Mexico’s Lake Chapala is a sick puppy. The term “Clean Up The Environment” (hereinafter “cute”) has become a phrase used by politicians to denote a concern that may play well at the polls, but rarely turns into measurable improvements for the ecosystem. On December 1, 2018 Mexico installed their new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). His election garnered widespread electoral support by virtue of his comprehensive environmental restoration agenda for Mexico entitled NaturAMLO. The whole world is watching.
For AMLO’s administration (as well as many others around this planet), the question becomes one of delivering tangible environmental and public health improvements for his nation, or becoming just another politician playing the cute card. Yet, AMLO and Mexico have a distinct advantage; a cure for cute.
The Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin in Mexico is a sick puppy that requires immediate, comprehensive treatment – meaningful intervention by Mexico’s federal government. Lake Chapala is located some 35 minutes south of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, with over 4 million residents. The lake is situated in the state of Jalisco in western Mexico. Jalisco has an estimated 6.3 million inhabitants, 60% of whom reside in the state capital of Guadalajara, with the remainder dispersed among urban and rural areas in the region. Unemployment among adults who are actively seeking work is low (approximately 2%), while annual per capita income is approximately US $6000. The primary employers in the state of Jalisco are agriculture (11%), manufacturing/industrial (25%) and the services sector (31%) and sectors. Guadalajara is considered to be an economic engine for Mexico – and one with even more positive economic potential in the future. According to one source, “Guadalajara had the second strongest economic potential of any major North American city, with only Chicago scoring higher for sheer economic potential.”(1)
Lake Chapala is the source of drinking water for 60% of Guadalajara’s requirements, and a few million others. This Lake is the largest body of freshwater in Mexico spanning some 48 miles in length and 12 miles across. The region touts its ranking as the second best climate in the world. Surrounded by lush green vegetation, the Sierra Madre mountains, fertile soils, and magnificent vistas – it is a veritable Garden of Eden. Fishermen feed their families from their catches in the lake and sell them in local markets. Fruits and vegetables are grown in abundance in the area. It is a weekend getaway destination for residents of metropolitan Guadalajara. The Lake Chapala region is also inhabited by tens of thousands of Canadians, Americans, and Europeans who have chosen “Lakeside” as their retirement home. Thus, the Lakeside area (the north shore sector of the Lake) is truly international in composition. Yet, there are scientifically determined public health and environmental problems in paradise.
Recent studies have identified wastewater treatment plants discharging untreated effluent into the lake, resulting in measurements of unhealthy levels of fecal coliform. The cities and/or agencies required to operate these facilities don’t have the money to pay for the electricity required to operate them. Other studies have identified the presence of heavy metals in lake water and the sediment in the lake. Pesticides containing the likes of glyphosate (Think “Round-Up”) have been found in humans living around the lake. The pesticide source has been attributed to the evaporation of lake water and the subsequent dispersal onto local inhabitants via air currents (wind) and precipitation (rain). Septic systems in some areas are overflowing and contaminating ground water. Children in a specific village adjacent to the lake have been diagnosed with varying degrees of Chronic Kidney Disease at rates deemed 3-5 times greater than comparable populations. There is nothing cute about children medically diagnosed as living perilously on the downward slope toward ERSD – end stage renal disease – the final stage of kidney disease.
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is an increasing source of concern for public health officials worldwide. However, for Mexico, the matter has become increasingly alarming. A recent study determined that between 1990 and 2013, the CKD incidence in Mexico translated into increases to >130% in standardized years of life lost and disability-adjusted life-years (DALY); the second highest DALY CKD ratio in the world.(2) A 2018 study concluded: “It is of paramount importance to consider CKD a public health priority and to implement a comprehensive program of prevention and treatment of this illness.”(3)
Back to Lake Chapala. According to the World Health Organization “Globally, almost 800 million people lack access to safe water and 2.5 billion lack access to optimal sanitation. In low- and middle-income countries, waterborne and pestilent diseases associated with poor hygiene and sanitation are major causes of acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.”(4) Unfortunately, in the Lake Chapala basin, poverty inhabits paradise. Those without clean drinking water due to socio-economic realities, continue to rely on lake water and other drainages/sources that surround the lake. Public health, environmental and humanitarian advocates continue to press government officials to intervene and begin the remediation process. Inspired by the public health hazards resident amidst the contamination of the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin, advocates have repeatedly called upon the Jalisco Health Secretariat (SSJ) to complete an epidemiological study in areas known to be sources of public health hazards.(5) They receive the typical “cute” responses intended to pacify them from these government authorities, and a myriad of others.
Frankly, Lake Chapala is a national treasure of Mexico. It is a global treasure. It is an area inhabited by people from all around the globe. The health and welfare of millions are dependent upon the restoration of these waters and this basin. The conundrum legitimately demands a cure versus any more cute treatment. Chapala Urgently Requires the Extraordinary: a national political directive that moves from the lip-service of cute, to the demonstrable remediation and enduring pride delivered by the CURE. The administration of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has the opportunity to declare that Lake Chapala deserves the designation as a site for the CURE: Comprehensive Urgent Rehabilitation and restoration Efforts. Perhaps this will be the first tangible step in the roll-out of AMLO’s NaturAMLO promise to the people of Mexico. I certainly hope so.
How will President Andrés Manuel López Obrador treat this sick puppy?
The whole world is watching…
Bill Dahl is an investigative journalist who recently completed 4 weeks in the Guadalajara/Chapala/Jalisco region of central Mexico examining the public health and environmental hazards that inhabit the area. He has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. He resides in the U.S.
(2) https://jasn.asnjournals.org/content/18/6/1922 Survival among Patients with Kidney Failure in Jalisco, Mexico, Guillermo Garcia-Garcia, Gregorio Briseño-Rentería, Victor H. Luquín-Arellan, Zhiwei Gao, John Gill and Marcello Tonelli JASN June 2007, 18 (6) 1922-1927; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1681/ASN.2006121388
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6127446/ – Kidney Int Rep. 2018 Sep; 3(5): 1027–1029. Published online 2018 Jul 27. doi: [10.1016/j.ekir.2018.07.018] The Tragedy of Having ESRD in Mexico Guillermo Garcia-Garcia1,∗ and Jonathan Samuel Chavez-Iñiguez1
4) https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/96/6/17-206441/en/ The global burden of kidney disease and the sustainable development goals, Valerie A Luyckx, Marcello Tonelli & John W Stanifer