As I’ve been told in a number of (rather depressing) environmental health and policy courses, water quality around the world and it equitable distribution is a growing concern around the world. I have particularly focused on the country of Guatemala whose water problems are well documented and treatment strategies of such are falling short. Guatemala sits at a very dangerous stage in its development where it has the infrastructure and economy to support various industrial activities, while lacking the political and regulatory mechanisms by which to regulate the pollution and environmental damage these industries cause. Particularly impacted by the pollution caused by large-scale farming and goods manufacturing is Guatemala’s water sources. According to the Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Assessment of Guatemala, many surface water systems in the country are sources of various disease-causing pathogens such as Vibrio cholera, the bacterium that causes cholera1, 2. Interestingly, basic treatment protocol is available for these types of water pollutants; the addition of minor levels of chlorine to drinking water is highly effective—theoretically. The work by Nagata, J. et al. attempts to explain why such systems are not working as well as they should in Guatemalan regions stricken with water-borne diseases2. Though the treatment may seem simple from a Western perspective, there are several deep rooted anxieties among the Guatemalan people that undermine such health initiatives. The metallic and faintly acrid taste of chlorinated water Americans tend to associate with summer fun by back yard swimming pools often reminds many Guatemalan citizens instead of Civil War fears of a tainted water supply—many Guatemalans are hesitant to chlorinate for this reason. This is only one example of the variety of “demographic, socioeconomic, social, cultural, political, and historical factors” that influence the Guatemalan perception of their water supply, the effectiveness of current treatments, and that outlines novel treatment plans anthropologists may help implement in the future.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Cholera.” MayoClinic. April 5, 2014. Accessed August 7, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cholera/basics/causes/con-20031469.
US Army Corps of Engineers. “Water Resources Assessment of Guatemala.” 2000, 18. June 1, 2000. Accessed August 7, 2014. http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Portals/46/docs/military/engineering/docs/WRA/Guatemala/Guatemala WRA English.pdf.
“Criticisms of Chlorination: Social Determinants of Drinking Water Beliefs and Practices among the Tz’utujil Maya.” Rev Panam Salud Publica, 2010. October 4, 2010. Accessed August 7, 2014. http://www.scielosp.org/pdf/rpsp/v29n1/02.pdf.