From 1994 to 2009, the number of people dependent on Comalapa's natural resources increased from 266 people per square kilometer to 546. That is 86% higher than the department average, and 323% higher than the national average (Melendez, 2009). Since statistical data is virtually non-existent regarding fluctuations in the natural environment, I asked campesinos over 50 years of age that grew up in Comalapa how the environment has changed in their town, in their lifetimes. The first thing Don Rosalio Mux Son, a local natural healer, mentions is how the forests used to be endless (Mux, 2011). Firewood used to lie on the ground, ready for use. Now, most of those forests have been cleared for farmland.
Fidelia Chirix, tienda owner, remembers when you could drink and fish from the rivers (Chirix, 2010). Now there are no fish and all of the rivers are contaminated and filled with trash. Paula Nicho Cumez, local painter, recalls how she used to go hunting with her uncles. At the end of each hunt they would return home with enough squirrel, deer and wild pig meat to feed their family for a week (Cumez, 2011). Now most people have abandoned this age-old practice of hunting due to the fact that the natural environment can't support wild animal proliferation. When you ask them why so much has changed, you will always hear the same answer, "hay mas gente, y no hay para todos" (there are more people, and there is not enough for everybody).
Per the regional census, from 1994 to 2009 water unavailability in Comalapa increased from 18% to 29% (Melendez, 2009). To further complicate the water situation, the Informe General reports that all four rivers, 22 streams, and eight natural springs were contaminated due to runoff from pesticides, inorganic trash dumping and human waste disposal. Statistics provided by the municipal health clinic showed that of the 18,198 visits to the clinic in 2011, 4,274 were the result of the use of a contaminated water source. Of the 3,910 visits to the clinic by children between the ages of one to four, 893 were related to contaminated water; diarrhea was cited second behind respiratory infections (Melendez, 2009).
In 2009, only 51% of the urban population had a system of drainage to manage the disposal of the municipality's black and grey water waste. The rural population had no system of drainage at all. Latrine use between 2002 and 2009 improved from 36% of the population without latrines to 58%. However, those without access to latrines defecated in the open, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal sickness (Melendez, 2009).
Ninety-seven percent of the population in 2009 had no system of trash pickup or disposal (Menlendez, 2009). Comalapans chose to burn their trash, throw it on the ground and wait for the rains to wash it away, or throw it in the river. The waste produced by the 3% of the population that did have access to trash pickup was ultimately disposed of in a similar manner. One solution to this problem was offered by a Norwegian NGO, which opened a recycling center. The recycling center accepts plastic, aluminum, scrap metal, and glass in exchange for a nominal payment.