Although about two thirds of the world is covered with water there are many inhabited areas, particularly in the Third World, where it is a scarce resource. It might be difficult to believe but every day people face the dilemma of drinking water that is not only impure but so contaminated that it will make them very sick.
Traveling in the Third World one might understandably find this surprising. Even in small towns bottled water is readily available that will do the traveler no harm. But traveling in more remote parts one must carry a portable water filter/purifier to avoid falling sick. It is in these remote parts that the traveler finds small villages populated by indigenous people. Many times I have been in such a village and encountered someone who is sick because of drinking unclean water from, for example, a river. Although I have no personal experience of anyone dying from their symptoms it is well documented that these preventable deaths do occur.
Western Honduras is among the most fertile parts of a country whose percentage of arable land is only fifteen. While it has both dry and rainy seasons it also enjoys some of the country's highest rainfall. I was traveling in this region recently visiting indigenous Chortí villages. The Chortí are one of the groups that collectively make up the Maya.
I hadn't noticed any evidence that access to water was a problem in these villages. Then my guide took me to Carrizalón — a Chortí village just a few kilometers from the Guatemalan border. This village is very basic and my guide was able to park his car only on the outskirts. Walking the few kilometers into the village itself I noticed many people carrying pots on their heads. From previous travels in the area I knew these had to contain water. Although the village has a basic school there were many school-aged children, like these two girls, carrying water to their houses. As my guide explained to me: sometimes the choice is not whether to drink water, it is a choice between getting water or getting an education.
The Chortí Maya are featured in our documentary, Ancient and Modern Mayan Peoples.
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