Issue - November 2009

November 2009


In this issue: Justin Gouin interviews a talented young artist; The Fijate Project, a new initiativein Cochabamba by Petra Vissers; reclaiming the culinary tradition for Cochabambinas by Alejandra Ramirez; Octubre Azul, nine years after the water war By Petra Vissers; finally, the Molle’s presence dominates Cochabamba’s countryside by Walter Sánchez.

November 2009

The Gift that Belongs To Everyone And No One

Nine years after the water war in Cochabamba, the city celebrated ¨Octubre Azul¨, a month dedicated to the topic of water. A topic that is getting more and more acute every day

Petra Vissers
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Utrecht - Netherlands

Over 1 billion people on this earth do not have access to clean drinking water, more then 5000 people die everyday because of lack of it and almost two million children die each year from diarrhea caused by contaminated water. And to add to these aleady stagering numbers, almost half of the world population suffers from diseases that are related to polluted water. Although water is the main source of life for everything on this planet, we still do not recognize it as a basic human right. Instead, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) see privatization of water as the solution to all the problems that exist with the availability of water. ¨The World Bank and the IMF operate according to a certain pattern in their programs. Due to lack of money the smaller governments shrink and are more or less forced to privatize if they still want to be able to obtain interest-free loans or claim debt relief. The World Bank gives with one hand and takes with the other¨, one of the officials of the World Water Forum states.

That the Cochabambinos defended, and won back their right to water, we all know. ¨In 2000 we defended our water with our lives, because it is from no one and from everyone, states the manifest of ¨Octubre Azul¨. The manifest calls on everyone ¨simple and hardworking¨ to fight for their rights on water and life, for themselves and future generations.

So this whole month dedicated to the topic of water, a topicthat, of all cities, is probably most delicate in Cochabamba,sounds more than interesting. Although it seems to be theperfect city to celebrate the first ¨Octubre Azul¨ this is notentirely the case. The project started a couple of years ago inFrance, and Bolivia already had one in La Paz. For Cochabambait would be a shame not to participate in this worldwide event.¨This city needs an (Octubre Azul) more then any one else¨,Javier Gortillo from the ¨Comisión para la Gestión Integraldel Agua en Bolivia¨ (CGIAB) explains, ¨it means a lot tothe citizens and it would be a shame not to pay attention tothe topic. It is important for the whole society¨.

The CGIAB is a platform of public and private institutions established in 2002. It aims to establish proper water management and raise awareness among people. ¨Octubre Azul¨ means a lot to Javier as the topic of water management and the lack of interest in it frustrates him: ¨Probably the best example of what is happening with our water resources is the case of the Rio Rocha. When I was young it was a big river with a lot of water, my generation knows the river like that. Now, it is just a small river with a lot of garbage and liquids, it is not the same anymore¨.

This is probably why one of the activities was a bicycle ride following the river. At important points short stops were made to provide an explanation of different environmental problems. To expand the educational part of this tour students took samples of the river and showed them at the participants under a microscope, making them more aware of the problems that exist with the availability of clean water. It was not all educational though: a movie cycle, theatre, and workshops were also part of the program. But what they all had in common was water as a theme, a shared topic to raise the awareness. ¨The main goal for this month is to sensitize the Cochabambinos, and they have to be aware of the fact that water is scarce, that they should not use it lightly. It is not political, it is cultural. Through culture we want to achieve our main goal¨, Javier explains this approach.

Wether this approach is the best way to sensitize the citizens remains to be seen. The program seems to be missing a general contemplation, to say ¨Octubre Azul¨ is not a political month but a cultural one seems odd, especially in a city where water has been such a hot topic politically. The movie cycle stands on itself, missing an introduction or contemplation, and the general feeling remains the organization may have tried to hard not to be political about it. That said, the magazine coming with the ¨Octubre Azul¨ is filled with interesting and informative articles, making the reader more aware of the problems with water. What becomes clear is that these problems are bigger then any theme month can explain.

Maybe that is the reason why a cultural approach has been chosen, just as the beginning of a bigger objective. ¨We constantly try to generate attention to the topic so that people will understand what the problem is. So that they understand that the new generations also need water and so that they will be careful with it. This month is a good opportunity to do so. With this month we hope we can just sensitize the citizens, it is a very important thing to think about¨ Javier says. To make more people think about it ¨Octubre Azul¨ will end with a big festival day on the seventh of November. ¨A day on which we are going to combine everything we did in October. There will be music, photos and theatre whole day long. From ten ó clock in the morning until midnight we will have a party to celebrate that we have water¨, Eliana, one of the organizers, explains.

What this October meant for the city and if has been made more aware of the problems existing with the availability of water remains to be seen. As for the CGIAB, we can only hope they will be able to continue their work and make themselves more known in Cochabamba. Their goal to raise awareness against privatization and contamination is a very important one, in which they will hopefully succeed. Water is the main source of life and should indeed be a basic human right or, as the CGIAB states ¨water is not only a gift from God but also the blood of Pachamama and a generous gift from mother earth. And because it is a gift for all of us, no one can keep it for themselves.¨

Cultural Corner -
The Molle’s Ethnography

The molle is the emblematic tree of Cochabamba’s valleys. Together with the carob tree or the thago (Prosopis alba) and the jark’a (Acasia visco), the Molle’s presence dominates the countryside, revitalizing it alongside the eucalyptus (Eucalyptos comaldulensis, Eucalyptus vimanalis, Eucalyptus globules)—that has represented Cochabamba’s landowners since the late fourteenth century.

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