The majority of indigenous communities in Baja California are located less than one-hundred miles south of the United States-Mexico border, and have retained much of their traditional culture, customs and ties to their U.S. relatives. In 2004, a multidisciplinary study was conducted
to document environmental health practices and to investigate linkages between drinking water infrastructure, quality and health in four indigenous communities in Baja California, Mexico. Trained community health workers obtained water samples and administered surveys to assess existing drinking
water sources, water conveyance systems, storage, water disinfection practices, basic sanitation, and illnesses within the communities. In addition, bacteriological water samples were taken and showed widespread contamination of drinking water with total coliforms and E. coli. Based
on the findings of this study, in 2004 a baseline water infrastructure assessment was conducted and gathered information from the same four communities along with three other nearby indigenous communities, evaluating their drinking water systems through sanitary site inspection and water quality
testing. It was determined that six of the seven communities had a contaminated water supply and were in need of water system improvements. As a result of these assessments, the U.S. and Mexican governments funded the construction of two new drinking water systems in the most at risk communities
while providing additional funding for building community capacity to operate and maintain the systems. Currently, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is funding an 18 month follow-up study examining the correlation between improved drinking water infrastructure and decreased rates
of gastrointestinal illnesses in order to demonstrate the applicability of gastrointestinal disease as an environmental health indicator for water quality. Monitoring of the new systems includes additional health surveys, water analyses for heavy metals, bacteria and viruses. This project
is highlighted in the most recent U.S.-Mexico Border 2012 Program report as a major milestone in addressing the needs of the most at risk communities along the border.
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