The modern drought

Ana Paula Bottle León
Queretaro, Mexico

 

 

Children playing in Azcapotzalco, one of the delegations that struggles with the shortage of water.

In any adventure film or novel where the main character gets stranded on an island, a mountain, or in the middle of the woods, an unquestionable priority is to find a source of drinkable water. Water is vital; it regulates body temperature, nourishes the brain, lubricates bones and joints, and helps nutrients travel through the bloodstream. The human body is 60% water, and two of the most vital organs, the brain and the heart, are 75% water.1 Beyond what happens in books and movies, a shortage of water is dramatic on its own, often becoming a matter of government concern.

Technology is shaping the future of humanity, but not without a price. Humankind is now experiencing the consequences of industrialization, mass production, and consumerism. Global warming and climate change are effects of the over-exploitation of resources. It is also the reason why cities that receive more than enough rain lack sufficient water, creating  a man-made, modern drought. One example that illustrates this kind of artificial drought is Mexico City.

Mexico City was built over a series of lakes more than seven hundred years ago. Then known as the majestic Tenochtitlan, the city soon became a beautiful landscape of floating gardens. After the Spaniards arrived and conquered the city, costing many lives, the population began to grow at great speed, which was heightened by the rise of industrialization. The lakes were slowly replaced with concrete and the city became one of the largest conglomerates of people in the world, currently hosting 8.9 million people in the City Centre and an impressive 21.2 million people in what is known as Greater Mexico City.2 The gradual disappearance of the lakes has not hindered the rise of water consumption in the city. It is estimated that each person in Mexico City consumes 300 liters of water per day.3 The city turned to subterranean extraction to acquire water, causing it to sink fourteen meters in the last 150 years.4 Since the city is located 2,400 meters above sea level, this subterranean extraction of water is considered a hydraulic engineering feat.5 Nevertheless, as impressive as it may be, it is not enough to provide 21.2 million people with water.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), a traditional drought is defined as “a deficiency of rainfall over an extended period – a season, a year, or several years – relative to the statistical multi-year average for the region.” 6 The modern drought works differently because the factors bringing it about are entirely caused by humans. However, both traditional and modern droughts bring about the same disasters: food insecurity, malnutrition, epidemics, famine, and population migration. For instance, Mexico City receives an average of 709 millimeters of rain every year, more than that of notoriously rainy London, which receives 594mm annually. 7 Nonetheless, several delegations in Mexico City still go without water for days at a time because of the city’s inability to retain rainfall and distribute it evenly. The city still depends mostly on subterranean extraction of water, but the porous nature of the ground beneath makes this an expensive and ineffective method. Therefore, the city government decided to import water.  Mexico City now imports 40% of its water from Cutzamala, a town located 120 kilometers outside of Mexico City, taking water from their rivers and streams and bringing it into the city through a complex system of pipes that runs for kilometers.8 Sadly, the faults in these pipes cause the city to lose 40% of the water it imports. There is another important factor that hinders the arrival of water to more than half of the city: corruption.

The struggle against corruption is ingrained in the collective memory of generations of Mexicans. Corruption in water distribution disproportionately affects the less wealthy areas of Greater Mexico City: Iztapalapa, Tlalpan, Iztacalco, Venustiano Carranza, Azcapotzalco, and Ecatepec. 9 These areas comprise more than 15% of the city, and still they must wait several days to have running water for an hour or two.10 These delegations and municipalities fear that their water is given away to wealthier neighborhoods. Furthermore, citizens are concerned about the expansion of real estate in the city, since building homes for millions of inhabitants also requires plenty of water.11 In Ecatepec, for instance, citizens believe the pipes are purposely derailed so that water can get to industrial sites instead of their homes. As if that were not enough, those in charge of delivering water to these delegations are now making a business out of it, selling their content at $800 Mexican pesos, while they acquire it for $300 at most.12

Although these hindrances are man-made,  people suffer the same consequences as from a traditional drought, namely malnutrition, epidemics, and population migration. The most famous, or infamous, example in Mexico City would be the delegation of Iztapalapa. Located to the west of Mexico City, it suffers from overpopulation and a tremendous lack of water. While Iztapalapa does have wells with available water, it is contaminated with toxic chemicals and an excess of elements such as magnesium, nitrogen, sodium, iron, and sulphuric gas.13 Sometimes the need for water is so dire that people still drink this toxic, rust-colored water and become sick. Iztapalapa’s only choices are either to filter this water, which is quite expensive, or wait for the water from Cutzamala, which arrives through pipes but with barely any pressure, since it has already passed through several neighborhoods. It is no surprise then, that over the past few decades more than a million people have fled from this delegation.14 Furthermore, it is no wonder their citizens are taking to the streets and occupying buildings in protest to demand a basic need: clean water and enough of it. It has reached the point where the chauffeur that delivers water to the delegation is kidnapped five to six times per year.15 The people are thirsty.

Iztapalapa is not the only delegation where people are turning to violence. Protests become more frequent as the water crisis endures, creating the perfect example to support Professor Frank Fenner’s theory that “humans will be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change.”16 According to Professor Fenner, the lack of resources and the excess of population will cause people to go to war over  resources, which is resonant to the situation in Mexico City, especially since the crisis is spreading. The people of Cutzamala, home to the source of water that attempts to quench the thirst of millions of Mexicans, are seriously concerned. They fear they will run out of water for themselves, especially for their crops, which is their main mode of sustenance. As of now, the extraction of water from their rivers and streams has dried out their land and decreased the population of fish in their rivers. Thus, the inhabitants of Cutzamala have joined the protests. They occupied the building where water is chlorified for a length of two weeks.  Just like the people of Iztapalapa, they demanded clean water for their homes.17

Mexico City’s water crisis is ongoing. People are getting desperate and turning to violence, a matter of great concern for the Mexican government. Although they have been devising new ways to bring water into the city, it is not enough to quench the thirst of 21.2 million people. Furthermore, the process of carrying water over thousands of kilometers is financially and energetically taxing. Because of overpopulation and the exploitation of resources, Mexico City is dealing with a drought similar to that of a desert climate.  Even though the government is making an effort to bring drinkable water into the city, the mass consumption of water makes it impossible to keep up with the amount needed. Nevertheless, the city endures. After all, the water crisis in Mexico City is almost as old as the city itself.

 

Notes

  1. Bushak, Lecia. “Stay Hydrated: People Who Stop Drinking Water Risk Brain Shrinkage, Chronic Diseases.” Medical Daily. March 30, 2016. https://www.medicaldaily.com/hydration-dehydration-stay-hydrated-drinking-water-380041.
  2. “Mexico Population 2018.” China Population 2018 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs). http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/mexico-population/.
  3. “El Agua Y Los Centros De Población.” ESTATUTO De Gobierno Del Distrito Federal. http://www.diputados.gob.mx/bibliot/publica/inveyana/polisoc/dps03/9elagua.htm.
  4. Acosta, Nelly. “La CDMX Se Hunde 40 Cms. Al Año Y Estas Son Las Consecuencias.” Excélsior. November 05, 2017. https://www.excelsior.com.mx/comunidad/2017/11/05/1199266.
  5. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.
  6. “Climatological Hazards: Droughts.” The Seven Fundamental Principles – IFRC. http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/about-disasters/definition-of-hazard/drought/.
  7. “Rainfall/ Precipitation in Mexico City, Mexico.” Climate Graph for Mexico City, Mexico. http://www.mexico-city.climatemps.com/precipitation.php. ; “Rainfall/ Precipitation in London, England, Uk.” London, England Climate London, England Temperatures London, England Weather Averages. http://www.london.climatemps.com/precipitation.php.
  8. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.
  9. Roa, Wendy. “La CDMX Enfrenta Contingencia Por Falta De Agua.” Excélsior. June 09, 2018. https://www.excelsior.com.mx/comunidad/la-cdmx-enfrenta-contingencia-por-falta-de-agua/1244236.
  10. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.
  11. Lagunas, Icela. “Desabasto De Agua En CDMX Llega Al Límite.” Capital Media. 2017. http://www.capitalmexico.com.mx/metropolitano/desabasto-agua-cdmx-llega-al-limite-suministro-iztapalapa/.
  12. Venegas, Patricia. “Continúan Los Conflictos Por El Agua En Ecatepec.” El Sol De Toluca. July 20, 2018. https://www.elsoldetoluca.com.mx/local/continuan-los-conflictos-por-el-agua-en-ecatepec-1854778.html.
  13. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.
  14. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.
  15. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.
  16. Edwards, Lin. “Humans Will Be Extinct in 100 Years Says Eminent Scientist.” Phys.org – News and Articles on Science and Technology. June 23, 2010. https://phys.org/news/2010-06-humans-extinct-years-eminent-scientist.html.
  17. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico.

 

References

  1. Acosta, Nelly. “La CDMX Se Hunde 40 Cms. Al Año Y Estas Son Las Consecuencias.” Excélsior. November 05, 2017. https://www.excelsior.com.mx/comunidad/2017/11/05/1199266.
  2. Annigan, Jan. “How Much Water Does Your Body Retain When You Drink 8 Ounces of Water?” LIVESTRONG.COM. October 03, 2017. https://www.livestrong.com/article/509939-how-much-water-does-your-body-retain-when-you-drink-8-ounces-of-water/.
  3. Bushak, Lecia. “Stay Hydrated: People Who Stop Drinking Water Risk Brain Shrinkage, Chronic Diseases.” Medical Daily. March 30, 2016. https://www.medicaldaily.com/hydration-dehydration-stay-hydrated-drinking-water-380041.
  4. “Climatological Hazards: Droughts.” The Seven Fundamental Principles – IFRC. http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/about-disasters/definition-of-hazard/drought/.
  5. Edwards, Lin. “Humans Will Be Extinct in 100 Years Says Eminent Scientist.” Phys.org – News and Articles on Science and Technology. June 23, 2010. https://phys.org/news/2010-06-humans-extinct-years-eminent-scientist.html.
  6. “El Agua Y Los Centros De Población.” ESTATUTO De Gobierno Del Distrito Federal. http://www.diputados.gob.mx/bibliot/publica/inveyana/polisoc/dps03/9elagua.htm.
  7. Gowin, Joshua. “Why Your Brain Needs Water.” Psychology Today. October 15, 2010. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/you-illuminated/201010/why-your-brain-needs-water.
  8. Lagunas, Icela. “Desabasto De Agua En CDMX Llega Al Límite.” Capital Media. 2017. http://www.capitalmexico.com.mx/metropolitano/desabasto-agua-cdmx-llega-al-limite-suministro-iztapalapa/.
  9. “Mexico Population 2018.” China Population 2018 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs). http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/mexico-population/.
  10. Noticieros Televisa. “¿Por Qué Sufrimos Desabasto De Agua En La CDMX?” Noticieros Televisa. April 13, 2018. https://noticieros.televisa.com/especiales/por-que-sufrimos-desabasto-agua-cdmx/.
  11. “Rainfall/ Precipitation in London, England, Uk.” London, England Climate London, England Temperatures London, England Weather Averages. http://www.london.climatemps.com/precipitation.php.
  12. “Rainfall/ Precipitation in Mexico City, Mexico.” Climate Graph for Mexico City, Mexico. http://www.mexico-city.climatemps.com/precipitation.php.
  13. Roa, Wendy. “La CDMX Enfrenta Contingencia Por Falta De Agua.” Excélsior. June 09, 2018. https://www.excelsior.com.mx/comunidad/la-cdmx-enfrenta-contingencia-por-falta-de-agua/1244236.
  14. Szalay, Jessie. “Hernán Cortés: Conqueror of the Aztecs.” LiveScience. September 28, 2017. https://www.livescience.com/39238-hernan-cortes-conqueror-of-the-aztecs.html.
  15. Velasco, María de los Ángeles. “Continúan Sin Agua En Ecatepec.” Excélsior. July 26, 2018. https://www.excelsior.com.mx/comunidad/continuan-sin-agua-en-ecatepec/1254626.
  16. Venegas, Patricia. “Continúan Los Conflictos Por El Agua En Ecatepec.” El Sol De Toluca. July 20, 2018. https://www.elsoldetoluca.com.mx/local/continuan-los-conflictos-por-el-agua-en-ecatepec-1854778.html.
  17. Watts, Jonathan. “La Crisis Del Agua De La Ciudad De México.” The Guardian. November 12, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/la-crisis-del-agua-de-la-ciudad-de-mexico

 


 

ANA BOTTLE PAULA LEON graduated from the John F. Kennedy American School with honors. She has a keen interest in both science and art, and seeks to bring them together whenever she can. She is pursuing an undergraduate degree in English at King’s College London. In 2016 she completed a Creative Writing Course at the University of East Anglia. She has penned a handful of stories and articles, publishing one of the latter in Mexican lifestyle magazine, S1ngular, in 2017. She hopes to develop her career as a writer.

 

Summer 2018  |  Hektorama  |  Food