Things That Matter

Mexico City Is Quickly Running Out Of Water And Residents Are Stealing Water Trucks To Get Water

One of the world’s largest cities, Mexico City is home to about 21 million people – rising to 27 million if you include the surrounding areas. About 20% of Mexico’s population lives there. And it could run out of water in as little as 30 years.

For years, there have been doomsday stories about the city’s impending water crisis. But how does a city with a six-months-long rainy season that sees abundant rainfall face such a severe crisis?

Despite flooding events and heavy rainfall, the city is facing a water shortage.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Given Mexico City’s original geography, its lack of water may seem strange. The city was built on an island surrounded by a large natural lake basin. But when the Spanish colonised Mexico in the 1500s, they dried out the lake to build a bigger city. This means that deep underground, Mexico City has fresh water reservoirs – which the city still depends on for about 40% of its water. In theory these natural aquifers should be replenished by rainfall. It can seep through water containment holes like these pictured here in this deforested patch of land.

But the shortage of water in the city means these natural water reserves are being emptied at a rate faster than they can be filled, especially during months of prolonged drought in the dry season.

“We are exploiting our local aquifers at a very high rate,” says Kramer. “At the same time, we haven’t invested enough resources to have a robust monitoring system. So there’s a lot of uncertainty how the local aquifers work.”

His team suggests that the aquifers could be depleted in 30 to 50 years, if current exploitation trends continue.

Much of this is because of the inefficient and ageing infrastructure of Mexico City’s water networks: some 40% of the water is lost.

Credit: Karrie Khan / NPR

One of the primary forms of mismanagement plaguing water distribution in Mexico City is a gargantuan amount of wastage. According to data from 2010, the city’s water system has an efficiency rate of 56.8%, meaning that a shocking 43.2% of water is lost across leakages or stolen.

In the same report, the government estimated that about 85% of water inefficiencies arose from leakages. It was exactly these leakages that the November megacorte sought to address. And CONAGUA has a plan in place to continue to make improvements to the city’s aqueduct system over the next five to ten years, with the hopes that transportation efficiencies can be substantially improved.

And like most crises, the poorest and most vulnerable residents are affected the most.

Credit: Karrie Khan / NPR

Indeed, throughout Latin America and the developing world, it’s the poor who pay the highest price for water scarcity and mismanagement. Low-income, especially rural families, are the least likely to have regular access to public water systems, meaning they sometimes pay 10 to 20 times more for water in absolute terms than their rich counterparts, according to the UN.

Some are not connected to the city’s water network and must rely on buying it per litre. This is the most expensive way to access water, explains Arnoldo Matus Kramer, the city’s chief resilience officer. “Therefore, we need to revise [how people get water] and understand that access to water is a human right.”

For instance, the Xochimilco community in the city’s southernmost district gets new water twice a week from water trucks. Donkeys then carry it the rest of the way to their homes.

Even farmers no longer have adequate access to the water they need to grow and wash crops. Intense droughts have dried up the water holes and wells they once used.

Much of the city’s water supply is delivered by trucks and these are at risk of cartel intervention.

Delivering water often puts drivers and workers at the wrong end of a gun barrel. Sometimes when the taps run dry in some of the city’s more dangerous neighborhoods, which are often at the heart of Mexico City’s water crisis, desperate residents — or thieves on the make — reroute tanker trucks at gunpoint to meet their needs.

Others illegally tap wells outside the city and fill unregulated tankers themselves. Stolen water of dubious quality can serve neighborhoods in need or be sold at a premium to meet demand, especially during a drought or when the city’s system is under repair.

The water that does reach poor communities is often untreated or of low quality, driving the health problems that make poverty that much more difficult to overcome.

Regionwide, waterborne illness impacts thousands of people every year. In Mexico, tainted water is the number one killer of children between ages 1 and 5.

The public tanker service that provides many residents in Iztapalapa with water to shower, wash dishes and prepare food is offered free of charge. But families that rely on it conserve and reuse much more than their share. While rich neighborhoods in Mexico City consume between 800 and 1,000 liters of water per person per day, poor neighborhoods use just 28 liters, according to a report from the city’s human rights commission.

Mexico Is The World’s Second Deadliest Country For Trans Women And These Activists Have Had Enough

Things That Matter

Mexico Is The World’s Second Deadliest Country For Trans Women And These Activists Have Had Enough

Homosensual / Instagram

Trans rights in Latin America are an uphill and often heroic battle. Conservative social norms and Catholicism, both of which are generally dogmatic when it comes to any sexual or gender diversity, has shaped Mexican society into a mostly CIS-gendered, patriarchy-led society. However, there are promising signs that long-lasting change could be near and that Mexican culture could shift the tide towards a legal and everyday framework in which rights are respected. 

Trans women in particular are vulnerable to discrimination, verbal abuse and physical violence. 

Mexico is almost as dangerous as Brazil for trans women.

Credit: Homosensual

As the Associated Press reports: “Mexico has become the world’s second deadliest country after Brazil for transgender people, with 261 transgender women slain in 2013-2018, according to a recent study by the LGBTQ rights group Letra S.”

This is just appaling, as is the fact that most crimes go unpunished and that corruption in the Kaflaesque Mexican bureaucracy often leads to even more instances of abuse and trauma for the victims. The Associated Press reported late last year: “Like most crime in Mexico, nearly all such slayings go unsolved and unpunished — less than 3% of the killings of LGBTQ members have resulted in convictions since 2013. So transgender community leaders and activists are largely on their own in pursuing long-denied justice.” And remember there is no peace without justice. 

Trans activists in Mexico City shut down the city’s busiest road to protest the killing of a community member.

El Periférico is one of the busiest roads in the world. Around 20 trans activists blocked it while carrying a coffin. They were protesting the killing of Paola Buenrostro in 2016. The authorities, activists claim, have done close to nothing to solve the case. They blocked El Periférico after delivering documents to the National Human Rights Commission. As CE Noticias Financieras notes, the letter states that: “It accuses the Attorney General’s Office of Mexico City (now the Prosecutor’s Office) of not recognizing the gender identity of the victim and Kenya Citlali Cuevas Fuentes, an indirect victim of the crime, as well as of discriminating them against them for being trans women and sex workers. They also noted that they failed to investigate with a gender perspective, negligence in the imputation within the initial hearing, raising evidence and chain of custody, among other misconduct.”

Paola’s friend, the aforementioned Kenya Cuevas, is leading the protest. She was there when Kenya was shot and she was close to experiencing the same fatal fate. Even though Kenya was actually there the authorities did not validate her first-hand testimony. The case turned cold and no one has been blamed for the transfeminicide.

Kenya Cuevas herself got into the coffin to stand for murdered trans and CIS women.

Sometimes the best way to fight for a cause is to be daring and doing things that can have a strong visual and symbolic impact. That is what trans rights activist Kenya Cuevas did by laying inside a coffin in broad daylight. It was a brutal image to remember. Paola’s legacy also lives on through a house for trans women in need set up under her name: this house helps trans women escape drugs and sex work that they might not want to engage in for any other reason other than survival. Kenya’s message while blocking El Peri (as the freeway is commonly known) was clear: “We are tired of being unseen, tired of being violent, tired of not being given us opportunities to succeed, we also support our families. We too are awaited by our relatives and no one cares”. We hear you, reinas hermosas! 

The protest was successful and the women were granted a meeting with the Attorney’s office in Mexico City.

Credit: Homosensual

The protest only lasted ten minutes, but in a road as busy as El Periférico that feels like an eternity. Things got tense between drivers and activists. The police arrived and escorted the trans women to meet with Mexico City’s Attorney General Ernestina Godoy. If we measure activism by the success of their actions in terms of real political change, which can amount to having your voice heard, then we can argue that these trans women made a breakthrough that would probably not have been made without altering the public order.

And that’s what some people, mainly dudes but also some CIS women, do not understand: that trans women and feminists have to resort to methods that might be deemed as extreme, such as painting public monuments and stopping traffic. In the case of Paola’s murder, almost four years went by without the authorities being able or willing to have any developments on the case. Without becoming a real threat and momentarily disrupting traffic flow in Mexico City’s main artery, perhaps they would have never been heard. 

Some Mexicans Are Freaking Out Over This Drag Queen Who Dressed Up As La Virgencita To Make A Political Statement

Things That Matter

Some Mexicans Are Freaking Out Over This Drag Queen Who Dressed Up As La Virgencita To Make A Political Statement

Margaretyya / Instagram

La Virgen de Guadalupe is perhaps the most venerated figure in Mexico. Regardless of religious beliefs, la Guadalupana has become a cultural and national symbol, as it contrasts with the predominantly white images of saints and other religious figures (although if we talk about historical accuracy, chances are that Jesus and his disciples looked mostly Brown, as Middle-Eastern folk).

La Guadalupana is Brown-skinned and symbolizes the mixed-nature of Mexican mestizo culture. On one hand, the Guadalupana is derived from Catholicism, on the other it also echoes Aztec deities such as the goddess Tonantzin Coatlicue, which anthropologists believe the culture around La Virgen de Guadalupe echoes.

Truth is that Mexico is a country that venerates the Virgen de Guadalupe perhaps above all things, in particular each December 12, when millions of worshipers travel from all around the country to venerate her at the Basilica of Guadalupe, the place where Juan Diego, an indigenous man, claims to have encountered her. 

So it came as a shock to some that a drag queen from Mexico City dressed up as La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Credit: margaretyya/ Instagram

Her stage name is Margaret y Ya and she has caused controversy with this very artistic picture that reminds us of the work of Italian photographer Mario Testino. In the image, we can see Margaret y Ya posing with shopping bags.

In the photo shared on her Instagram, she writes an ironic caption: “Bendita seas Santa Virgencita Claus 🙏🏼✨ que nos llegaste a evangelizar con consumismo y materialismo estas épocas. 🎄❄️ 📸” This roughly translates as: “Bless you Santa Virgencita Claus, you that brought consumerism and materialism to this time of the year”.

This is more a political and social commentary rather than a religious one, as December 12 has become the kick off of the end of year holidays and its many weeks of frantic shopping. The photo was taken by Mario Aragon and the composition highlights irony. Margaret y Ya told El Universal that her idea was to critique the ways in which religion often becomes a commodity. This is perhaps a slightly blunt way of doing it given Mexico’s sociocultural context, but hey, sometimes the only way of getting people’s attention is being over the top and fabulous. 

And as can be expected, some conservative minds (and many abuelitas, we are sure) pusieron el grito en el cielo, while others just chilled.

We mean, this photograph was meme-ready even from its inception, wasn’t it? So it came as no surprise that some in Twitter used it to expand on the “I’m gonna tell my kids this is…” meme universe!

But it is also clear that Margaret y ya had a very clear audience in mind.

Yes, she wanted to make men and boomers angry, which is exactly what she did! And isn’t art supposed to be provocative in order to make us think, really think about preconceived notions we might need to reconsider?

The question is tough but philosophically interesting: how much of religion is associated with buying and selling stuff? The image was part of Margaret y Ya’s 2018 calendar, but as it resurfaced it got more attention than ever before. 

And some dudes got really angry…

Credit: Valladolid Yucatan Pueblo Magico / Facebook

These two dudes are basically saying that no one messes with La Virgencita and that a sacred symbol should not be tainted. Man, take a chill pill. Comments on the original story at El Universal reveal a deep contrast between those users who yell blasphemy at the first chance, and those who can find a bit of nuance in artistic expression. 

But when it comes to Catholic countries such as Mexico, mixing popular culture and religion with art is prone to cause a lot of controversy. Madonna was almost banned from the country for the “Like a Prayer” video.

A Christ-like figure who was black! That was considered blasphemy at the time, as was the fact that Madonna looked at him lovingly. Seriously, this was a BFD a few decades ago, and for years las buenas costumbres in Mexico dictated that the singer was a persona non grata.

Other works of art, such as Martin Scorsese’s monumental film “The Last Temptation of Christ”, have also been banned and considered blasphemy, as they are interpretations of texts that are considered dogma (infallible truths), and as interpretations they might differ from what the Church says.

This is something similar to the mild scandal involving Margaret y Ya, as she took a longstanding symbol and used it to critique a capitalist way of living that perhaps takes those religiously inclined away from their faith. Although we suspect that in this case some old fashioned homophobia also came into the equation.