Groups Working Together To Solve Pollution And Poverty At Lake Atitlan

Groups Working Together To Solve Pollution And Poverty At Lake Atitlan

Efforts uncoordinated in past, but Santa Cruz por el Lago. Antigua Tours and Save Lake Atitlan Mission want unity.

By Greg Szymanski, JD
March 28, 2010

A tour company in Antigua and a group of local business owners in Lake Atitlan are trying to raise awareness and funds to end pollution and poverty at was once known as the most beautiful lake in the world.

Admitting efforts to correct the cyanobacteria problem threatening the lake’s very existence have been ‘uncoordinated’ due to economic and political stumbling blocks, the group at Atitlan called Santa Cruz por el Lago is trying to change things, bring people together to solve the problems.

̈Locals, both Kakchikel indigenous, ladinos and local gringos, are all working together as volunteers trying to sort out the threats our community might pose towards our lake’s health,” said a representative of the committee Santa Cruz por el Lago.

Antigua Tours owner, Elizabeth Bell, is also lending a hand, putting some of the profits of her company behind the Save The Lake campaign.

“Antigua Tours by Elizabeth believes that it is our planet and our responsibility to preserve it. We have been very active in preserving Antigua over the past 40 years through efforts in looking for a balance between preservation and economic development,”aid owner Elizabeth Bell who started her company in 1992.

“While a group of people have worked for years trying to preserve Lake Atitlan, it took the lake’s ecological imbalance, particularly in 2009, to get everyone on board to preserve it. A true blessing in disguise! We join Save Lake Atitlan Mission directly in efforts to save Lake Atitlan. We do this by donating 5% of our lake reservations and in networking to save the lake!”

The company is putting its financial and moral support behind groups like Santa Cruz por el Lago, Save Lake Atitlan Mission and others, all trying to unite people behind one common cause: end pollution and poverty.

Save Lake Atitlan Mission is starting a new web site, hitting the web Monday, trying to unite people together from all over the world. Atitlan Mission will also have a local presence in Atitlan, opening up a Mission Hall in order to help overty conditions improve on a daily basis.

“We want to galvanize and bring good people together, using our web site as a world wide meeting place for everyone now involved in trying to solve the serious problems there,” said the head of Save Lake Atitlan Mission at

“There are many good people working to solve this problem, now working in many small groups. We want to feature all these people on our web site as well as raise more awareness and funds to solve problems.”

Adding to the message of unity, Santa Cruz por el Lago had this to say:

The worst effects are the contribution of phosphates in the black and gray water from LOCAL drainages, municipal run offs, pilas going directly in the lake, phosphate soaps used to wash inside the lake, which are not, in most cases, caused by tourism.

Most hotels around the lake, except for some in Panajachel, do not use the public drainage. For instance here in Santa Cruz business owners and ̈chaleteros̈ are the only ones who pay property taxes and hence contribute to the municipal budget. Still we build our own septic, pump our own water and take care of our own solid waste.

This is something we do with MUCHO GUSTO as we have enjoyed a different financial situation and educational opportunities. But being accused of being responsible for polluting the lake is a bit offensive not to mention the effect on our personal safety. Many of us are working extremely hard towards solving the problem of the municipal drain, rubbish and erosion projects. This is in addition to running our businesses which are doing pretty badly this year. Punishing tourism since we do not know how to give back…

At a civilian level, I dare to say that many of the main actors working for the lake are actually tourism business owners and workers. Well, the majority of us working together as Todos por el Lago actually work in tourism-related projects.

If tourism disappears, what can the lake expect? Will then an apocalyptical peace take over where the local communities will simply go back to a middle age economy – without the agriculture on steep land, the harvesting of wood – not consuming packaged goods, not producing any more grey or black water, not using any more phosphate soaps or fertilizers? Will it all will go back to being a paradise? Guess their land will also be miraculously reforested –by our government?- and the amount of waste already accumulated will vanish?

Our impoverished country does not seem to have enough funding, would it not be a good idea to get it from richer nations, those that brought the Mayans great inventions like packaged goods and phosphate fertilizers without bringing them the knowledge on how to make good use of them?

Finally, there are a lot of uncoordinated efforts, it is true. But it is simply very hard, given our social and governmental reality, to do this coordination. It also takes time. At Todos por el Lago, after some trial and error, we decided to form different committees for every village. Because each village has different problems and needs, each village committee will try to raise money independently for their projects.

We try at least to coordinate and share resources, but what we have attained here is for sure limited. The truth is that sometimes one has to make a choice between not taking action at all or taking the imperfect actions one can given the reality. Sure, acting in an uncoordinated way might not be ideal, but for sure every pueblo addressing their own problems of waste and deforestation will lead to a better lake!

In general we want to be positive because we need to be positive. Still we will all need to realize this is a long-term work. We will have to change the way we relate to each other and the way we relate to consuming in order to change the way we all relate to nature. For this we need to be united and to provide hope instead of just pointing the finger at each other. Would it not make sense to hope for a future where those with access to some tools share it with those with different knowledge, where we all work together for a better future for us all?

Editor’s Note: A new web site, scheduled to be online March 29 at, is geared to tackle this problem and galvanize competing interests at Lake Atitlan.

A new weekly radio show is scheduled to begin April 7 to feature the plight of Lake Atitlan as well as the plight of indigenous people. Here is a promo of the upcoming show, the first program, as well as many others, focusing on pollution and poverty at Lake Atitlan

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES REPORT. GUATEMALA, CENTRAL, SOUTH AND NORTH AMERICA This weekly featured two hour radio broadcast, deals with environmental and social problems of Indigenous People.

Our focus for this broadcast brings to light the plight of Indigenous people first in Gautemala and its Lake Atitlan region while extending our focus to the rest of Central, South and North America.
Western civilization meets head on with the Mayan culture at Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalen Highlands. This April 7 show will discuss the environmental disaster occurring and the serious poverty conditions facing the 60,000 Mayans living on the shoreline.

Once known as the most beautiful lake in the world, now Lake Atitlan, a 1000′ deep volcanic lake 130 square km in size, has been taken over by a massive bloom of cyanobacteria that is now entering its toxic phase ending the basic source of water for the thousands of lake shore inhabitants as well as halting the livelihood of indigenous fisherman. Authorities on lake pollution in a recent gathering at Istanbul listed Lake Atitlan as the world’s most threatened lake in 2009. With haphazard garbage collection and no raw sewage and water treatment, the once crystal clear water is now undrinkable.

The show will be aired on Blog Talk radio on Wednesday evenings and Liberty Radio Live on Saturday mornings. Look for more details at

In October 2009, 85 per cent of the lake’s surface was covered with a green algae scum, cutting tourism by 75 per cent, according to local reports.

Also, see more of Greg’s stories below on Atitlan. If you want to help raise money, awareness and meet the immediate needs of the Mayans, contact Look for a new world wide web site coming out in two weeks, galvanizing interests worldwide to see the Mayans and Lake Atitlan are treated fairly. Also, a new weekly radio show will be broadcast highlighting Atitlan and the plight of all indigenous groups in North, South and Central America.

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