For Guatemalan rural communities, Lake Atitlan’s Keeper has been a champion of wastewater management. He has used technology to realize efficiencies as well as lower construction, operational and maintenance costs. More than 64,000 residents of Lake Atitlan´s basin and more than 31,000 people in the River Naranjo basin have been the beneficiaries of these technological advancements.
Committed to defending and protecting Guatemala´s natural resources using science and research, Marvin Alfonso Romero Santizo, (Zamorano Class of ´99), began his environment and agronomy apprenticeship very young. He has earned his title as Lake Atitlan’s Keeper as a defender of the region’s natural resources.. Based on his research findings, Marvin has helped establish technical, social, economic, and judicial policies for the management and conservation of the lake, directly benefitting approximately 300,000 people.
As a 13 year old, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the “Escuela de Formación Agrícola de Sololá” near his hometown. He had an opportunity to join other students from Guatemala on a visit to Zamorano, to tour its laboratories,and observe students working in the fields. During his campus visit, he recognized the student in the milking module who he knew from back home. He was so inspired by this young Zamorano’s shared experience that he decided that day that he wanted above all to study at what today is his Alma Mater. He realized this dream in 1996 when he enrolled as a student in what he considers to be “the best agricultural university in the world”.
Marvin credits Zamorano for having had a great impact on his training and his professional life. Zamorano showed him the role that education can play as a transformational, conscience-building block for a value-based and hope-filled life. Zamorano’s high academic standards helped him develop integrity, self- discipline and a strong sense of character to face life’s challenges.
Zamorano taught him to have passion for his work, research and for science. He learned that there cannot be science without compassion, and that knowledge and intelligence have to be put to use for serving others.
“I value strongly the leadership training I received at Zamorano. What I feel most fortunate about is that my Zamorano education gave me the tools to be a change agent who makes consistent efforts to transform the reality in which we live for the betterment of society. Zamorano believed in me as a scientist with the potential to transform realities, and I embraced that. Today I use science not only to understand and explain the world around me, but also to transform, for good, the society in which I live. I am always seeking out improvements to the well-being and quality of life of others”, he shared.
For Romero, “Labor Omnia Vincit” captures the essence of Zamorano. It is an indelible mark imprinted on his mind and it inspires him daily to accomplish his goals and his personal professional objectives. “Working hard, with passion, delivery and commitment have been key factors leading me to where I am today. There are no excuses because work conquers everything”, he added.
Two decades of scientific contributions to Guatemala
As a tireless worker, Marvin’s more than two decades worth of professional experience has culminated in a career dedicated to the conservation and protection of Guatemala´s environment. He has dedicated 17 years of ad honorem work to Lake Atitlan and its basin, an area recognized as being one of the most important in his country and among the most significant within the Mesoamerican region. During his 17 years here, Marvin has done scientific research, designed and generated new technologies for the management and treatment of the lake’s sewage and solid waste.
His scientific studies in the limnology, ecology, climate change effects and economics of Lake Atitlan were launched and have been on-going thanks to the Agreement 78-2012 of the Guatemalan government, a regulation focused on the country´s watershed management. Additional work of relevance has been the economic assessment of Lake Atitlan. An econometric model has led to a turn-around of the loss of well-being by those people living in the watershed, as well as by lake users whose annual income was being negatively impacted by contamination in the area.
Trying to understand the social and economic impact of pollution has resulted in the development of policies, strategies, rules and actions for conservation, protection and tributary shelter.
As a researcher and scientist, Marvin additionally focuses on developing technologies for the environmental restoration of the watershed’s degraded ecosystems, looking to enlist active citizen involvement. In 2014 he founded the citizen´s movement #AtitlanSano, engaging permanent participation by 6,107 volunteer students and approximately 17,000 others from across the community. The movement promotes reforestation activities, soil conservation, environmental education and waste management.
“I have decided to get involved in environmental issues, understanding that we have to enjoy the services and benefits that nature provides, while maintaining a respectful and care-filled relationship with our natural surroundings so that new generations have the possibility to live well and enjoy what we have today. It is also key to have a healthy natural resource base in order to seek future development for our communities and our countries”, he shared.
¿ How to face the environmental challenges post COVID?
Marvin assures us that the environmental challenges post COVID-19 will have to be faced decisively. Most importantly, he notes, there will have to be a powerful commitment to the care and protection of the environment as our new priority after the pandemic. “The environment must become the central axis of any type of development and its conservation will have to be considered seriously at every level: from the family to the national level, as well as within the production sector from the micro-entrerprise to the large national and international companies. We need a paradigm shift, we have to be a more mature society, less selfish, kinder, more empathic, more supportive, but above all, more humane”.
“There is consensus at the scientific level that the best vaccine against new diseases and pandemics will be found in the preservation and protection of nature and its ecosystems. There is no doubt that the planet and human health are intimately interconnected. We need to emerge from the pandemic with new development models which emphasize the environment’s very real importance. With regard to the environment we must not forget that we have a pending challenge that needs immediate attention, and that is the Global Climate Change. Climate Change requires a new approach to facing the planet’s reality, but most of all requires commitment to transform our relationship with our home, planet earth”, he concluded.
Marvin Romero Santizo has been awarded several recognitions and awards for his work. Among them:
-Project Innovation for design and construction of the Residual Water Treatment Plant of Santa Cruz la Laguna, in Sololá, awarded by the International Water Association.
-Exemplary Guatemalan, distinction awarded by the Guatemalan Industrial Bank
– Illustrious Guatemalan in the scientific category, given by the Guatemalan Science and Technology National Council and Universal Insurance.
His work was part of the UNESCO Heritage Documentary, in recognition of his permanent efforts in protection of Lake Atitlan and his scientific contribution to water sciences. In 2018, the President of Guatemala awarded him with the Presidential Environment Medal.