Communities take Guatemala to court for water rights abuses
Last month, our partner Utz Che' filed a lawsuit against the Guatemalan state on behalf of some communities along the Madre Vieja River. The communities demand, among other things, that their right to water is respected and that they are protected against water abuse and pollution by large-scale agriculture.
Local inhabitants 'free' the river. Photo by Utz Che'
Indigenous communities, farmers and fishermen on the southern coast of Guatemala have suffered from large-scale plantations for decades, mainly with sugar cane, bananas and palm oil. These companies consume so much water from the rivers that almost nothing is left for households and small-scale farmers. Moreover, the groundwater is polluted by the use of pesticides. The situation threatens not only local ecosystems and mangrove forests along the coast, but also the food security and health of the inhabitants of the region. It is mainly the women who bear the burden of water shortages due to their role as caretakers for their families.
River water is led to the plantations
Palm oil plantation along the road
Legalization of water abuse
In 2016, the government announced that it would take action to combat this water abuse. Their solution is to make an inventory of all water users in the area. Based on a dialogue with the companies, water usage rights would then be determined.
This de facto legalises the water abuse by the plantation owners, neglecting the rights and needs of the local population. Out of dissatisfaction with the dialogue with the government, many communities withdrew from these talks last August.
Both ENDS supports its partner organization Utz Che' in the south of Guatemala in a project that protects the Madre Vieja river against the water abuse by the large-scale agro-industry. Utz Che' works with, among others, legal counselors. Their research has shown that the planned inventory of water users is a gross violation of the right to water of the local communities.
Requirement: protect our right to water
As one of many activities, Utz Che' has now filed a lawsuit against the government to stop the inventory. The population ask that the large-scale producers are no longer allowed to continue their water abuse, and that the right to water of the local population will be given priority. In addition, they also want the government to better protect their right to food and a healthy living environment.
Doña Lesbia Perez, coordinator of the women's movement on the south coast, articulates the problem briefly: "Water is of vital importance. Especially we women have a hard time without water. Our right to water is violated and that affects not only us, but also our families. For us, water is life."
This is a project within our GAGGA-program
Utz Che' filing the lawsuit. Photo: Utz Che'
- 22 July 2017: Demonstrating for environmental and human rights in Guatemala
22 December 2016: Guatemala: why the sugar is not so sweet
- 26 November 2017, video by Utz Che’: Violación de Derechos en Río Madre Vieja (Spanish):
The Madre Vieja in better times
For more information
Read more about this subject
GAGGA rallies the collective power of the women's rights and environmental justice movements to realize a world where women can and do access their rights to water, food security, and a clean, healthy and safe environment.
News / 7 August 2018
Communities from Northern Guatemala have filed a complaint this week against the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). They bear the brunt of the construction of two large hydropower dams in the Ixquisis region, that are co-financed by the IDB. This is against the bank's own policies on environment and sustainability, indigenous people, gender, and information disclosure.
News / 8 March 2019
During the month of March, and as part of International Women's Day (March 8th) and World Water Day (March 22nd), the organizations that constitute GAGGA-Latin America, will lead a joint campaign called "We, women are water".
External link / 29 May 2019
Due to their role as environmental leaders, women are key actors in restoring degraded ecosystems. Within the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), we work with local women's groups to promote the use of Analog Forestry.
Publication / 27 January 2015
Blog / 21 January 2020By Michael Rice
Photo Blog - Like many communities in Indonesia, life in Semanga Village, West Kalimantan, revolves around a river. The 90 or so houses follow the curving bank of the Sambas River, each with a path down to a small pontoon where fishing traps and baskets are stacked and boats are tied.
News / 23 March 2020
In many places in Latin America, access to clean water is under great pressure from overuse and pollution, often caused by large-scale agriculture or mining. This has significant impact, especially on women. In March, with International Women's Day on March 8 and World Water Day on March 22, they make themselves heard and claim their right to water.
Publication / 8 March 2018
External link / 19 June 2020
In 2019, women from Semanga, Indonesia took action to improve the water quality in their community affected by palm oil. "The pollution needs to be stopped somewhere and it can start with me."
News / 19 May 2020
Communities in the Niger Delta have been affected by air and water pollution due to Shell's activities for decades. This year, at Royal Dutch Shell's annual meeting, Kebetkache Women's Resource and Development Centre held Shell accountable for the consequences of their activities. Clean-up of oil spillages and ending gas flaring is becoming even more urgent in the fight against COVID-19, in which clean water is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus.
News / 5 November 2019
After a complaint filed by women's groups from Ixquisis, Guatemala, the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) has started an investigation on several policy violations, amongst which the Gender Equality policy. This is a unique chance to create a precedent, because complaints on the IDB's gender policy are very rare. The women from Ixquisis are fighting for their rights with support of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA).
Video / 12 September 2018
Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the role of women water defenders.
Video / 12 September 2018
The Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the importance of recognizing water as a common good.
Video / 12 September 2018
Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the role of women in the sustainable management of water in Latin America.
Video / 24 November 2014
The impacts of large-scale soy and palm oil production explained by local experts.
News / 3 June 2020
Last Friday, 29 May, it was announced that both the Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG) and the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) have been selected as two of the 20 potential strategic partnerships of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the 2021-2025 period. Both ENDS is pleased that the Dutch government is seriously considering extending its support to these networks, as they show that cooperation on the basis of equality between grassroots organisations and NGOs throughout the world can continue to bring about change in the position of women, in respect for human rights and in making trade chains and financing systems sustainable.
External link / 31 May 2018
It was minus 20 degrees Celsius when 2.000 women gathered at the main square of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to voice their distress about the terrible smog in the city caused by three large power plants. Soon after, the women were invited to speak about the problem of air pollution with the minister of environment.
News / 8 March 2018
Women around the globe are at the forefront of addressing the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, designing, implementing, and scaling up their own solutions. Socially defined gender roles often position women and girls as stewards of the physical, economic, and cultural well-being of their communities.
News / 29 June 2020
On 23 July 2020 a global network of NGOs working to strengthen corporate accountability for environmental destruction and human rights abuses, including Both ENDS, published an open letter to European Commission DG Justice Commissioner Reynders. The letter is a response to his recent commitment to propose legislation in 2021 on both corporate due diligence and directors’ duties as part of an initiative on sustainable corporate governance.
Publication / 26 July 2018