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Mexico’s Drought: Country Faces a Water Emergency

Mexico, or large parts of it, has run out of water.

Extreme drought has left taps running dry across the country, with nearly two-thirds of all municipalities facing a water shortage that forces people in some places to queue for hours for government water deliveries.

The lack of water has become so extreme that angry residents are blocking highways and kidnapping municipal workers to get more water.

The numbers underlining the crisis are shocking: In July, eight of Mexico’s 32 states experienced extreme to moderate drought, leaving 1,546 of the country’s 2,463 municipalities experiencing water shortages, the National Water Commission said.

In mid-July, about 48 percent of Mexico’s territory suffered drought, compared with about 28 percent of the country in the same period last year.

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

Across the border, most of the western half of the United States has experienced drought in recent years, with conditions ranging from moderate to severe. For the region, this period is now the driest two decades in 1200 years.

The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, Mexico’s second-largest city and one of its major economic centers, where drought affects the entire metropolitan area of ​​about five million people, officials say. Some neighborhoods in Monterrey have been without water for 75 days, forcing many schools to close before the planned summer vacation.

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

Buckets are also in short supply in local stores — or sold at astronomically inflated prices — as Monterrey residents scrape together containers to collect water supplied by government trucks sent to the driest neighborhoods. Some residents clear out trash cans to bring water home, children struggle to help carry what can be as much as 450 pounds of water.

Although Monterrey’s poorest neighborhoods are hardest hit, the crisis is affecting everyone, including the wealthy.

“You have to chase the water here,” says Claudia Muñiz, 38, whose household is often without running water for a week. “In a moment of desperation, people explode,” she said of the violence that flared up as people fight over what water is there.

Monterrey is located in northern Mexico, the country’s most parched region, where the population has grown in recent years as the economy boomed. But the area’s typically dry weather is struggling to sustain populations as climate change reduces the region’s little rainfall.

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

utilities Cerro Prieto is especially popular for the coins buried at the bottom of the reservoir that bakes under the sun. Residents sweep metal detectors across exposed rocks and undergrowth, filling pouches with peso coins once thrown in by visitors when making a wish.

Along with the Cerro Prieto Reservoir, a seven-year drought – interrupted only by heavy rainfall in 2018, according to a local official – water has also dried up along two other dams that supply most of Monterrey’s water supply. One dam reached 15 percent of its capacity this year, the other 42 percent. The rest of the water in the city comes from aquifers, many of which are also nearly empty.

The amount of rainfall in July in parts of the state of Nuevo León, which borders Texas and of which Monterrey is the capital, was only 10 percent of the monthly average recorded since 1960, according to Juan Ignacio Barragán Villarreal, the city’s water manager. desk.

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

Today, the government distributes a total of nine million liters of water per day to 400 neighborhoods. Every day, ‘pipas’, large trucks filled with water and pipes for distribution, fan out across Monterrey and its suburbs to meet the needs of the driest neighborhoods, often illegal settlements where the poorest residents live.

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 received calls perhaps once or twice a month to deliver water to a fire. His working days were often spent staring at his phone.

But since the water shortage in Monterrey became so acute that the taps started running is 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 winds through the neighborhood’s streets with people waiting their turn. Some families carry containers that can hold 200 liters or 53 gallons, and wait all afternoon in the sun before finally receiving water at midnight.

The water he supplies can provide the whole family for up to a week.

No one guards the lines, so fighting breaks out as residents from other communities try to sneak in instead of waiting days later for trucks to reach their neighborhood. Residents are allowed to take home as much water as their containers can hold.

In May, Mr. Casas’ truck was stormed by several young men who sat in the passenger seat and threatened him while he was delivering water to the San Ángel neighborhood.

“They spoke to me in a very menacing tone,” said Mr. Casas, explaining that they demanded that he drive the truck to their neighborhood to distribute water. “They told me 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 truck driver, has also seen the crisis worsen. Since January, he has supplied water from the wells that the government controls and has watched nervously every week as their water levels plummeted.

“In January I divided two or three pipes,” he said, referring to separate 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. Ncontiguous states have also sent drivers and trucks help out.

He is now afraid to do his job. In the past, residents were grateful when they saw his water truck drive into their neighborhood; now they are furious that the government has not been able to solve the water shortage.

“They stoned 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 putting pressure on her family and her business.

“I have never experienced such a crisis,” said Ms De Los Ángeles. “The water only comes through our taps every four or five days.”

The crisis, she said, is pushing her toward bankruptcy — a garden nursery she owns is her family’s sole source of livelihood and needs more water than can be supplied by the occasional water that flows through her home’s faucets.

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

“We can’t take it anymore,” said Mrs. De Los Ángeles.

Small business owners like Ms. De Los Ángeles are frustrated at being left to their own devices, while Monterrey’s large industries are largely able to function normally. Factories can draw 50 million cubic meters of water per year because of federal concessions that give them special access to the city’s aquifers.

The government is struggling to cope with the crisis.

To reduce future shortages, the state is investing about $97 million in the construction of a wastewater treatment facility and plans to purchase 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 additional drivers and dig more wells, according to Mr. Barragán, the water agency’s general manager.

The governor of the state of Nuevo León, Samuel García, recently urged the world to act together to tackle climate change, as it was beyond the capacity of a single government to cope.

“The climate crisis has caught up with us,” Mr García wrote on Twitter.

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

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