Mexican community wins fight for water supply

Pedregales, south of Mexico City, has suffered constant cuts in its water supply for more than two years. During this time, Teresa Sánchez, a resident, used rainwater to do her laundry. (Photo by Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico)

By Mayela Sanchez, Senior Reporter

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — In March, life returned to normal for Teresa Sánchez, who had gone without access to running water for months at a time. Sánchez lives in Pedregales, an area of Coyoacán. Here, running water has historically been a luxury, not a standard, she says.

Sporadic supply, low water pressure and leaks are common in parts of Coyoacán, one of 16 delegations in Mexico City, the country’s capital.

Early this year, Sánchez joined forces with her neighbors to devise a solution to the long-standing water crisis. The group of residents, Vecinos Unidos de Coyoacán, participated in a series of discussions with local officials and officials from Mexico City’s water system, Sistema de Aguas de la Ciudad de México (SACMEX).

Talks came to an end on March 12, with SACMEX agreeing to provide members of the neighborhood organization with water every three days. The decision has eased day-to-day living for some of the delegation’s dwellers.

“We’re already leading our normal lives,” says Sánchez, whose family is one of 100 in Pedregales now receiving water more frequently.

Without intending to, the agreement has shielded these residents against a recurring practice in the delegation: politicians’ use of water as a bargaining chip, says Natalia Lara, liaison of the neighborhood organization.

In communities across Mexico City, demand for water exceeds supply. While outdated distribution networks are widening this gap, local experts say that politics and inconsistent implementation of water-management policies have added to the shortages. The politicization of water has, however, also given rise to community action.

Following constitutional reform in 2012, the government declared access to water a human right. According to 2015 government estimates, nearly 95 percent of the population has access to water through piped networks, but poor management of water systems has led to intermittent supply in many places.

Water is widely considered a national asset. In Mexico City, SACMEX is responsible for drinking-water services, sanitation, sewage and wastewater treatment. But delegation governments manage certain tasks, including the delivery of water through tanks and the management of water valves.

According to 2015 government estimates, nearly 95 percent of the population has access to water through piped networks, but poor management of water systems has led to intermittent supply in many places.

This system has contributed to the recurrent use of water as a tool for political support, says David Morales González, a lecturer in political science and administration at Facultad de Estudios Superiores Acatlán, a tertiary school. In some communities, if residents refuse to vote for a particular political party, there’s a risk that they may no longer have access to public services, he adds.

For more than a decade, Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), a political party, has had majority rule in Coyoacán. Mexico’s presidential and congressional elections will take place on July 1, along with elections in 30 states.

Lara says that some of the delegation’s officials have taken advantage of water scarcity here, at times delivering water tankers to PRD supporters and those they’ve struck deals with.

“Here, if they want something, they offer,” says A.D., referring to the PRD. A.D., who asked that only his initials be published to avoid reprisal, lives in Pedregal de Santo Domingo, a part of Pedregales. A.D. has pledged his support to the delegation’s leaders, whom he says act on behalf of the PRD. He says he’s provided the delegation with a copy of his ID card, the document required for voting. In exchange for this act, he’s received a water tank and money to build a cistern for his home.

Global Press on multiple occasions contacted Coyoacán’s authorities and the PRD in Mexico City for a response to these allegations, but they did not comment.

Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish to English.

This article was originally published on Global Press Journal.