Mexico, or most of it, is running out of water.
An extreme drought has caused water taps across the country to dry up, and nearly two-thirds of all municipalities are facing water shortages, forcing people in some places to queue for hours for government water supplies.
The water shortage has become so severe that angry residents are blocking roads and kidnapping municipal workers to demand more water.
The numbers indicative of the crisis are startling: Eight of Mexico’s 32 states suffered severe or moderate drought in July, leaving 1,546 of the country’s 2,463 municipalities facing water shortages, according to the National Water Commission.
About 48 percent of Mexico was affected by drought by mid-July, compared with about 28 percent of the country during the same period last year, according to the commission.
While linking a single drought to anthropogenic climate change needs to be analyzed, scientists have no doubt that global warming could change rainfall patterns around the world and increase the likelihood of droughts.
Overseas, in recent years much of the western half of the United States has suffered from mild to severe drought. For the region, this period is now the driest in two decades in 1,200 years.
The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, Mexico’s second-largest city and one of its most important economic centers, where officials say the entire metropolis of about five million people has been hit by drought. Some areas in Monterrey have been without water for 75 days, resulting in many schools closing before the scheduled summer break.
The situation in the city became so dire that a visiting journalist was unable to find drinking water for sale at several stores, including Walmart.
Buckets are also in short supply in local stores – or sold at astronomically high prices – as Monterrey residents collect containers to collect water delivered by government trucks sent to the driest areas. Some residents are cleaning out trash cans to ferry water home, kids are struggling to help carry what could be 450 pounds of water.
While Monterrey’s poorest neighborhoods have been hardest hit, the crisis is affecting everyone, including the wealthy.
“Here you have to chase water,” says Claudia Muñiz, 38, whose home often has no running water for up to a week. “In a moment of desperation, people explode,” she said of the violence that erupted as people struggle for water.
Monterrey is in the north of Mexico, in the driest region of the country, whose population has grown in recent years as the economy has grown. But the area’s typically dry weather struggles to feed the population as climate change reduces what little rainfall the region receives.
Residents of Monterrey can now walk on the bottom of the reservoir created by the Cerro Prieto Dam and once one of the largest water sources in the city. The reservoir also used to be a major tourist attraction, touted by the local government for its lively waterfront restaurants, fishing, boating, and water skiing.
Currently steep hill mainly popular because of the coins buried at the bottom of the pond, which is baked under the sun. Residents run metal detectors over exposed rocks and bushes, filling pouches with peso coins that visitors once tossed when they made a wish.
Together with the Cerro Prieto reservoir, a seven-year drought interrupted only by heavy rains in 2018, also dried up water along two other dams that provide most of Monterrey’s water supply, according to a local official. This year, one dam reached 15 percent of its capacity, and the other 42 percent. The rest of the city’s water comes from aquifers, many of which also run out.
July rainfall in parts of the state of Nuevo León, which borders Texas and whose capital is Monterrey, was just 10 percent of the monthly average recorded since 1960, according to Juan Ignacio Barragán Villarreal, general manager of the city’s water supply. agency.
“There wasn’t a drop of rain in the entire state in March,” he said, adding that it was the first March without rain since the government began keeping records in 1960.
Today, the government distributes a total of nine million liters of water daily to 400 districts. Every day, “pipas,” large trucks filled with water and distribution pipes, fan out around Monterrey and its suburbs to meet the needs of the driest neighborhoods, often illegal settlements, that house the poorest residents.
Alejandro Casas, a water truck driver, worked for the government for five years and said that when he started, he supported the city’s firefighters and was called out maybe once or twice a month to deliver water to a fire. His work days were often spent looking at his phone.
But as Monterrey’s water shortage became so severe, the taps began to leak. dry January, now it works every day, making up to 10 daily trips to different areas to supply water to about 200 families with each trip.
By the time Mr. Casas arrives, a long line snakes through the surrounding streets with people waiting in line. Some families carry containers that can hold 200 liters or 53 gallons and wait in the sun all day before finally getting water at midnight.
The water it delivers can be for the whole family for up to a week.
No one guards the lines, so fights break out as residents of other communities try to get inside instead of waiting for trucks to arrive in their area a few days later. Residents are allowed to take home as much water as their containers can hold.
In May, Mr. Casas’ truck was attacked by several youths who climbed into the passenger seat and threatened him while he was delivering water to the San Angel area.
“They spoke to me in a very threatening tone,” Mr. Casas said, explaining that they demanded that he drive a truck over to distribute water. “They told me that if we don’t go where they want, they are going to kidnap us.”
Mr. Casas went to another area, filled the residents’ buckets and was released.
Edgar Ruiz, another government water carrier driver, has also seen the crisis worsen. Since January, he has been supplying water from government-controlled wells, and every week he watches with dismay as the level drops.
“I gave away two or three pipes in January,” he said, referring to individual water tanks that can hold up to 15,000 liters. “Now I’m handing out 10 and they’ve hired a lot more people” to drive water trucks. Hneighboring states also sent drivers and trucks help.
Now he is afraid to do his job. Residents were grateful when they saw his water truck drive into their area; now they are outraged that the government has not been able to solve the problem of water shortages.
“They threw rocks at a water truck,” he said.
Maria De Los Angeles, 45, was born and raised in Cienega de Flores, a town near Monterrey. She says the water crisis is stressing her family and her business.
“I have never faced such a crisis before,” said Ms. De Los Angeles. “Water comes out of our taps only once every four or five days.”
The crisis, she says, is pushing her into bankruptcy: the garden nursery she owns is her family’s only livelihood and needs more water than her house’s taps can provide.
“Every week I have to buy a water tank that costs me 1,200 pesos,” which equals $60, from a private supplier,” she said. It takes about half of her weekly income of $120.
“We can’t handle this anymore,” Ms. De Los Angeles said.
Small business owners like Ms. De Los Angeles are frustrated at being left to fend for themselves, while Monterrey’s large businesses can mostly operate normally. Factories know how to draw 50 million cubic meters of water per year due to federal concessions giving them special access to urban aquifers.
The government is struggling to respond to the crisis.
To try to mitigate future shortages, the state is investing about $97 million to build a wastewater treatment plant and plans to buy water from a desalination plant under construction in a neighboring state.
According to Mr. Barragan, CEO of the water agency, the government has spent about $82 million renting additional water trucks, paying extra drivers and digging more wells.
Nuevo León Governor Samuel Garcia recently called on the world to work together to fight climate change because no government is capable of fighting it.
“The climate crisis has caught up with us,” Mr. Garcia tweeted.
“Today we have to take care of the environment, it’s life or death.”