The Human Face of the Water Crisis

By Norma Yuriar

Mendota, Calif.{} (KMPH News) - "Without water there is no work"... it's a slogan that's been heard repeatedly over the past several months.{} But behind the fight for water in Fresno County are the real faces, of real people with everything to lose.{} Many are living in the agricultural community of Mendota, thirty five miles west of Fresno, where nearly 40% of the workforce is jobless.{} During a recent visit to the small community of nearly ten thousand, Gabriela Romero, with Fresno County's Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), introduced KMPH News Reporter Norma Yuriar to Pedro and Maria Miranda.{} The couple and their newborn baby were living in a rundown motel under very modest conditions.

"It's been very hard for them," said Romero.{} "They've been struggling; their newborn is 3 months old.{} It's been difficult times for them."

Pedro, a field worker who emigrated from El Salvador, says work is scarce.

"Water is very important in this area, without water the fields are dry and there is no work," said Pedro Miranda.

Romero says she first met the Miranda family back in April at a food distribution and then served as a translator.

"I spoke to the husband, he told me he had worked only about fourteen days the entire year.{} Fourteen days in four months, who can live off of that?" questioned Romero.

Pedro says back in El Salvador he earned about $4 a day.

"It's very little," said Pedro.{}{} "But at least you are with family.{} Here, I worry about not having enough to pay rent.{} If I don't, my family is out on the street."

During our visit to Mendota, the temperature was reaching 106 degrees outside. Inside the couple's home, a rusty swamp keeps the temperature in the mid 90's.{} Maria and Pedro say they imagined life would be better in America.

"I have not seen my children in three years. I came to the United States from Central America with the illusion of making more money and providing for my family.{} That's not reality.{} Instead of feeling good about my situation, I feel worse."

Romero says the Miranda family symbolize a familiar face in Mendota.

"Yes, it is.{} Many of them are going through the same struggle.{} There is no work," said Romero.{} "People here barely have enough to eat.{} It's very heart-breaking to see.{} People tell me we are without a job, but when you actually see their day by day lives, what they are going through, it makes it so much more difficult."

Romero says she met many of these families at recent food distributions where people stood in line for hours to receive single box of food, images that have captured the nation's attention.

The Mayor of Mendota says news reporters from all over the country are now traveling to the farming community to report on the dyer situation.

"When people leave this area they tell that story to the world," said Mayor Robert Silva.{}{} "This is the richest valley in California and possibly the world and we are having the problem of people putting food on the table."

The Mayor of Mendota says he's written a letter to President Obama.

"He needs to come and see the problem that persist here, this man made drought, these water cut-backs that are causing all of these major problems, especially Mendota which has the highest unemployment in the state of California," said Mayor Silva.

The lack of work in Mendota and outlining farming communities has reached a critical point.{} Romero says the EOC, has set up a crisis relief fund, after the non-profit ran out money to purchase food, ironically to feed those who are usually responsible for cultivating it.

The purpose of the Crisis Relief Fund is to raise money for low-income individuals and families adversely affected by natural disasters, most recently, the drought.{} If you'd like to donate go

To donate by mail, send a check, payable to Crisis Relief Fund and mail to EOC, 1920 Mariposa Mall, Suite 310, Fresno CA 93721.

To donate by phone, call (559) 263-1030.