Mexico City and How Water Begets Poverty

The below post is based on the information from this article. All credit to Dr. Ryan Jones and his History of Modern Mexico course for leading me to this information.

As Mexico City, the most populous city in North America, continues to sink into the ground, the ecological pressures of its water shortage increasingly target the poor. It’s tempting (but inaccurate) to say that this crisis is self-inflicted. In the sense of a historical trend, the Mexican government and its Spanish predecessors are responsible for draining the lake on which the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was built. It was naturally irrigated and easily defensible. The problem was, Tenochtitlan had 300,000 citizens at its height. Mexico City today has a population of nearly 9 million. As it expanded, its waters were drained to make room for working class build-as-you-go neighborhoods.

As a result, the taps of Mexico City are often running dry, and it’s hitting impoverished citizens the hardest. Residents of shack-like housing on the city’s periphery are spending upwards of 10% of their income on acquiring water, a much higher price than their wealthier counterparts. Additionally, poor women are often forced to stay home to ensure that the delivery trucks, called “pipas,” actually deliver their family’s water, since drivers will not deliver without a resident present and regularly take bribes in cases of limited resources.

In the context of this class, I find that my concept of scarcity is really challenged by the idea that water is not a right for all people. The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of water per day while those on the outskirts of Mexico City are making it on ten. I’ve begun to realize that having a home, as important and privileging as it is, doesn’t do a person much good without the ability to supply basic amenities. In cases of hydrofracking contamination, the lead in Flint, Michigan’s water supply, and Mexico City’s water crisis, it’s easy to see how decisions made by those who are not easily influenced by structural disadvantages overlook the chain of events that they often provoke, a theme paralleled by our in-class discussions of perpetual and deteriorating cycles of poverty, pollution, and structural inequality.

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