In the mountains of Northwestern Guatemala, near the border with Mexico, the land is rich and fertile. Several important rivers and many other water sources feed the soil.
The residents of these mountains, many indigenous women of Mayan descent, have long depended on the waters to nourish them, to provide them with fish, and to keep crops alive.
But life here in the microregion of Ixquisis, in the department of Huehuetenango, has changed drastically in recent years. Several large dams have been constructed in the watershed, including the Pojom II and San Andrés dams, both of which were financed by a private lending arm of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The dams have caused water scarcity and the contamination of rivers long cherished by the communities. Fish are no longer abundant, and stomach and skin diseases have become commonplace. The women have been the most impacted—the river is where they gather, wash themselves and their clothes, and begin to prepare food to feed their families.
The near lack of water has also drastically reduced harvests, lessening the income gained from selling corn, wheat, beans, coffee, sugar cane and other products in the market. As a result, the conditions of poverty in the area have deepened.
What’s more, the people of Ixquisis no longer feel safe in their communities. Women, particularly, are afraid to walk alone. Dam workers often intimidate and stigmatize them. As defenders of the natural world, they live in fear of retaliation—be it against themselves, their husbands or their children.
Despite the risks, the women play an important role in their communities’ opposition to the hydroelectric mega-projects. As guardians of their land and water, they have come to its defense and they’ll continue speaking out to prevent environmental deterioration from further harming their families.