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2014 Drought affects Mexico

May 2011 - April 2014, Drought Monitor Indice
May 2011 - April 2014, Drought Monitor Indice
National Climactic Data Center, NOAA

According to the United Nations, Mexico is a middle-development country. Its water and sewer infrastructure remains underdeveloped, and water quality is also insecure. The 2014 drought and other climate changes are bound to have more severe effects in this growing arid-tropical nation bordering the United States; however by coordinating research with the United States, successful mitigative solutions are in progress.

Roots of Mexico's historical water problem

Mexico's public utility infrastructure problems are well known. American tourists generally avoid drinking the local water, which is likely to give "jelly-belly." Parts of the country are also prone to earthquakes, exacerbating drinking water security.

Four centuries ago, the victorious Spaniards chose to build Mexico City over Lake Texcoco; however the plan for draining much of the once plentiful freshwater lake system has raised endemic water shortages.

Today, much of Mexico City's fresh water must be imported from distant reservoirs, and consequently the inhabitants endure water shortages. To make matters worse, that the city's water distribution, quality, and serviceability remain inequitable. According to The Guardian, "Those who live beyond the reach of the city's water pipes must buy water from trucks (called pipas) that distribute water out of a large hose at an even higher cost."

Geo-Mexico.com reports that not only is the ground under Mexico City literally sinking gradually due to over-pumping of the aquifir but "a lack of confidence in the purity of public water supplies" has created a reputation of Mexicans drinking "more bottled water per person than anywhere else in the world."

Privitization of tapwater, public bathrooms, baths, hotwater, water systems, even natural springs may become the new norm, but this barely addresses the huge challenge of treatment and disposal of billions of gallons of sewage.

Drought-like conditions since 2011

The drought of the past several years creates even more havoc as sanitation strictures decrease due to water scarcity. According to the North American Drought Monitor Indices, lower-than-normal precipation averages in Southwest United States extend across the border affecting the Mexican border states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, and Durango.

Even the tropical regions of Mexico have been affected by climate change, apparently receiving less rainfall year-round according to 24-month and 48-month maps. In fact, the pattern of less rainfall is also reflected in the 60-month map.

Mexico's northern states recorded more severe drought in 2011 and 2012, forcing ranchers to sell their cattle, farmers to drastically reduce their harvests, and Tarahumara Indians along with 60,000 other families needing food aid, according to the GlobalPost.com. Drought conditions continued in 2013, as reported by The Crop Site:

The situation is most dire in the northern and central states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, and Nuevo León, but even some southern states like Oaxaca and Guerrero are facing drought conditions.

Reduced tropical precipitations are affecting reliance on dry-irrigation farming, impacting growth and production, and inducing outbreaks of forest fires.

The 2014 drought affects many living along the Southwestern US-Mexico border, but despite this, there are signs of cooperation and mutual aid. After all, geographic features such as rivers, streams, hydrologic basins, and aquifirs carved from mountain ranges and valleys know no map-drawn boundaries.

Shared interests, shared preparedness

Today, indigenous tribes such as O'odham are split into tribal lands spanning the US-Mexico border; the Rio Grande is fed by waters on both sides. Crossings and ports support commerce. But a myriad of desert flora and fauna from riverbeds to canyon tops also face common habitat extinction due to climate change.

As drought is affecting livelihoods on both sides of the border, the United States has assumed the lead in Climate Preparedness. Last June 2013, President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University outlining this plan. Although an Interagency Climate Change Task Force had been in place since 2009, the need for public data, information-sharing, and engaging private-public partnerships for intelligent decision-making has grown exponentially.

If anything, available maps and data portend a critical need for embracing human adaptation, weather modeling, and more cutting edge macrotechnologies. The North American Drought Monitor is a "cooperative effort between drought experts in Canada, Mexico and the United States to monitor drought across the continent on an ongoing basis." The National Climactic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now prepares monthly maps and reports not only for the contiguous states of U.S. and Mexico, but across the globe.

Sharing of climate data can instill a sense of cooperation in emergency responses to climate extremes, incipient conditions, hazards, and other emergencies. For instance, crossborder monitoring of biohazards might include polluted ground or surface waters, fecally contaminated fruits and vegetables, wind-spread forest fires and toxic pollutants, containment of disease or pests, as well as securing resources.

The fact of the matter is that the current extended drought draws people together no matter their ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds. From California's central coast communities down through Baja California, towns are having to ration water, convert lawns to drought resistant landscaping, prioritize allocations, and consider alternatives for developing new water sources, anything from deeper wells to strategic storage facilities to desalination plants.

In Ensenada, Baja California, extreme water rationing has forced residents to invest in tinacos, rooftop water tanks, or tambos, 50-gallon bins. According to U-T San Diego, emergency funds have helped fund four new wells, and the popular tourist town is scheduled to begin construction of the first large-scale desalination plant in August.