The wetlands in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, are worth more than a billion pesos and a city’s water

María Eugenia Mountain Wetlands.

By: Ángeles Mariscal

The La Kisst and María Eugenia Mountain wetlands, located in the municipality of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, are at risk of disappearing. To assess the cost of the loss to the ecosystem services it now provides, and propose the recovery strategy, the federal government’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) made an economic diagnosis of  what this area provides to the population of this region.

The Kisst and María Eugenia mountain wetlands occupy 347 hectares and are located in the southern part of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the main tourist attraction in Chiapas and one of the most emblematic and important colonial cities in southeast Mexico.

This area captures and stores carbon and regulates the temperature of the region. It houses species of fish, birds, amphibians and endemic mammals classified for special protection. It also prevents flooding by stopping soil and sediment entrainment, provides recreational services and scenic beauty and provides water to the population of San Cristóbal’s around 123,000 inhabitants, explained María del Pilar Salazar Vargas, Director of Environmental Economics and Natural Resources.

In the economic valuation of these ecosystem services, the INECC details that, for example, the capture and storage of carbon that is carried out in these wetlands, in the carbon market has a cost of 41 million pesos per year; flood control is just over 67 million; providing clean water has a value of 198 million pesos; and providing water to the entire population costs 769.98 million pesos. That is, wetlands provide services that in monetary terms mean 1 billion 77 million pesos each year.

Kisst Wetlands.

But, according to the INECC study, the place is affected and 86% of its service potential was lost, mainly due to water pollution from fecal waste and other waste that is dumped there; but also due to the extraction of stone material and the pressure that real estate [interests] -many of them linked to tourism- exercise, in addition to the invasion of individuals, who have built houses on top of the wetlands.

This meant that, in April of this year, the federal government decreed the wetland zone of San Cristóbal de Las Casas as a “critical habitat” – the first to be decreed in the country – which allows immediate and urgent strategies to be established for the recovery of the place.

Agustín Ávila Romero, General Director of Policies for Climate Action of SEMARNAT and the one in charge of the General Directorate of INECC, explained that in the strategy that is already applied in the region of these wetlands. They established areas of operation, one of them of maximum protection, where no activity that affects the preservation and recovery of wetlands will be allowed, such as as new constructions.

INECC officials acknowledged that any conservation and recovery project in that area is a challenge due to the social dynamics that are now experienced in that city, including “the interests of criminal groups in the area.”

Mountain wetlands are a key ecosystem in fighting climate change.

In the maps they presented, they locate three points of the wetlands in which the social dynamics are more complex: the Bienestar Social, Fracción San Cristóbal and San Pablo districts, where the population that carries out conservation actions, as well as the authorities, have suffered physical aggressions.

The problem is such that they have not been able to stop the trucks that take out stone material, “application of the law is lacking,” explained Ávila Romero.

Finally, the specialists explained that recently at the COP27 held in Egypt, it was agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030, “this entails a set of measures where we have to understand that wetlands are key to combating climate change,” and thus the urgency in attention to the wetlands area of San Cristóbal.

Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo, Thursday, December 15, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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