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Mexican Women Demand Climate Justice

MEXICO CITY, Nov 14 2011 (IPS) - After two weeks without water, the taps finally started running again in the home of Araceli Salazar and her neighbours in the poor, crowded neighbourhood of Iztapalapa on the east side of the Mexican capital.

Beatriz Vásquez speaks out about the impact of the construction of a dam in the state of Veracruz.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Beatriz Vásquez speaks out about the impact of the construction of a dam in the state of Veracruz. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Because of the lack of water we’ve been plagued by rats, lice and cockroaches. And the poor quality (of the water) causes dermatitis and other infections,” Salazar, 51, told the People’s Tribunal on Climate Justice, which drew people affected by climate change in several states to Mexico City Nov. 10.

The meeting, sponsored by the NGOs Mexicanos Contra la Desigualdad (Mexicans Against Inequality) and Comunidad en Movimiento (Community in Movement), held three parallel hearings on natural and social disasters, the countryside and food sovereignty, and uncontrolled urbanisation, unsustainability and loss of natural resources by local communities.

At the hearings, whose theme was “Climate Justice; Mexico’s Communities Raise Their Voices”, participants talked about being displaced because of ecological problems like increased drought, water scarcity, loss of natural resources and socioenvironmental conflicts caused by hydroelectric dams.

Unlike other public hearings held since October in Latin America, the one in Mexico did not focus on women as a group particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, which was criticised by some of the women taking part.

Beatriz Vásquez, an activist with the Comité Defensa Verde, Naturaleza para Siempre (Green Defence – Nature Forever Committee), came from Amatlán de los Reyes, 450 km southeast of the capital, to protest the construction of the El Naranjal hydroelectric dam, which will affect eight municipalities in the east-central state of Veracruz due to the diversion of the Blanco river.

“The river is heavily polluted,” Vásquez said. “By redirecting its course, there is a risk that contaminated water from the river will leak into the groundwater we depend on. Furthermore, the cemetery and sports field will vanish, and the river will run through urban areas, dividing communities.”

Opponents of the dam created the Committee and have gathered 8,500 signatures against it in 26 regional assemblies. But the state authorities have turned a deaf ear to their protests.

This Latin American country of 112 million people is suffering the effects of global warming in the form of worse droughts, stronger hurricanes, heavy flooding and a rise in the sea level.

But while women are particularly affected by the impacts of climate change – because they have to walk further to fetch firewood or water, and they have to care for sick children with respiratory diseases – they are missing from government programmes to tackle the issue, civil society groups complain.

“We have to talk more from a gender perspective, about how climate change affects women in their daily lives. They are the first to organise and to raise their voices,” Humberto Jaramillo, coordinator of Mexicanos Contra la Desigualdad, told IPS.

“We want them to expose their situation and set forth proposals, to organise and to fight for climate justice,” said the representative of the organisation, which is a GCAP (Global Action Against Poverty) partner.

The hearings form part of the Gender and Climate Justice Tribunals organised by the Feminist Task Force and GCAP since October in 15 countries of the developing South, including Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru in Latin America.

One of the aims of the Tribunals is to influence the negotiations at the Nov. 28-Dec. 10 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. Climate justice will be one of the key issues at the international conference.

They also hope to influence the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June, 20 years after the first Earth Summit in that Brazilian city.

Xochimolco, a district on the south side of greater Mexico City that has a network of canals and artificial islands built by the Aztecs, also has water problems. The San Lucas Xochimanca dam, which has been operating there since the 1940s, pollutes the environment in five of the city’s 14 neighbourhoods.

“The dam and reservoir receive sewage from slums, which is dumped into the river that feeds them. The main problem is the air pollution,” Esther González, a 50-year-old retired nurse, who gave testimony on the diseases suffered by people in the area, told IPS.

The community has come together in the San Lucas Xochimanca Committee, to defend and preserve the local culture and environmental health.

Iztapalapa and Xochimilco are two of the 16 “delegaciones” or boroughs into which the Federal District is divided. (Greater Mexico City, comprised of the Federal District and adjacent municipalities, has a total population of 22 million.)

The two boroughs share the fear of pollution of their groundwater supplies, deforestation and unplanned construction.

“We have organised to save and haul water. We are waiting for the government of the capital to authorise us to install rainwater collection systems and the use of solar cells,” said Salazar.

The results of the hearings will be incorporated in the environmental portion of the activities of the Mexican chapter of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, which was launched on Oct. 21 and is to hand down a verdict two years from now.

“We suffer from droughts and floods that ruin the crops. The question of climate justice can help raise awareness and help people to organise,” said Vásquez from Amatlán de los Reyes, where people in her community depend on street vending, domestic work and the cultivation of coffee, sugar cane and fruit.

In 2010, the Mexican government, academics and representatives of civil society produced the Mexican Declaration on Gender and Climate Change, which called for policies with a gender focus, adaptation and mitigation efforts, and the necessary funding. However, little progress has been made in that direction.

“Now there are more skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments, because of exposure to the sun, and air pollution. If we achieve climate justice, our health and quality of life will improve,” said González, the retired nurse from Xochimolco.

The hearings, which are collecting denunciations and proposals on climate justice from women, are also backed by Greenpeace International and the international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS).

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  • Alejandra

    It’s “Xochimilco” with “I”.