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.

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Mexico City Could Soon Change Its Name To Better Embrace Its Indigenous Identity

Things That Matter

Mexico City Could Soon Change Its Name To Better Embrace Its Indigenous Identity

Mexico City is the oldest surviving capital city in all of the Americas. It also is one of only two that actually served as capitals of their Indigenous communities – the other being Quito, Ecuador. But much of that incredible history is washed over in history books, tourism advertisements, and the everyday hustle and bustle of a city of 21 million people.

Recently, city residents voted on a non-binding resolution that could see the city’s name changed back to it’s pre-Hispanic origin to help shine a light on its rich Indigenous history.

Mexico City could soon be renamed in honor of its pre-Hispanic identity.

A recent poll shows that 54% of chilangos (as residents of Mexico City are called) are in favor of changing the city’s official name from Ciudad de México to México-Tenochtitlán. In contrast, 42% of respondents said they didn’t support a name change while 4% said they they didn’t know.

Conducted earlier this month as Mexico City gears up to mark the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec empire capital with a series of cultural events, the poll also asked respondents if they identified more as Mexicas, as Aztec people were also known, Spanish or mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish blood).

Mestizo was the most popular response, with 55% of respondents saying they identified as such while 37% saw themselves more as Mexicas. Only 4% identified as Spaniards and the same percentage said they didn’t know with whom they identified most.

The poll also touched on the city’s history.

The ancient city of Tenochtitlán.

The same poll also asked people if they thought that the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán by Spanish conquistadoresshould be commemorated or forgotten, 80% chose the former option while just 16% opted for the latter.

Three-quarters of respondents said they preferred areas of the the capital where colonial-era architecture predominates, such as the historic center, while 24% said that they favored zones with modern architecture.

There are also numerous examples of pre-Hispanic architecture in Mexico City including the Templo Mayor, Tlatelolco and Cuicuilco archaeological sites.

Tenochtitlán was one of the world’s most advanced cities when the Spanish arrived.

Tenochtitlán, which means “place where prickly pears abound” in Náhuatl, was founded by the Mexica people in 1325 on an island located on Lake Texcoco. The legend goes that they decided to build a city on the island because they saw the omen they were seeking: an eagle devouring a snake while perched on a nopal.

At its peak, it was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It subsequently became a cabecera of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Today, the ruins of Tenochtitlán are in the historic center of the Mexican capital. The World Heritage Site of Xochimilco contains what remains of the geography (water, boats, floating gardens) of the Mexica capital.

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Seniors In Mexico City Turned Their Wait For The Vaccine Into A Disco Dance Off

Things That Matter

Seniors In Mexico City Turned Their Wait For The Vaccine Into A Disco Dance Off

Last week, Mexican officials launched the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program by beginning to vaccinate those 65 and over. But, just like in countries around the world, the roll out hasn’t exactly been ideal. Many residents in the nation’s capital have reported waiting in line for hours for their vaccine, with some even being forced to camp out overnight to make sure they receive their shot.

Despite the long waits, many seniors are turning the headache into something fun by having impromptu dance offs and even yoga classes.

Seniors lined up to get vaccinated turned the wait into a fun dance off to pass the time.

As Mexico begins vaccinating the general public – after months of giving vaccines to public health workers – seniors, who are first in line, are facing immense lines at vaccination sites across the country.

To help pass the time, many of those waiting in line have tried to make the wait more bearable by dancing to tunes such as disco classic “I Will Survive.”

Healthcare workers outside a vaccination center in a Mexico City suburb got the festivities started by encouraging those waiting for a Sputnik V shot to cut a rug in the street as music played over a sound system. One of the workers even belted out a few songs over karaoke backing tracks to entertain the seniors, some of whom had begun lining up on Wednesday night.

Many seniors lined up didn’t mind the wait since they were grateful for the vaccine.

Despite the hours long wait – with some even camping out overnight to ensure their access to the vaccine – many of those waiting were simply grateful for the shots.

With tears in his eyes, 67-year-old Juan Mario Cárdenas told Reforma that he has lost friends to Covid-19 and that getting vaccinated was a matter of life and death for him. He is one of almost 200,000 people in the Mexico City boroughs of Iztacalco, Xochimilco and Tláhuac who are expected to receive a first shot of the Sputnik V vaccine by the end of next week.

The country is rolling out its vaccination program using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Inoculation with the Russian vaccine began in the capital – the country’s coronavirus epicenter – on Wednesday, nearly two weeks after the first AstraZeneca shots were given to people aged 60 and over in several of the city’s most affected suburbs.

About 1.9 million vaccine doses had been administered in Mexico as of Wednesday night, mainly to health workers and seniors. The government expects to receive more than 100 million doses from several companies by the end of May.

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