Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sewage Polluting Lago Izabal

The Cahabón and Polochic Rivers are the principal sources of pollutants in Lake Izabal, bringing sewage from various municipalities of Alta Verapaz.

The Cahabón passes through places such as Tactic, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal Verapaz, Coban, Carchá, Chamelco San Juan, and Lanquin Cahabón.

The Polochic carries pollution produced by Tamahú, Tucurú, Santa Catalina La Tinta, and Senahú Panzós. The two rivers then join and continue to El Estor, Izabal, where they empty into Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala.

The two rivers combined carry the daily waste of about 350,000 residents of Alta Verapaz, which has caused the lake water to be unfit for human consumption.

Waldemar Coloch, from the Unidad de Saneamiento Ambiental del Área de Salud de Alta Verapaz (Environmental Health Unit of the Department of Health), confirmed the pollution and the disagreeable odors in different parts of the lake due to lack of sewage treatment facilities upriver.

He also added that it is contradictory that a department like Alta Verapaz, which has a large number of rivers and water sources, should have a shortage in water supply for its inhabitants.

"The 47 per cent of the population of Alta Verapaz has no piped water. Potable water is not even a does not exist because none of the rural areas provide water treatment and only 21 of the 38 distribution systems in urban areas of Alta Verapaz chlorinate or otherwise disinfect water," added Coloch. According to studies, the water in its natural state is not recommended for human consumption because there is always microorganisms. Coloch said that there are plenty of surface and groundwater supplies but there is no quality of distribution.

He also explained that contamination from chemical compounds has increased in recent years, although he has no specific data on this. The increasing use of pesticides by farmers has a large environmental impact.

"We, as the Ministry of Health and Welfare, have to ensure the indexing and classification of contaminants found in each municipality, and each municipality is responsible for having water treatment plants, but 17 municipalities do not have them," he said.

Jose Gutierrez, Delegate of the Proyecto Plan Internacional, said that in a 2005 study in the municipality of Carchá it was determined that 96 percent of the population lacks access to water. But most alarming is that in one hundred percent of the samples, there appeared bacteria that develop in feces, which promote diarrhea, especially in children under 5 years.

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