“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

John F. Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1963

While a growing number of San Diego’s workforce is now moving south of the border in search of more affordable homes in places like Playas de Tijuana, Zona Rio and Rosarito, the vast majority of Tijuana’s residents are still living in squatter communities with no plumbing, running water or electricity and little or no paved roads. All told, over 50 percent of new homes in Tijuana are located in squatter communities, so the resulting environmental and public health risks are only growing worse with the passing of time. Rob Davis highlighted some of Tijuana’s housing challenges in his recent article entitled, “A Better Tijuana, One Home at a Time.

In his article, Davis highlighted the efforts of Oscar Romo of the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association to reduce the trans-boundary environmental impacts of pollution (raw sewage, tires, silt ) to Imperial Beach’s 2,500 acre Tijuana River Estuary by pro-actively working to improve the conditions of communities in Tijuana’s Laureles Canyon through projects aimed at reducing erosion impacts, paving streets and upgrading the overall housing quality for area residents.

The on-going work of Romo and other San Diego and Tijuana area nonprofits like Project Mercy and Esperanza are noble and improvements are being made, but there is still so much work to be done. In the absence of being able to address the needs of Tijuana’s poor, the cross-border environmental and health impacts to San Diego (including the increased risk of infectious disease) will continue unabated as our sister city to the south continues to grow.

According to Romo, “Everything that happens here (Laureles Canyon) ends up there…in the United States. In the estuary. On San Diego’s beaches.”

We can put our heads in the sand and avoid dealing with how to address and pay for the growing cross-border challenges that impact our binational region, or we can pretend that with bigger walls or fences the problems of the border will simply go away, but the unrelenting northward flow of sewage from Laureles Canyon is a stark reminder that our border and its problems are here to stay. It is up to us to work collectively to do something about it.

Want to get involved? Contact the International Community Foundation, (858) 677-2910.


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