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Column 032805 Thompson

Monday, March 28, 2005


Mexico is facing serious water problems


By Barnard R. Thompson


Mexico, like many nations worldwide, commemorated World Water Day on March 22, a date that also marked the beginning of the United Nations’ sponsored “Water for Life” Decade.  With this, the goal of the UN is “to meet internationally agreed targets for water and sanitation by 2015, and to build the foundation for further progress in the years beyond.”


Laudable goals most certainly, above all since these are issues that transcend multinational boundaries — matters that essentially affect all nations regardless of their stages of development.


And in Mexico’s case water concerns must be on its national and international agendas as the clock is ticking.

Water was the main subject of “Fox Contigo” (Fox With You) on March 26, the weekly radio broadcast with President Vicente Fox.  Noting that water is a national security priority in Mexico, and that the nation could soon face serious shortages, the president emphasized that Mexicans must conserve water and use it responsibly.  He also said that Mexicans must pay, and pay more, for this strategic resource — this in a country where people have yet to develop a cultural acceptance of paying real costs for water consumption and sewage services.

According to different officials and people of influence who spoke at several World Water Day events, some 12 million among Mexico’s population of 106 million do not have running water in their homes.  As to water supply and treatment, if things do not change the national crises are expected to hit flashpoint within 15 years.

Already, over the past half-century, there has been a 50 percent drop in Mexico’s water supply according to the National Water Commission (Conagua).

Making matters worse, in many areas nationwide with residential service the water is not fit to drink, a problem that is exacerbated by people having to buy expensive bottled water to drink and for cooking (with payment for this water being a socioeconomic reality that people interestingly accept).  Some World Water Day speakers further suggested that there is a mushrooming public sector private enterprise collusion problem, this to keep the profitable business of potable water sales and distribution booming.

There’s more.  According to National Campesina Confederation (CNC) leader Heladio Ramírez López, looming water deficiencies threaten to lead to social conflicts — both in Mexican cities and rural areas.  Coupled to this, Ramírez estimates that 23 million Mexicans do not have sewage systems, mostly residents in rural areas with large indigenous populations.

And social frictions have a tangible potential to intensify due to escalating complications from population growth; privatization of municipal water services; fee application and/or increases; waste and misuse of water; pollution; deforestation; and drought, among other things.

To the credit of the Fox administration — as well as a number of state and municipal governments, longer-term plans and projects are being implemented in an effort to ward off and resolve many of the difficult water problems.  As stated by Conagua, water management design and work is being done in coordination and cooperation with local governments, along with the participation of suppliers, system operators and end users.

Conagua reports that, as of the end of 2004, this has led to the connection of more than 7 million new users to safe drinking water systems, and 5.8 million to sewer and drainage networks.  Conagua also notes, that in accordance with decrees issued by the current federal government regarding wastewater discharges, cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants will have to be treating their wastewater by December 2007.

On the international front, it must be mentioned that Mexico is now paying its long overdue Rio Grande region water debt to the U.S.  By late March the current debt had been reduced by more than one-half according to the International Boundary and Water Commission.  Yet much of the success is thanks to greater rainfall over the past year or two, more water than the drought stricken Rio Grande watershed has had for years.

In accordance with the 1944 Water Treaty, Mexico is obligated to supply the U.S. with 431.7 million cubic meters [350,000 acre feet] annually of Rio Grande area water, while the U.S. is committed to a flow of 1.5 million acre feet to Mexico from the Colorado River.

At the UN, reportedly Mexican representatives are currently circulating a confidential petition that would commit member countries to making water a top UN priority.  The document apparently includes long-term financing proposals, at accessible interest rates, in order to allow infrastructure water and sewage system construction in developing countries during this “Water for Life” Decade.


Barnard Thompson is Editor of MexiData.info. He can be reached via e-mail at mexidata@ix.netcom.com.