Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In densely inhabited ecosystems such as the canyons of Tijuana, Mexico, industrialization and population expansion over the past ten years have proceeded unchecked and without consideration for the social and environmental costs of unplanned development. Migrant families from all over Mexico and South America have relocated in search of economic opportunities offered by maquiladoras -- giant manufacturing factories infamous for poor working conditions and labor practices. As maquiladoras drew more immigrants, rapid urbanization of the canyons followed. Now, these areas face various social, economic, and environmental problems.
During this period of rapid urbanization, the canyons became home to approximately 80,000 migrants and 100 uncontrolled open dump sites containing multiple classes of solid urban waste. 2,725 tons of trash is collected in the state of Baja California on a daily basis, and 43% of that trash is collected in the city of Tijuana. Unfortunately, 33% of all solid municipal waste in Tijuana is disposed of in uncontrolled open dump sites.
With this swift population growth, institutions and government agencies charged with providing infrastructure and public services for maquila workers and their families are reactionary rather than pro-active, and environmental problems are bargained for rather than regulated. The results of environmental bargaining can be observed in sub-standard building practices, lack of services, and inadequate infrastructure throughout the canyons. Streets are dangerously dark without street lights, and many neighborhoods still lack water and sanitation services. Insufficient waste management has resulted in toxic conditions: children even play outside in all types of waste. During heavy rains, unpaved roads leave families stranded, unable to navigate washed out dirt roads to attend work or school, shop for essentials, or seek medical attention, for weeks at a time.
Exacerbating these issues is the general lack of knowledge communities have about their rights as well as a lack of organization among residents. As a result, they are not prepared to demand the services that the government agencies are responsible for providing. Furthermore, economic opportunities are very limited; the population continues to grow, but maquilas cannot offer enough work to meet demand. The dearth of resources pushes people into even worse living conditions.
Subsequently, in less than a decade, these conditions have already caused marked degradation of the landscape. The environment has been stripped of native species, the local water supply is too contaminated for human consumption, and downstream wetland ecosystems are threatened with extinction.
Regardless of where vulnerable communities are located, trash is always an issue. Worldwide, trash management and other public services are commonly ignored in informal settlements. The trash issue is geographically and politically boundary-less, and implementing sustainable best management practices for pollution control is critical to the protection and preservation of ecological resources
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Oscar Romo is enabling marginalized communities in rural Mexico to take ownership of the land they inhabit, protect their ecosystem, and improve their economic conditions by reutilizing trash and other unwanted resources around them. Facing intensive population growth and scanty infrastructure, the living conditions in these communities, compounded by environmental degradation, are poor and declining. Oscar and his organization Alter Terra find building solutions that generate no waste -- meaning they require no foreign materials for construction and no outputs go unused -- and that can be implemented by the community themselves. Furthermore, these solutions simultaneously provide new jobs and improve the environmental conditions within the communities.
Oscar works intensively with local residents on different fronts: he raises awareness of the damages of current waste management, construction, and general living practices, then works with the community to source and produce appropriate solutions. These solutions allow people to transform waste from an unwanted byproduct of daily life into a resource for solving infrastructural and economic issues. To do this, Alter Terra trains community members in diverse options for waste reutilization. Also, Alter Terra makes community leaders aware of their rights and shows them how to petition the government in order to receive them.
To ensure that these measures work permanently, Oscar has set up a Science Center to share the solutions tested in the communities and to conduct research on ecosystem damages resulting from waste and the changes that occur through instead reusing it. He then uses this data to work with municipal, state, and federal governments to create policies that protect the environment and reinforce community action. Through proven success in Mexico and now with the Center for housing open source solutions and research, Oscar and Alter Terra are poised to spread their method and translate appropriate solutions to vulnerable communities and endangered ecosystems in other parts of the world.