October 5, 2022

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

Due to the extreme drought, taps have run dry across the country, with nearly two-thirds of all municipalities facing water shortages that have forced people in some places to queue for hours for government water deliveries.

Water shortages have become so extreme that enraged residents are blocking highways and kidnapping municipal officials to demand more supply.

The numbers underscoring the crisis are staggering: In July, eight of Mexico’s 32 states were experiencing extreme 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% of Mexico’s territory was suffering from drought, according to the commission, compared to about 28% of the country’s territory at the same time last year.

While linking a single drought to human-caused climate change requires analysis, scientists have no doubt that global warming can change rainfall patterns around the world and increase the likelihood of drought.

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

The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, Mexico’s second-largest city and one of its most important economic hubs, where the entire metropolitan area of ​​about five million people is suffering from drought, officials said. Some neighborhoods in Monterey were without water for 75 days, forcing many schools to close ahead of scheduled summer vacation.

The situation in the city has become so dire that a visiting reporter was unable to find drinking water for sale in several stores, including a Walmart.

Buckets, too, are rare in local stores — or sold at astronomically high prices — as Monterey residents scrape together containers to collect water supplied by government trucks sent to the driest neighborhoods. Some residents clean out trash cans to carry the water home, children try to help carry what can amount to 450 pounds of water.

While Monterey’s poorest neighborhoods have been hardest hit, the crisis affects everyone, including the wealthy.

“Here you have to hunt for water,” said Claudia Muñiz, 38, whose household is often without running water for up to a week. “In a moment of desperation, people explode,” he said of the violence that has flared as people fight over available water.

Monterrey is located in northern Mexico, the country’s driest region, which has seen its population grow in recent years as the economy booms. But the region’s usually arid weather is struggling to support the population as climate change reduces what little rainfall the region has.

Monterrey residents can now walk on the floor of the reservoir created by the Cerro Prieto Dam, which was once one of the city’s largest sources of water. The reservoir was also a major tourist attraction held by the local government for its busy waterfront restaurants and fishing, boating and water skiing.

Now Sero Prieto it is mainly popular because of the coins buried at the bottom of the tank that bakes under the sun. Residents run metal detectors over exposed rocks and scrub, filling pouches with peso coins once dropped by visitors as they made a wish.

Along with the Cerro Prieto reservoir, a seven-year drought — interrupted only by heavy rains in 2018, according to a local official — water has also dried up along two other dams that provide most of Monterey’s water supply. One dam reached 15% of capacity this year, while the other reached 42%. The rest of the city’s water comes from aquifers, many of which are also being depleted.

The amount of rain in July in parts of the state of Nuevo León, 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, general manager of the city’s water. agency.

“There was not a single drop of rain in the entire state in March,” 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 filled with water and pipes for distribution, roll out across Monterrey and its suburbs to meet the needs of the driest neighborhoods, often illegal settlements that house the poorest residents.

Alejandro Casas, a water truck driver, has worked for the government for five years and said that when he started, he supported the city’s firefighters and was called out maybe once or twice a month to deliver water to a fire site. His working days were often spent looking at his phone.

But ever since the water shortage in Monterey became so severe that the taps started running dry in January, he now works every day, making up to 10 daily trips to different neighborhoods to supply about 200 families with water on each trip.

By the time Mr. Casas arrives, a long line snakes through the streets of the neighborhood with people waiting their turn. Some families carry containers that can hold 200 liters or 53 gallons and wait in the sun all afternoon before finally getting water at midnight.

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

No one polices the lines, so fights break out as residents from other communities try to sneak in instead of waiting for the trucks to arrive in their neighborhood days later. Residents are allowed to bring home as much water as their containers hold.

In May, Mr. Casas’ truck was broken into by several young men who got into the passenger seat and threatened him as he delivered water in the San Ángel neighborhood.

“They spoke to me in a very threatening tone,” Mr. Casas said, explaining that they asked him to drive the truck to their neighborhood to distribute water. “They told me that if we didn’t go where they wanted, they would kidnap us.”

Mr. Casas headed to the other neighborhood, filled the residents’ bins and was released.

Edgar Ruiz, another government water truck driver, has also seen the crisis worsen. Starting in January, he delivered water from government-controlled wells and nervously watched each week as their levels dropped.

“In January I distributed two or three pipes,” he said, referring to individual water tanks that can carry up to 15,000 liters. “Now I’m handing out 10 and they’ve hired a lot more people” to drive water trucks. Nneighboring states they have also sent drivers and trucks to help.

Now he is afraid to do his job. Residents used to be grateful when they saw his truck pull into their neighborhood. now they are angry that the government has not been able to fix the water shortage.

“They shot a water truck,” he said.

María De Los Ángeles, 45, was born and raised in Ciénega de Flores, a town near Monterrey. She says the water crisis is taking a toll on her family and her business.

“I’ve never experienced a crisis like this,” Ms De Los Ángeles said. “Water only goes through our taps every four or five days.”

The crisis, she said, is pushing her into bankruptcy – a garden nursery she owns is her family’s only source of livelihood, and she needs more water than the occasional water flowing through her home’s taps can provide. .

“I have to buy a tank of water every week that costs me 1,200 pesos,” equal to $60, from a private supplier, he said. That eats up about half of her weekly income of $120.

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

Small business owners like Ms. De Los Ángeles are frustrated that they are being left to fend for themselves, while Monterey’s large industries are largely able to operate as normal. Factories can design 50 million cubic meters of water annually because of federal concessions that give them special access to the city’s aquifers.

The government is struggling to respond to the crisis.

To try to mitigate future shortages, the state is investing about $97 million to build a wastewater treatment plant and plans to buy water from a desalination plant under construction in a neighboring state.

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

The governor of the state of Nuevo León, Samuel García, recently urged the world to act together to tackle climate change because it was beyond the capacity of any government to deal with.

“The climate crisis is upon us,” Mr Garcia tweeted.

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

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