New Orleans Aqua vita – Water is Life, was on posters everywhere in Peru, years ago when I last visited. Returning from Mexico, I couldn’t help thinking that there was still something off in the 21st century that it was still not safe drink the water. No matter what you might think, Mexico is a modern country. It is America’s largest trading partner, and a popular spot for tourists. The food in Mexico City is top of the class. It’s a great country. Why can’t people drink the water?
The most common answer is foreigners are not used the local water supply and its combinations of bacteria, parasites, and other little uglies, but it’s more than that. The water is purified at its source, but the problem seems to lie in the distribution system. When you look out the window in many cities, you routinely see water tanks on the top of many structures. The water sits, rather than being free flowing through pipes, and gives time for trouble to grow.
A report in Water.org gives a clearer picture of this water problem:
Out of its population of 129 million people, 73 million people (57% of the population) lack access to a reliable, safely managed source of water, and 55 million people (42%) lack access to safely managed household sanitation facilities. Water supply and sanitation in Mexico has experienced both great achievements and continued challenges. Over the last two decades, Mexico saw a significant nationwide increase in access to piped water supply and improved sanitation in both urban and rural areas, however a lack of ongoing investment has slowed progress in getting access to safe water to low-income communities.
The challenges include water scarcity and droughts in major parts of the country, inadequate drinking water quality and wastewater treatment, and inefficient utilities. More than half of Mexican households with access to piped water receive services on an intermittent basis, and Mexico currently has the highest per capita consumption of bottled water worldwide.
Several years ago, there were a number of reports of Mexico City launching a huge campaign to clean up the water. There were requirements for restaurants and other food sellers to serve good water. In 2016, there was a campaign ‘Aqua a tu Casa’ to bring water to more marginalized communities. When ACORN organized in the Neza, the giant slum on the border of the city, the big issue was extending piping to various areas of the neighborhood. Members were collecting rain water, when they could, but spending up to 20% of their income on water purchases. For lower income families, that puts the lie to any notion that the locals don’t have any problems with the water.
With elections coming up, maybe this would be a good issue to make a priority. Being able to drink the water ought to be a baseline guarantee for modern life.