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Desperate for water: Drought hits Mexican industrial powerhouse

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Ducks at the dried up Miguel Gomez dam in Santiago, Nuevo Leon State, Mexico, on July 4, 2022.

PHOTO: AFP

MONTERREY, MEXICO (AFP) – Ms Maria Celia Navarro smiles wistfully as she remembers the now-unthinkable luxury of taking a shower in her home before a water shortage struck one of Mexico’s wealthiest cities.

Nestled in mountains a few hours’ drive from the United States border, industrial powerhouse Monterrey boasts living standards that many Mexicans could only dream of.

Residents of the northern city, whose metropolitan area is home to around five million people, have in general been spared the chronic lack of services that plagues many poorer areas of the country.

But for several weeks, a heat wave and dearth of rain means that Monterrey has had running water for only a few hours a day.

In disadvantaged neighborhoods perched on hills, it has been more than 50 days since some residents last saw a drop from their faucets.

“I’m desperate for water,” said Ms Navarro.

The 73-year-old, who is in frail health, said she feels “very depressed” sheltering from the sun in her small, poor ventilated house in the municipality of Garcia.

Even the city’s elderly residents say they cannot remember a time when Monterrey’s households had to cope with so little water.

Despite being a modern and thriving city, home to transnational firms, few houses are equipped with water tanks, which are common in other large cities including the capital Mexico City.

“They weren’t needed,” said municipal councillor Javier Torres, who supervises tanker trucks bringing water to Garcia, where whole families run outside with buckets to collect the precious liquid.

Many residents of Monterrey – capital of the prosperous state of Nuevo Leon – fill improvised storage containers in their homes, unable to afford a large tank due to skyrocketing prices.

A semi-arid climate means that each summer, when the average temperature hits around 38 deg C, the authorities have to monitor the level of several reservoirs supplying the city.

The water in one had dwindled to less than one per cent of its capacity by the end of June, while another was at seven percent and a third at 44 per cent, according to the national water authority.

Mr Samuel Garcia, Nuevo Leon’s 34-year-old state governor, has said a pipeline leak is partly to blame, adding that he “is not Tlaloc” – referring to the Aztec rain god.

Cloud seeding – a technique used elsewhere in Mexico to try to provoke rain by dispersing chemicals in the sky – is one of his proposals to tackle the problem.

Monterrey faces an uncertain outlook due to 15 months of scant rainfall and insufficient management of water resources, according to expert Antonio Hernandez, who closely follows the city’s environmental woes.

Farmers and a booming industrial sector dominated by production of soft drinks, beer, steel and cement have been subject to few restrictions despite the drought, he said.

Radical measures such as halting commercial activities “seem unthinkable to me at the moment,” Mr Hernandez said.

Last week, after negotiations with federal authorities, businesses and farmers agreed to take steps to ease the shortage.

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