- LAURA GOTTES DINNER
Her elderly neighbor is hard of hearing, so Maria Luisa Robles, a convenience store worker in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, shouted the question a second time: Are you out of water?
She had – and it wasn’t just her. Taps in this working-class Sierra Ventana neighborhood dried up more than a week ago amid a historic shortage that gripped Mexico’s most important industrial city.
“We are all struggling because there is no running water,” Robles, 60, said.
Desperate, Robles and her neighbors resorted to climbing to the top of a nearby municipal water reservoir, filling jugs and taking them home to drink, cook, clean and wash sheets and school uniforms.
People fill containers during a public water distribution as more than half of Mexico faces moderate to severe drought conditions, in Escobedo, Mexico on April 21. PHOTO: Reuters/Daniel Becerril.
More than half of Mexico is currently facing moderate to severe drought conditions, amid extreme heat that scientists attribute to climate change, according to the federal water commission CONAGUA.
In the vast Monterrey metropolitan area, home to some 5.3 million people, drought and years of below-average rainfall have led to water shortages across the city.
“We are in an extreme climate crisis,” Nuevo Leon Governor Samuel Garcia said at a news conference last week. “Today we are all living this and suffering.”
In June, the city began limiting access to water to six hours a day, forcing schools to adjust class times and sparking panic buying of bottled water that emptied supermarket shelves.
Protests and public anger are also growing against soda and beer companies whose federal concessions have allowed them to continue extracting water even as residents go without.
The state government says it is conserving water by fixing leaky pipes and installing pressure valves, while cracking down on farms, businesses and slaughterhouses caught stealing water from rivers or clandestine wells.
With the warmer months ahead, the crisis is expected to continue. The hope is that summer will bring consistent rainfall to this arid climate.
A woman carries buckets to a public water distribution as more than half of Mexico faces moderate to severe drought conditions, in Escobedo, Mexico on April 21. PHOTO: Reuters/Daniel Becerril.
As of Tuesday, two of the main dams that supply the metropolitan area, Cerro Prieto and La Boca, could be empty, according to the head of the water and sewerage agency, Juan Ignacio Barragan. A third dam, El Cuchillo, has a capacity of 45%.
Running water has stopped flowing in some neighborhoods, Barragan admitted at a news conference last week.
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One of them is Sierra Ventana, where Robles lives with his elderly mother, two disabled siblings and a niece with a motor impairment.
Caring for them requires a lot of water, so several times a day, in temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius, Robles comes and goes from the water tank, alongside other residents carrying buckets or pushing filled strollers of jugs.
One afternoon last week, she had just completed her last trip when she remembered her hearing-impaired neighbor.
“What else can we do?” she asked before heading for the tank one last time. “We need water to live.”
– With DANIEL BECERRIL in Monterrey