Cochabamba, the 3rd most populated in the country, is surrounded by mountains and is known as the granary of the country because of its intense agricultural activities. From several years, the city is growing very quickly because of rural exodus. This fast growth lead to the multiplication of buildings, the intensification of food production and the apparition of higher pollution rates.
Today, Cochabamba is one of the most atmospheric polluted city in the world, with more than 2000 people dead in 2018 because of respiratory diseases. One of the principal cause of this public health issue is the number of polluting transports, another is the lack of biodiversity inside the city. Indeed, trees can decrease the effect of heat islands and are carbon sequesters.
Moreover, Cochabamba is crossed by the Rio Rocha, a river polluted by pesticides, waste and factory releases. Instead of being a living place for urban species, river edges are source of pollution.
The foundation Gaia Pacha investigates on solutions to environmental issues and raises awareness on Cochabamba inhabitants to make their city ecological friendly and less polluted. We met in their office, Rodrigo, the general coordinator.
Gaia Pacha is settled in Cochabamba for 13 years and takes action in environmental policies, education, research and preservation sectors. The foundation is supported by international cooperative organizations such as Biodiversity International.Around 10 people, including volunteers, interns and thesis students work actively for the foundation. Students from universities of Cochabamba are also mobilized to implement projects at the local scale.
The main objectives of Gaia Pacha are to create, offer and develop alternatives to bring back the link between nature and people in cities. This goes through education, investigation on pollution sources and research to find adapted solutions.
In addition to education programs and research, Gaia Pacha lead two projects bearing on urban forests and river cleaning.
The first one is the introduction of trees in one of Cochabamba neighborhoods since 2008. The plantation and the maintenance of the urban forests is a way to educate and raise awareness of the importance of vegetation. It is also a nice place to relax, appreciated by children and neighbors.
The second project is the Rio Rocha cleaning. The first step is to evaluate the quality of the water and to inform inhabitants. Then, the following steps are to identify pollution sources and to find alternatives to decrease this pollution. The awareness of the population is all along the project a key action to bring legitimacy and weight to the initiative.
WHAT NOW ?
Gaia Pacha is funded by international organizations and not really by the city of Cochabamba, even if it tackles public urban issues. Its projects show that no need to wait for public involvement, civil actions for better living conditions in cities can be impactful in condition to get people mobilized. Moreover, Gaia Pacha works with other Cochabamba organizations as foundations, associations, universities… to have more weight on public authorities. Being coordinated with the local network is essential to make things change.
The power of citizens can have high positive impacts, but the first step is to educate people and build an awareness network. Indeed, because the environmental issues are often not visible at short terms, people don’t feel concerned and don’t consider the challenge. When someone is affected directly by the pollution, for instance a neighbor of the Rio Rocha, people tend to be more aware and act to protect their environment. Social relations and education are essential levers of actions.