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Bringing Water to Oaxaca. DEVELOPMENT: MEXICO. Mexican village turns to its own community to redevelop resources

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OAXACA is the most indigenous and one of the most culturally rich regions of Mexico. There, 16 dialects are spoken. In some areas the brightly embroidered traditional dress is worn daily; many of the people make their living weaving clothes, making straw baskets, and sculpting pottery. Oaxaca is also the poorest and least developed state in Mexico. Past attempts to assist the region have failed for lack of government commitment and for using policies foreign to a culturally unique area. It is not until now that a major indigenous development policy has given Oaxacans the chance to redevelop their deteriorated soils, forests, and water sources with the hope of increasing agricultural production and employment and reducing the highest migration rate in Mexico.

``Lluvia, T'equio y Alimentos'' was the impetus to more than 400 water projects constructed in just seven months in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. The name of the project means ``Rain, Communal Work and Food.'' Sixty percent of the works brought potable water to people who previously sometimes had to walk two miles to obtain it, and 40 percent of the works now irrigate 5,000 hectares of land, allowing not only for healthier crops but also for a second annual harvest. Some 25,000 families from 355 towns benefited.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which has declared the 1980s the Water Decade, contributed $230,000 to finance two International Labor Organization (ILO) consultants, administrative support, and equipment. The labor experts are giving the program an organizational structure that will eventually leave the regional development process in the hands of a federation made up of the rural beneficiaries. The government's funding amounted to $700,000 for the first phase of the program. Its success prompted $3 million in support for the second phase. In addition, six federal government agencies have loaned more than 100 fulltime civil and agricultural engineers.

In a speech to the people of Ayu, his hometown in the Mixteca, Oaxaca Gov. Heladio Ram'irez L'opez proclaimed, ``I don't want to see my people working from sunrise to sundown to harvest a handful of corn because the weather was bad.''

The rapidity, low cost, and productivity of the project is a result of the beneficiaries' skill in choosing, designing, and building the project, contributing 60 percent of the input. The program sends a Mixtecan civil engineer to give limited technical advice and also provides cement and pipes.

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