Albion Monitor /News

Small Federal Budget Cuts in Foreign Aid Mean Big Problems

by Roy S. Carson

(AR) GUATEMALA CITY -- U.S. foreign aid cuts ordered by Washington are having a significant and detrimental effect on native Indians who comprise about 60 percent of the population here.

Money for water programs have been slashed this year and the U.S. Congress is planning more cuts in foreign spending for next year, and local Third World relief agencies say it couldn't have come at a worse time.

More than 45 percent of rural Guatemalans have no clean running water, and hopes of getting it are vanishing with the cuts in U.S. aid.

Guatemala buys guns but can't afford water pumps

Ravaged for the past 36 years by a civil war and faced with territorial incursions by land-grabbing neighbors here in central America, the government has stressed military spending -- which is okay with U.S. arms suppliers -- which leaves it without the resources to pay for water, health and education projects. As a result, hundreds of poor villages in Gutameala's remote jungles and highlands have nowhere to turn for help.

Associated Press reported from Xeatzan Bajo, 50 miles west of Guatemala City, that despite heavy rains villagers there have been working feverishly to install the mountain community's first American-made pump, to provide clean running water for 245 families.

But it will be the last to receive funding from the U.S.

"We have been trying for the last five years to get running water for our families, but no one would help us," Tzay Aju, the village's development committee chairman said. "We are poor and do not have the means to pay for running water. Our government doesn't have the money either, so we had to ask you foreigners for help."

With the new pump installed local village girls will be able to go to school instead of spending their days carrying water miles from the nearest river source.

South American humanitarian programs are easy target for cutbacks

Almost half a million Guatemalan native Indians live in incredible poverty here. In 1994, seven of every 100 children under five years of age died -- at least a quarter of them because of illnesses related to dirty water supplies.

Relief workers on the scene here have a hard time understanding budget-cutters in Washington but fear that they are the easiest target of austerity programs simply because they are not a constituency of the Capitol lawmakers.

The local humanitarian aid group CARE receives half of its $9 million budget for Guatemala from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID).

It has been working for two years in communities like Xeatzan Bajo, with villagers providing free labor and 30 percent of the local project costs. CARE is paying 45 percent and the AID is footing another 25 percent of a $50,000 bill for a project which pipes clean water right into the adobe-built houses of the native village, saving hours of trudging up and down the mountain each day with water containers.

They're more than meeting World Health Organization (WHO) standards that say people need 20 quarts of water a day.

Unused to the luxury of clean running water, an Indian mother told the Associated Press, "It's great to be able to turn on a tap at home and have water come out. It'll save me so much time that I'll be able to do more housework and take the kids to school. I won't even have to worry about boiling the water and I'll be able to save on wood. Maybe I'll get time to plant a flower garden in front of the house."

It's just a small slice of heaven in a central American hell, enjoyed by one woman and her hopelessly impoverished family.

Thousands of other Guatemalan woman are waiting for running water to come and -- if they even had enough education to know who he was -- they'd send a desperate message to Newt Gingrich that it's their lives and circumstances that are most directly affected when he turns the tap off on foreign aid.

Roy S. Carson is a South American correspondent for The American Reporter.

Albion Monitor October 9, 1995 (

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