Planet

View of sky from bottom of cave.

America has made amazing strides in cancer treatment — mortality from the disease recently fell by 13 percent in the U.S. alone in less than a decade. We’ve spent 125 billion on care that is expected to help millions more people beat cancer over the next several years.

Because we can.

Medical research depends on the use of water, energy and similar natural resources of which we have an abundance in the United States. But 1,200 miles south of the border, on the Mexican peninsula of Yucatan, a cancer center is trying to do amazing things for free but needs more water than it has to continue.

Problem in Baca

The Fundación por el Bienestar Natural A.C. (a.k.a. Fundebien) owns a medical center that has treated 4,000 cancer patients over the last 10 years — nearly the population of Baca, its home city. Because it uses a variety of natural therapies to supplement a person’s treatment regimen, clean drinking water is critical to the center’s operation.

Mexico is among a select few regions that have a challenge ahead of them: Cancer rates in Latin America are increasing faster than almost anywhere else in the world. And with most of this center’s clients receiving free service, it needs an efficient way to keep up. It needs its water supply to keep up.

Cenotes

Some of Mexico’s most beautiful escapes are its cenotes, underground pools of water whose lush color and atmosphere make for a great cave-diving trip. They’re gorgeous, on every screen saver and, in Yucatan, rich in minerals.

People jumping into pool of water in a cenote in Mexico.

Image source: Kurt Bauschardt

These cenotes could be used as a water source, but Fundebien has a major obstacle: mineral content. The iron and manganese in these caves makes for a skin-cleansing swim — or a craving for Topo Chico, Mexico’s famous bottled mineral water — but it’s not ideal for removing toxins from the body, according to the center.

Where another nonprofit might’ve seen a dead end, Fundebien saw an opportunity. How can this small but mighty cancer facility, on a beautiful 2,000-acre peninsula, harness a local water source to make Mexico’s medical initiatives more sustainable (and economical)?

A Well of Solutions

Fundebien found a type of water treatment that gives its customers what they need while giving Mexico something it loves.

The center worked with the Veolia Foundation to turn Yucatan’s cenotes into reservoirs for a new underground pump station, and the raw material for a treatment plant that provides safe, demineralized drinking water for current and future patients. The plant uses reverse-osmosis technology, not an uncommon water clarifier, to purify this unexpected source and transform it into a potable supply for local cancer patients.

How they receive this water is a fit for the culture at large: Fundebien distributes its cenote-based water in bottles both in and beyond their campus — a source of financial stability that makes the country a little healthier at the same time.

“Water is at the core of the therapy, for it is a natural diuretic. Patients [of this center] are asked to carry a bottle at all times,” said David Colon, Fundebien sponsor at Veolia. “That is why the Fundebien’s self-sufficiency in water is a key factor in retaining its operational and financial autonomy.”

Fundebien’s drinking water plant is both a solution to a looming healthcare trend and a model for what’s possible in water filtration at the mineral level. In a remote town on the southern tip of the Gulf of Mexico, that possibility has been doing right by a small-market cancer team for the last eight months.

Learn how a water innovation to helped another developing local economy here.

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