Drought in Mexico: The country faces a water emergency

Mexico, or large parts of it, are running out of water.

A severe drought has caused taps to run dry across the country, with nearly two-thirds of all municipalities facing water shortages forcing people in some places to stand for hours to deliver government water.

The water shortage has grown so great that angry residents are blocking highways and kidnapping municipal workers to demand more supplies.

The numbers highlighting the crisis are staggering: In July, eight of Mexico’s 32 states were experiencing severe to moderate drought, leaving 1,546 of the country’s 2,463 municipalities facing water shortages, according to the National Water Commission.

By mid-July, about 48 percent of Mexico’s land had experienced a drought, according to the commission, compared to about 28 percent of the country’s land during the same period last year.

While linking a single drought to human-caused climate change requires analysis, scientists have little doubt that global warming could alter rainfall patterns around the world and increase the likelihood of droughts.

Across the border in recent years, most of the western half of the United States has been in a drought, with conditions ranging from moderate to severe, and for the region, this period is now the most driest two decades in 1,200 years.

The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important economic centers and where the entire metropolitan area of ​​about five million people is affected by the drought, according to officials. Some neighborhoods in Monterey have been without water for 75 days, resulting in many schools closing ahead of the scheduled summer break.

The situation in the city has become so dire that a visiting journalist has been unable to find any drinking water for sale in many stores, including Walmart.

Bulldozers are also scarce in local stores — or sold at very high prices — as Monterey residents bundle containers together to collect water supplied by government trucks sent to drier neighborhoods. Some residents clean trash cans to carry water home, and children struggle to help carry what can be up to 450 pounds of water.

While the poorest neighborhoods of Monterey are the hardest hit, the crisis affects everyone, including the wealthy.

“Here you have to chase the water,” said Claudia Muniz, 38, whose family is often without running water for up to a week. “In a moment of desperation, people explode,” she said of the violence that erupted as people fought over the waters there.

Located in northern Mexico, Monterrey is the country’s most thirsty-prone region, which has experienced population growth in recent years as the economy has boomed. But the region’s typical dry weather is struggling to support the population as climate change reduces the lack of rainfall in the region.

Monterrey residents can now walk across the floor of the reservoir created by the Cerro Prieto Dam and once one of the city’s largest water sources. The reservoir also used to be a major tourist attraction that the local government marketed for its vibrant waterfront restaurants, fishing, boating, and water skiing.

Cerro Prieto is now very popular due to the coins buried in the bottom of the tank baked in the sun. Residents pass metal detectors across exposed rocks and scrub, filling bags with pesos coins as soon as visitors toss them as they wish.

Together with the Cerro Prieto reservoir, seven years of drought – It was halted by heavy rains in 2018, according to a local official — water also dried up along two other dams that provide most of Monterey’s water supply. One dam reached 15 percent of its capacity this year, while the other reached 42 percent. The rest of the city’s water comes from aquifers, much of which is also declining.

The amount of rain in July in parts of Nuevo Leon, which borders Texas and whose capital is Monterrey, was just 10 percent of the monthly average recorded since 1960, according to Juan Ignacio Barragán Villarreal, director general of city water. Agency.

“In March it didn’t rain a single drop in the whole state,” he said, adding that it was the first rain-free March since the government began keeping records in 1960.

Today, the government distributes a total of nine million liters of water daily to 400 neighborhoods. Every day, “pipas,” large trucks full of water and piped for distribution, roll through Monterey and its suburbs to meet the needs of the driest neighborhoods, which are often illegal settlements housing the poorest residents.

Alejandro Casas, a water truck driver, has been with the government for five years and said that when he started, he supported city firefighters and might have been called in once or twice a month to deliver water to the site of the fire. He would often spend his working days staring at his phone.

But since the water shortage in Monterey has become so severe that the taps are starting to flow Dry in January, it now runs every day, making up to 10 daily trips to different neighborhoods to supply about 200 families with water with each trip.

By the time Mr. Casas arrived, there was a long line roaming the streets of the neighborhoods and people waiting for their turn. Some families carry containers of 200 liters, or 53 gallons, and wait in the sun all afternoon before finally receiving them. water at midnight.

The water he provides can be all the family gets for up to a week.

Nobody sets the lines, so fights break out, as residents of other communities try to sneak in instead of waiting for trucks to arrive in their neighborhoods days later. Residents are allowed to take as much water as possible in their bowls.

In May, a number of young men who climbed into the passenger seat stormed Mr. Casas’ truck and threatened him as he was carrying water to the San Angel neighborhood.

“They spoke to me in a very threatening tone,” Mr. Casas said, explaining that they demanded that the truck be driven into their area for a water distribution. “They told me that if we didn’t go where they wanted, they would kidnap us.”

Mr. Casas went to the other neighborhood, filled the residents’ buckets, and was released.

Edgar Ruiz, another government water truck driver, also witnessed the worsening crisis. Beginning in January, he has been delivering water from government-controlled wells, watching anxiously every week for their levels to fall.

“In January I handed out two or three tubes,” he said, referring to individual water tanks that can hold up to 15,000 liters. “Now I’m distributing 10 people, and they’ve hired more people” to drive the water trucks. Neighboring countries also sent drivers and trucks to help.

He is now afraid to do his job. Residents used to be thankful when they saw his water truck enter their neighborhood; Now they are angry that the government has not been able to fix the water shortage.

He said, “They threw stones at a water truck.”

Maria de los Angeles, 45, was born and raised in Cineja de Flores, a town near Monterrey. She says the water crisis is straining her family and work.

“I’ve never seen a crisis like this before,” Ms. de Los Angeles said. “The water only comes through our taps every four or five days.”

She said the crisis is pushing her into bankruptcy – her garden nursery is her family’s only livelihood and she needs more water than can be saved from the water that flows through her taps.

“I have to buy a water tank every week that costs 1,200 pesos,” she said, “the equivalent of $60, from a private supplier.” This consumes about half of her $120 weekly income.

“We can’t handle it anymore,” Ms. De Los Angeles said.

Small business owners like Ms. de Los Angeles are frustrated that they are being left to fend for themselves while the big industries in Monterey are largely able to function normally. The factories can draw 50 million cubic meters of water annually due to federal concessions that give them special access to the city’s aquifers.

The government is struggling to respond to the crisis.

In an effort to alleviate future shortages, the country is investing about $97 million to build a wastewater treatment plant and plans to purchase water from a desalination plant under construction in a neighboring country.

The government has spent about $82 million to rent more trucks to distribute water, pay extra drivers, and dig more wells, according to Mr. Barragan, director general of the water agency.

The governor of Nuevo Leon state, Samuel Garcia, recently urged the world to work together to tackle climate change because it is beyond the capacity of any single government to tackle it.

“The climate crisis has caught us,” Mr. Garcia wrote on Twitter.

“Today we have to take care of the environment, it’s life or death.”

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