Category Archives: Mathias Zeumer

Mathias received his bachelor’s in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and is pursuing his master’s in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon School of Law. He interned at the Arab Peace Initiative in East Jerusalem and did fieldwork on land conflicts in Ghana. His research interests include international conflicts, cross-cultural communication, social justice, and structural violence.

Water in Mexico: More Than Just Scarce

by Mathias Zeumer

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world and continues to grow. It has a substantial need for potable water to come into the city and for human bodily waste to exit the city. Those, however, are some of its biggest challenges and pose serious health risks. It was there that I was to get really sick. My friend took me to visit his family and friends in Mexico. His brother lived in the capital. His sister-in-law tried to warn me not to drink the tap water. I said I’d be fine, winked, and proceeded to spend the next five days in the bathroom.

Mexico City has a severe problem with treating its sewage water, which leaves tap water infested with a host of parasites, viruses and bacteria. The vast majority of the capital’s inhabitants are estimated to be suffering from ulcers or stomach and gastrointestinal infirmities, some of which are life threatening. Municipal shortcomings, mismanagement and ailing sewage and pipe systems are the culprits. Mexico City’s most recent efforts to prescribe mandatory water filters for restaurants are merely a Band-Aid for a gaping wound. The fact that most of the capital’s toxic industrial waste goes untreated and ends up in the ground water is no comfort.

A dilapidated pipe system allows clean, potable water to enter the population’s homes and the city’s restaurants. What is unclear is how much sewage water actually leaks into the potable waterways. But that is not the only problem. Like many other cities in Mexico, the capital’s massive fresh water consumption requires water to be pumped from rivers and dams many miles away, requiring copious amounts of energy for the massive pumping systems. In the process, indigenous communities are often cut off from access to their water sources, due to the expropriation of the water by the government to funnel it to urban centers and the industrial sector.

After two major debt crises in the early 1980s and 1990s neoliberalism was prescribed to Mexico as the remedy. With it came the neoliberal dogmas of privatization and the deregulation of international trade and investment. Privatization of Mexico’s water resources bore as a consequence that large transnational corporations now own much of the land in Mexico that contains water. With Mexico being one of the world’s largest consumers of bottled water, bottled drinking water became a multi-billion dollar business in Mexico. For obvious reasons, it might be difficult for Mexico to withstand corporate pressures to orchestrate a total overhaul of Mexico City’s water treatment facilities and water pipes to achieve clean and safe potable tap water; a true privilege only a few countries in the Global North seem to enjoy.

Mexico’s signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement has not contributed to an easing of the dire water situation. Through heightened exports of crops to the U.S. and Canada, Mexico’s agricultural sector had to adapt to the agro-industrial demands of large-scale monoculture practices. The use of toxic pesticides and herbicides pollute the ground water, and the amplified usage of water-intensive fertilizers is taking its toll on Mexico’s already scarce water resources (let alone top soil erosion). Big agribusinesses and heightened water needs of urban sprawling centers continuously result in the construction of more dams, which in turn foster water shortages in rural areas.

Our lavish lifestyles in the Global North and the never-ending greed of multinational corporations to expand, grow, exploit and earn more, at the cost of people, resources, the environment and water — in this rigged game that is capitalism — need some serious reconsideration. It will be hard to live without oil, but it will be impossible to live without water. Overexploitation, wastefulness, scarcity, droughts, water-intensive agribusiness practices, stark pollution of ground water by the corporate entities of the industrial sectors, unjust distribution, mismanagement, and failure to adequately treat water are not only problems that Mexico faces. These are problems that affect us all, everywhere. And we are well advised to care about it, now!