Local communities' health and livelihoods are at risk
Lake Atitlán faces not only ecological collapse but economic collapse as well. Contamination threatens the health and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people who depend on it as their primary water source for agriculture, household use, and drinking.
Fishermen now struggle to survive on what they can catch in a lake that used to support abundant life. Much of the soil in the Atitlán Basin is so contaminated from decades of chemical agriculture that it can no longer support farming without the use of yet more toxic chemicals.
Poor water quality already causes high levels of diarrheal disease in infants and young children, and as many as 25% of the local population are estimated to suffer from intestinal infections at any given time, including e-coli, giardia, and amoebas. Cyanobacteria blooms release toxins into the lake that can be deadly if ingested by humans.
Fear about the health effects of pollution has a negative impact on the tourism industry, which is important to the local economy and which has suffered particularly severely during cyanobacteria blooms.
Arturo Yach Noj has made his living from Lake Atitlán for 45 years. "Now everything has changed," he says. "Our lake is contaminated.”