Published On: Mon, Sep 21st, 2015

Runoff from sugar plant threatens environment and livelihoods in Chiapas

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HUIXTLA, CHIAPAS — The Huixtla River, which runs through this southern Mexico town of the same name, is forgotten. Residents affected by the river´s polluted condition have asked the authorities to act soon due to unsanitary conditions of this stream.

However, contamination is present not only in this river, but also the “Cusco”, “Cuba” and “Cuil” have similar conditions.

The flora and fauna are being affected by pollution of these streams, and the population has presented several diseases, including the first cases of cancer, both lung and skin, and other diseases caused by runoff from sugar cultivation and refining in the region.

There is a protection program for the ecological reserve La Encrucijada (“Crossroads”) driven by SEMARNAT, which aims to conserve and protect wildlife species. But it is also affected by pollution.

La Encrucijada, Chiapas (Photo: Diseño Libre)

La Encrucijada, Chiapas (Photo: Diseño Libre)

Sad and desolate is the landscape in this fishing region that was devastated by hurricane “Stan”, coupled with the heavy pollution caused by Huixtla Sugar Plant, belonging to Grupo Porres.  Chemical pollution is killing many marine species, and with them are dying today the hopes of many families living from fishing.

Cueto Agustin Hernandez, president of the Coalition of Neighborhoods Affected by Hurricane “Stan”, and Fernando Rojas García, farmers and fishermen in the area, along with Jose Ines and Jesus Gutierrez, recently led journalists on an intense journey in this sector which is now forgotten by governments. Those affected come with great sorrow about how with each passing day they lose hope that that area will be rescued.

None of them could keep quiet about how they are living with the heavy pollution caused by that sugar plant, which they certainly recognize is one of the major sources of employment in this region in terms of sugarcane cultivation, but also the main source for the serious pollution in the lowlands.

Huixtla Sugar Mill (Photo: oem.com.mx)

Huixtla Sugar Mill (Photo: oem.com.mx)

Farmers showed their dissatisfaction with the sugar mill, noting that because chemicals run into a channel without treatment, this has caused low production of corn, cucumber, pumpkin, banana and the death of thousands of fish. The plains of Huixtla now present a bleak picture, because although Hurricane Stan happened on so-called “black Tuesday,” October 4, 2005, and left the area with tons of dirt washed out of the hills during that tragedy, the sugar refinery´s pollution has come to end it all.

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Farmers and fishermen have shown their dissatisfaction with the sugar mill, but say nothing is being done (Photo: oem.com.mx)

The fishermen who led the tour recalled how productive their area was in previous times, and remembered that there existed an Ecotourism Cooperative Society for the River Huixtla. But they are demoralized to see that they are left with little more than memories of the canoes and sloops that they used to capture thousands of fish, which was their main source of economic livelihood.

“The Cantilena”, located nearby, was a tributary where the fish were so plentiful they could be caught in baskets, but today all you can see are lilies and weeds. The farmers and fishermen say that all that disappeared, making it clear that on these fisheries hundreds of families depended in the municipality of La Piedra, as well as in Huehuetán and Tuzantán.

“Actually, this desperate situation has befallen us because no government has been concerned about turning their eyes and the regulatory sector also seems to have no authority to halt this company. Their chemicals are dumped outdoors and pollute the water, so our crops do not grow as before, the poison has sterilized the land and production has fallen, ” they said.

The complainants keep in their possession letters sent to the authorities of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), an agency responsible for promoting the protection, restoration and conservation of ecosystems and natural resources or environmental goods.

Pollution in Rio Huixtla Chiapas (Photo: Proyecto 40)

Pollution in Rio Huixtla Chiapas (Photo: Proyecto 40)

They added that in addition to these damages, the aerial spraying has caused illness in the blood of the rural population and thus many families have stopped using water drawn from wells.

In this regard, farmers reported that insecticides that are thrown from the planes are Faena, a product that certainly does not affect the crops, but has definitely caused damage to health, since many people have been victims of irritation on contact with skin and eyes, causing pain, gastrointestinal damage, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath.

Sources: El Mexicano-INFORMEX and Informativo 40

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