GWP Senior Network Officer Gabriela Grau recently attended a Forum on Transboundary Basins Management in Guatemala. As part of the forum, participants visited Lake Amatitlan. Gabriela came away saddened by what she saw:
Thirty years ago this lake was a beautiful tourist site. What has unfolded over the decades is a tragedy for humans and nature!
One of the main reasons for the tragedy is the incomprehensible practice of making the lake a dumping ground for human waste. The sewage from Guatemala City and its vicinity (+/- 5 million people) is discharged into the Villalobos River, which flows straight into the lake. The result is extreme eutrophication (the process by which water becomes enriched in nutrients that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life, usually resulting in the depletion of oxygen) which can kill aquatic fauna. People collect (and eat!) about 200,000 kg/year of fish, mainly tilapia, since two out of three native fish species are reported to have gone extinct.
I feel sorry for the poor men (pictured) with legs submerged in that filthy soup. They take out 20,000 truckloads of garbage every year, which is another big problem since the lake authorities have to arrange its disposal somewhere else.
The lake is also undergoing an accelerated silting process. In the past 10 years, 5% of the lake’s volume has been displaced by sediment. Water availability is being dramatically reduced, and not many seem to notice that one of the most important underlying causes is that over the course of the twentieth century, the population of Guatemala grew by a factor of fourteen. Population growth is a neglected topic despite its crucial link to water management and ecosystems-biodiversity conservation.
All stakeholders – municipalities, the private sector, and civil society – should start talking to each other and urgently develop plans to manage these waters in an integrated manner, so that the lake and its resources can be reclaimed for acceptable human and environmental health, and sustainable economic development.