Water: An Ongoing Crisis

It’s not drought, it’s plunder

In Mexico, access to drinking water is a human right enshrined in the Constitution, but in fact it has all the appearance of a privilege from which millions of people are excluded.

For example, it is estimated that 90 percent of the country’s inhabitants have a water connection in their homes, but only 64 percent receive water on a daily basis, not to mention that in many cases it reaches their homes with a very poor quality for consumption or even for use in other activities.

Although the 90 percent coverage may seem quite high, it implies that 13 million Mexicans must obtain water outside the home, sometimes in strenuous journeys that usually fall on women.

The scenario threatens to get imminently worse. Seventy percent of the inhabitants of urban areas are supplied by aquifers, but 115 of the 653 existing water tables are being rapidly depleted by overexploitation, and another 90 are no longer have the capacity to receive new concessions.

In some regions the situation is critical; for instance, in Nuevo León it was announced at the end of March last year that the level of the dams would only allow the distribution of water for 60 days, and this considering that some neighborhoods have already suffered weeks without having water.

Part of the problem is attributable to factors beyond the control of the authorities, such as the drought (which in Tamaulipas has lasted a decade already) or population growth; but another part can be explained by political and business decisions that are harmful to the State and to the masses.

The core of this abuse of water resources is to be found in the National Water Law enacted in 1992 by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a neoliberal legislation that responds to private interests and turns water into an object of profit without taking into account human needs.

Because of this law, over the last three decades, a handful of individuals and corporations have taken over water via concession schemes that in practice are exercised in perpetuity and, by obtaining the resource at rock-bottom prices, they use it without any sustainability or consideration that the water they waste is denied to those who need it most.

To take the case of Nuevo Leon, it has been found that prominent former officials and residents of the wealthiest areas have wells at their disposal, while the most disadvantaged suffer a chronic lack of water.

The rapacious spirit of Salinas’ legislation is such that between 1995 and 2019, allocations and concessions for the exploitation of water increased by 3,191 percent, with a dynamic of hoarding that led to 1.1 percent of the concessionaires using more than a fifth of the resource.

This has led to absurdities such as industries using drinking water in processes that could -and should- be carried out with treated or reused water, or the fact that in some communities there is no water, but bottled soft drinks are available.

In view of the existing crisis and its imminent exacerbation, it is imperative to take measures to ensure that available water is used rationally and in accordance with human rights.

An essential step in this direction is to abandon the legislation in effect and approve the draft General Water Law currently before Congress, the text of which takes up the work carried out in hundreds of forums over more than nine years, with innovative aspects such as democratic water management bodies, water defense instruments, regulation of the concession regime, promotion of sustainable use and respect for native peoples, ejidos and communities.

This article was published in La Jornada on April 25th, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/04/25/edito/002a1edi# English translation prepared and published by Schools for Chiapas.