A tanker fills water storage drums in Mexico City. A tanker fills water storage drums in Mexico City.

Water: a crisis that can only get worse

Experts say authorities need to take urgent action, debate water legislation

Mexico is facing a water crisis that affects millions of people across the country and it’s only going to get worse in future, warns at least one expert.

According to the National Water Commission (Conagua), 9 million people don’t have access to potable water and another 10.2 million lack basic sanitation infrastructure in their homes.

There are also significant geographical imbalances.

While León, Guanajuato, has an efficient and reliable water supply system despite being located in a dry zone of the country, other cities such as Acapulco, Guerrero and Mexico City have significant problems with water service and supply.

Twenty-nine million homes rely on water delivery services that range in frequency from daily to occasional. Furthermore, aging hydraulic infrastructure causes leaks of up to 40% of the country’s water supply, 80% of water that could be reused goes down the drain and municipal water suppliers have suffered budget cuts of up to 70%.

For these reasons, experts say that the situation in Mexico is critical and that debate must begin on the General Law on Water (Ley General de Aguas), which has been held up since 2012.

Pedro Moctezuma, coordinator of the Water Sustainability Program at the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), believes that Conagua has mismanaged the resource and that civil society should be involved in the debate.

Moctezuma points out that citizens’ organizations have already prepared the draft law that guarantees access to water and sanitation as a basic human right and punishes those who contaminate water resources. “It’s a law that was carefully drawn up by more than 400 experts from 26 states,” he said. “It covers a range of priorities including water for all, quality, a stop to the mining of aquifers and overexploitation and policies that will prevent vulnerabilities arising from drought and flood.”

Because of a growing population that is becoming more urbanized, Moctezuma believes that action to reduce the demand of water through more efficient use and improved distribution systems in the cities is essential. He also believes that the treatment and reuse of wastewater must increase significantly to add to the availability and quality of the supply.

Another expert, Cecilia Lartigue, executive coordinator of the Water Management, Use and Reuse Program at the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), believes that the problems require urgent attention from authorities.

“. . . political issues always get in the way but we need to take the problem more seriously and recognize that we really are in the midst of a crisis. In less than 30 years, the problem will catch up with us and the problem is already very severe. There are many neighborhoods without water and part of the problem comes from water management.”

There are, in fact, approximately 200 neighborhoods in Mexico City alone that rely on the delivery of water by tanker trucks. Infrequent water delivery forces many residents to use a variety of measures to save and recycle water.

María, a mother and resident of the Desarollo Urbano neighborhood in Iztapalapa, the most populated and poorest of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs, lives in one of the 1.6 million homes that, according to statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), only receive water twice a week.

“We use buckets when we wash dishes and reuse the dirty water to flush the toilet. When we shower, we use a container to catch the soapy water and we use that to wash the patio floor. If we don’t look for ways to reuse water, we run out,” she says.

Lartigue recognizes that water management is the responsibility of both the government and citizens. While “authorities need to update infrastructure, improve water management and be transparent about the use of water,” she also says “if all the homes of the capital began to take steps to save water, like showering for less time, turning the faucet off when brushing teeth and washing the car using buckets, enough water could be saved per month to fill the Azteca Stadium 60 times, an amount that could be distributed to 4 million families.”

The average daily water use per person in Mexico City is 150 liters, at the upper end of an internationally recommended range.

María in Iztapalapa is resigned to a continuation of inaction from the government. Several of her neighbors have complained repeatedly to authorities about water supply without success.

Three years ago, her family built a cistern at a cost of 20,000 pesos to alleviate the suffering caused by water shortages.

She has come to see twice-weekly water deliveries as normal. “We are used to it now. Before we were without water for more days but the cistern holds about 5,000 liters so with that we get by.”

Source: El Universal (sp)

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