Thursday, September 3, 2009

MEXICO GOES DOWN THE DRAIN: WATER AND POWER SOUTH OF THE BORDER

This report from John Ross is frightening. -Angela

>FROM: JOHN ROSS
> 011-5255-5518 X102
> johnross@igc.org
> Blindman's Buff #255
>
>MEXICO GOES DOWN THE DRAIN: WATER AND POWER SOUTH OF THE BORDER
>
>MEXICO CITY (September 1st) - Mexico has been
>swamped by a wave of serial plagues of biblical
>proportions in recent months. First, it was the
>blood-curdling violence of President Felipe
>Calderon's ill-conceived and macabre war on the
>drug cartels that has taken the lives of 12,000
>citizens in the past three years. Then the
>economy collapsed in a calamitous whoosh
>plunging the country into the deepest slide
>since the Great Depression. Last spring's swine
>flu panic garnished the fear and loathing.
>
>Now add drought and famine to the list of catastrophes.
>
>One day last week (Aug. 16th-23rd), housewives
>from Iztapalapa, Mexico City's poorest and most
>populous delegation or borough, lined up dozens
>of empty plastic pails in front of the National
>Palace, the seat of the Calderon government, to
>underscore their demand for water. On any given
>day this summer, 1.5 million "chilangos" (Mexico
>City residents) have been denied the precious
>liquid due to the National Water Commission
>(CONAGUA)'s shut down of the Cutzamala river
>system that supplies about a third of the
>capital's water.
>
>The water crisis has been exacerbated by
>near-zero rainfall in the Valley of Mexico that
>surrounds the city due, meteorologists avow, to
>the nefarious, every-nine-year weather
>phenomenon known as El Nino. Whoever's to
>blame, Mexico City is in the claws of the worst
>drought here in 60 years. Day after day this
>summer, chilangos have risen to cloudless skies
>- the July-August-September rainy season cycle
>accounts for 70% of the megalopolis's rainfall
>totals in an average year.
>
>The absence of precipitation that is drying up
>all of Mexico has the National Weather Service
>praying for Atlantic hurricanes that are
>worrisomely late in coming - the delay is the
>longest in 18 years. By the third week of
>August, the storms were only at "B" for "Bill"
>level. "Bill" disappeared into the North
>Atlantic without spilling a drop on Mexico.
>
>The weathermen and women are not the only
>Mexicans praying for rain. In Jalisco where
>cornfields are blasted by the "Sequia"
>(drought), true believers parade the Virgin of
>Zapopan from one country town to the next in the
>unrequited hopes She will bring on the rains,
>and in Mexico City's great Zocalo plaza,
>concheros - Aztec dancers - pound drums and blow
>copal incense to the four cardinal corners of
>the universe in choreographed appeals to Tlaloc,
>the Mexica rain deity to whom Aztec priests once
>sacrificed young babies in order to insure his
>watery largesse and a bumper corn crop.
>
>Tlaloc's unresponsiveness to the chilangos'
>entreaties is already triggering tensions. Out
>in Iztapalapa in the east of the city, colonos
>from parched neighborhoods are blocking avenues
>and have broken into locked water deposits. In
>August, they hijacked several "pipas" or cistern
>trucks used to deliver water to bone-dry
>colonies.
>
>The pipa business has boomed all summer,
>enraging the Iztapalapans. Private contractors
>charge the neighbors a fee for services the
>government should be providing and the dubious
>quality of the water the pipas deliver is a
>flashpoint for outrage. Neighbors display
>bottles of viscid, smelly liquid that they
>jocularly refer to as "Aguas de Tamarindo" -
>Tamarind-flavored drinks.
>
>The scarcity of potable water in marginated
>zones like Iztapalapa has converted Mexicans
>into the Numero Uno per capita consumers of Coca
>Cola in the known universe. The Coca Cola
>Corporation is also Mexico's top purveyor of
>purportedly purified bottled water.
>
>Iztapalapa is a barometer of social conflict.
>If and when trouble boils over in this
>megalopolis, it will most likely happen there
>first.
>
>Out in the countryside, the drought is raking
>the land. Dams are at perilously low levels in
>a season when they are usually filled to the
>brim - this time last year, dam capacity was at
>95%. But in 2009, 57 of the 177 dams in the
>federal system are below 50% due to the lack of
>sufficient rainfall. Half of Mexico's 21
>million corn farmers depend on rainfall to
>irrigate their fields and all across the fertile
>breadbasket of central Mexico - the "Bajio" -
>crops are shriveling up.
>
>This July was the driest July in 68 years in 11
>states that account for 84% of Mexican corn
>production. Farmers in Jalisco, the leading
>white corn producer, Zacatecas, Guanajuato,
>Queretero, and Aguascalientes have already lost
>up to 75% of their harvests. At opposite ends
>of the republic, Yucatan and Sonora have been
>devastated by the Sequia. Cattle ranchers
>report catastrophic losses - 50,000 head have
>already died and the price of milk has soared by
>20%. Cruz Lopez, director of the National
>Farmers Confederation (CNC), the nation's
>largest campesino federation, estimates that
>20,000,000 tons of basic grains have been wiped
>out and fears an "historic food crisis" that
>will stir up conflicts between farming
>communities over increasingly shrinking
>resources.
>
>To fend off famine, the Calderon government will
>be forced to up NAFTA corn imports from the
>U.S., already at $25,000,000,000 USD annually -
>about 60% of the imported corn is thought to be
>genetically modified. Sitting in boxcars in
>northern Mexican rail yards, the NAFTA corn is
>an inviting target for nearby colonies of
>unemployed workers who force doors and cart off
>the grain. Newspaper photographs of housewives
>gleaning loose corn along the tracks are
>reminiscent of Mexico's 1910 revolution, the
>first great uprising of the landless in Latin
>America, whose 100th anniversary will be marked
>next year. Some observers are already
>predicting that social upheaval will accompany
>the centennial.
>
>Drought is relentlessly cyclical in central
>Mexico. Rainfall diminishes, underground
>springs dry up, and the sequias collapse whole
>civilizations. Teotihuacan, the first city in
>the Americas to be founded on a corn economy,
>disappeared into dust in the Second Century AD.
>Today, its' justly celebrated pyramids on the
>sun-scorched plains 45 kilometers north of
>Mexico City are all that remain. Half a
>millennium later, the same fate befell the
>Toltec civilization at the north end of the
>valley.
>
>The Aztec-Mexicas inherited a flourishing lake
>system. Tenochtitlan, the seat of their empire
>founded in 1325 (now Mexico City's old quarter),
>was a prosperous island when the Spanish invaded
>in 1521. But a century after the Conquest, the
>lakes had dried up, the bitter fruit of massive
>deforestation on surrounding hillsides. In the
>four centuries since, Mexico City's water
>quandary has perplexed presidents and generals
>and even emperors. Overpopulation has exhausted
>aquifers and the inadequate solution has been to
>suck water from river systems a hundred miles
>away like the Cutzamala whose bounty has to be
>pumped a mile uphill to satisfy the thirst of
>the chilangos.
>
>'FEBRUARY 2010 - A CITY WITHOUT WATER!" read the
>doomsday ads leftist mayor Marcelo Ebrard is
>running every day in the capital's dozen
>newspapers. Jose Ibarreche, an independent
>engineer who contracts with the Mexico state
>water commission, thinks the situation is much
>worse. "If the people really knew what's going
>on, it would cause a panic," he calmly posited
>over café con leche at the downtown Café La
>Blanca one rainless night last week. Reflecting
>this dire prognosis, Mayor Marcelo has installed
>a color-coded warning system that replicates
>U.S. terrorist alerts - red, orange, yellow, and
>green. Last week, the neon warning strung
>between the two City Hall buildings in the
>Zocalo was at red.
>
>With the city suffering a daily 71 million cubic
>meter shortfall, the in-flow has been reduced to
>just 4.4 meters a second, cutting water pressure
>in half. Water tanks on the roofs of luxury
>skyscrapers along the city's most exclusive
>boulevard, the Paseo de Reforma, are compromised.
>
>The flow from the Cutzamala, which accounts for
>30% of the city's water, has itself been cut by
>30% - the seven dams that fill the system have
>recorded zero rainfall thus far in 2009 and
>levels are shrinking below 32%. Water
>accumulated in the dam system during the
>once-upon-a-time rainy season is earmarked for
>delivery to the capital in February, March, and
>April 2010, the hottest, driest months of the
>year in a city already anticipated to be boiling
>over with swine flu panic and insurrectionary
>fever.
>
>Some of the customers clustered around the
>counter at La Blanca are convinced that politics
>have trumped nature in the water war. Cutzamala
>water is the domain of CONAGUA under the
>direction of Calderon's water czar Luis Luege
>Tamargo, the ex-chieftain of the president's
>right-wing PAN party in the capital and a likely
>candidate for mayor in the next election. Berta
>Robledo, a retired nurse and fierce partisan of
>the formerly wildly popular ex-mayor of Mexico
>City Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) suspect
>that the PANista is denying needed water to this
>left-run city to exploit an issue that could
>propel the rightists into City Hall in 2012.
>Others speculate that Marcelo Ebrard has
>exaggerated the city's water problems to
>pressure the Calderon government into forking
>over fresh moneys to revitalize the capital's
>decrepit water system. Ebrard himself is a
>likely presidential candidate in 2012.
>
>Ibarreche explains that contrary to popular
>mythology most of the Capital's water - 71% -
>comes from the city itself via a network of deep
>and diminishing wells that are putting out twice
>as much water than the aquifers can take in.
>According to CONAGUA, Mexico City is extracting
>1.2 billion cubic meters a year from its well
>system and incorporating less than half that,
>512 million cubic meters in the aquifers.
>
>This summer, El Nino, the acute lack of
>rainfall, and climate change (the Mexican
>capital has warmed one degree in the past 10
>years), have brought the wells to the brink of
>apocalypse.
>
>But the big problem is not the missing rain so
>much as what happens when it does. In an average
>year, Jose Ibarreche insists, enough rain falls
>(600 to a 1000 millimeters) to provide the city
>with five years of water - if the run-off can be
>captured, a feat the city is not now equipped to
>handle. Currently, rainwater is swallowed up by
>Mexico City's vaunted Deep Drainage System
>("Drenaje Profundo"), a miracle of engineering
>malfeasance that mixes clean water with the
>megalopolis's sewage ("aguas negras") and sweeps
>them both through mountains into Hidalgo state
>where they eventually find a path to the Gulf of
>Mexico.
>
>To trap the run-off, Ibarreche has been working
>on a series of collectors and artificial lakes
>in the forested highlands of the Valley of
>Mexico and rural areas of the capital such as
>the Ajusco and Cuajimalpa to capture the vital
>fluid when it drills down from the heavens. The
>rainwater will then be treated and injected into
>aquifers to recharge them, a process that can
>take a year. But this year there has been no
>rain and no run-off.
>
>Water distribution in Mexico City reflects the
>class divide. According to city water
>commission stats, 1000 liters a day are
>delivered to every man, woman, and child in
>upscale neighborhoods like Bosques de Lomas and
>Lomas de Chapultepec in the west of the city to
>water their lawns and fill their swimming pools
>and wash their classic cars. Working class
>citizens in the east and north of the city such
>as out in Iztapalapa are ascribed 200. To
>ameliorate the inequity, Mexico City's left
>government threatens to raise rates
>substantially for each 100 liters delivered
>above the city average of 300 per capita -
>Ebrard's Water Secretary Ruben Aguirre wants to
>knock the average down to 150 liters a day. The
>howls of PANistas concerned for their Jacuzzis
>echo in the Mexico City Legislative Assembly
>where Ebrard's Party of the Democratic
>Revolution (PRD) owns the majority.
>
>To tamp down the ire of working class chilangos
>(80% of the capital's population), water is
>super subsidized, selling for 15 to 35 cents USD
>per cubic meter (1000 liters) when the actual
>cost is 20 pesos ($1.80 USD.) The PAN's plan is
>to eliminate subsidies and privatize services,
>arguing that raising rates will conserve water
>by punishing the wasters. Such a platform could
>also incite riot in poorer neighborhoods.
>
>So ominous is the situation that Mexico City's
>12 year-old leftist government is resorting to
>neo-liberal anathema by privatizing services.
>About 16% of the water distribution system has
>been contracted out to four national and
>transnational corporations who now determine and
>measure usage and rates, bill customers, and are
>responsible for treatment and maintenance.
>
>Maintenance is a big money item. About a
>quarter to a third of the city's water is being
>lost to leaks in ancient pipelines, about 12,000
>liters a minute Aguirre calculates, and city
>workers have never been quick to staunch them.
>
>Ebrard's efforts to privatize water services in
>the largest city in the Americas follows the
>takeover of systems in Mexican cities like
>Cancun, Saltillo, and Aguascalientes where water
>rates have risen alarmingly commensurate with
>the projections of the privatizers. In the mix
>are such transnationals as Suez-Lyonnaise
>(French), Aguas de Barcelona, Vivendi Water, and
>Azturix (formerly Enron, now Suez.)
>
>One alternative to leaping on the neo-liberal
>bandwagon: la Brigada de Las Mujeres Plomeras or
>the Women Plumbers' Brigade which trains
>housewives in the city's housing projects in
>plumbing and water conservation arts. Promoted
>by Clara Brugada, an Iztapalapa-based organizer
>and Lopez Obrador's candidate to head that
>downtrodden delegation, the Women Plumbers
>Brigade is modeled on the brigades of "Adelitas"
>or women soldiers assembled by AMLO to stop the
>privatization of the Mexican state petroleum
>corporation PEMEX under the slogan "El Petroleo
>Es Nuestro" ("The oil is ours.") "Well, so is
>the water" Brugada urges.
>
>FIN
>
>John Ross's monstrous "El Monstruo - Dread &
>Redemption in Mexico City" (Nation Books, 500
>pages) will be published this November - he is
>looking for local venues to introduce the
>Monstruo to the North American public. His
>"Iraqigirl", the tale of a teenager coming of
>age under U.S. occupation (Haymarket) is already
>in the stores. If you have further info write
>johnross@igc.org.

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