership of the most important of all natural resources to mankind. And may they all rot in hell for it.

Oscar Beard