In rural areas of Mexico, thieves help themselves to petroleum products by tapping into the vast network of pipelines operated by Petróleos Mexicanos.
In Mexico City, meanwhile, they go after manhole covers and drainage grates and sell them to scrap metal dealers.
City officials say the current administration has spent more than 17 million pesos, or US $1 million, replacing the covers and grates in the city’s water distribution system.
Water system chief Miguel Carmona Suárez said there were 367 reports of missing grates in the first seven months of the year, most of them in the boroughs of Gustavo A. Madero, Iztapalapa and Cuauhtémoc.
Each one costs 9,900 pesos, including installation. They can also be costly in terms of the danger they pose to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The problem is not restricted to Mexico City. In Beijing, China, more than 240,000 manhole covers were stolen over a period of 10 years, the Daily Mail reported earlier this year, their value having increased due to higher scrap-metal prices.
One unsuccessful measure implemented by city officials to prevent the thefts was to chain the covers to nearby lampposts. That didn’t work because the chain was easily cut, on top of which they were seen as dangerous: one man sued after tripping over a chain.
The latest measure was developed by a Chinese tech firm. The new manhole covers come equipped with a GPS tracking device so that as soon as a cover is moved and tilted at an angle greater than 15 degrees, a warning signal is sent to local authorities.
However, if the thieves are able to remove their loot and keep it horizontal, the problem may well continue.
Back in Mexico City, a somewhat less high-tech fix is reducing the number of thefts, said the water district’s Carmona Suárez.
The covers and grates are being bolted down.