Mexico: Water and health issues in developping countries

Hello everybody !

For the beginning of the year and after our three first articles on freshwater issues in North America, it is time for us to publish our 4th article about water distribution issues in Mexico ! In this country, this ressource is a major issue for developpment.

We got our very first glances on the matter way before we even reached Mexico: Remember, back in Arizona, Chloé Fandel talked to us about the Colorado River draining that was performed in order to provide with water the big cities of the American Southwest. She was explaining that when it reaches the Mexican border, the Colorado river is reduced to 10% of its initial flow in Lake Powell… Yet, North Mexico’s droughts are as severe as the ones in Arizona. But the political and economical weight of the American neighboor makes Mexico unable to negociate efficiently this matter. A local saying states « Poor Mexico, born so far from God and so close from the USA ! »

Moreover, Dennis, the ranchman we worked for, told us a pretty interesting American saying about Mexico’s water. He called it « Revenge of Montezuma », from the name of the Aztec emperor that faced the spanish conquests during the 16th century. Why so ? Because many years after his defeat, gringos coming to Mexico sometimes drink tap water… and undergo his terrible medical vengeance ! The main warning for foreigners in Mexico is not about narco violence but about water consumption ! Which leads us to a fundamental problem for big Mexican cities.

Hygiene and water distribution

Mexico city is 2000 meters high. It was built by the Spanish conquerors five hundred years ago on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, a Maya city built on a lake ! As a result Mexico has great amount of underground water reserves which partially feed its people. But those reserves are running low and today, a big part of the city’s resources are brought from outside through hundred-miles-long ditches ! During its journey, the water evaporates, gets dirty and contaminated, and leaks out. By the way, because of the pumping of underground reserves, the city sinks in the ground 40cm a year… If you visit Mexico’s downtown, you will notice some leaning buildings. We have to precise that only the people that live in central areas benefit from home distribution. Some people that live in the suburbs may have access to the ressource only a couple of times a week.

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Mexico’s cathedral leans to the right

With Greg, we immediately notice that nobody drinks tap, even mexican people. People choose « garafones », big cans of drinkable water that are delivered to housings, small businesses and restaurants that can’t afford a filter in their installations. Because tap water is not healthy: viruses and bacterias multiply in those and they cause many medical risks for people that consume it, especially young children.

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A truck delivering garafones

Major issue: poor regions of the country do not always have access to those healthy water. For cost reasons, but also for logistic ones, many farmers from the Chiapas or the Guerrero (Mexican states) cannot provide themseves with « garafones » delivering, and risk their health while consuming local – and non healthy – waters.

How to provide them with healthy water?

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Zinacatan, a village of the poorest state of Mexico: The Chiapas

Meeting with MakeSense.

As soon as we arrived in Mexico city, we were warmly welcomed by MakeSense Mexico, an entrepreuneurship network that links entrepreneurs and people eager to help them (directly or indirectly) in their projects. MakeSense Mexico focuses on water related issues in Mexico City. Every year, they pick out six projects and support them in order to help them grow. In this context, we meet a few of the entrepreneurs competing for this mentoring program.

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Meeting with Makesense in their office !

We’ve met Fernando who develops the project « Somos Agua » which aims at providing clean water to poor families thanks to a long-duration filter. He tells us about a terrifying reality: deseases linked to dirty water consumption are the second cause of child mortality in Mexico. Amongst poor families, the consequences are so harsh that some census projects don’t even count children who are less than 5 years old… Because their chance of survival is much weaker than if they were living in cities. Gastritis, infections but also cholera are real threats for those people. Access to clear water is a major issue for them.

Fernando and his team have conceived a easy-to-use filter that makes those families able to filter water from rivers and wells. The filter works for several years without having to be replaced. For a five person family, it can work for three years. Today, he is mentored by MakeSense which helps him to find finances to scale his project up (Somos Agua already distributed 6000 filters!)

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Fernando pitches his project

Another important meeting for us was with « Gotas de Esperanza », a start-up that conceived a machine to create drinkable water from only humidity in the air ! The last prototypes could produce 5 000 liters of water a day, even in dry areas !

We met many other projects and entrepreneurs during the events we participated to. Many times, filters and way to clean water were brought up. But people also talked about the ways to gather the water Mexican people get during the wet season in order to use it during the rest of the year. Everytime, the entrepreneurs were motivated and convinced by the strength of their project, and it was heartwhelming to witness them defend their own ! Let’s wish them good luck 🙂 !

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MakeSense’s pitching contest night

We concluded our collaboration with MakeSense with the interview of Fernanda who is in charge of the mentoring program named « Agua Urbana ». She speaks about the importance of having access to clean water for poor people that can face severe consequences when consuming dirty water. She talks us about the drought issues in Mexico, which hydrology is complicated. Indeed, every year, underground reserves of Mexico city get lower, it is then important to acknowledge new ways to gather water reserves. Rains are rare in Mexico but in the rainy season they can be strong and abundant for a short period of time, sometimes causing seious flood damages. Fernanda works with a project that aims at building wells to gather this unused water in order to consume it later in the year. What a surprise when we hear this project that reminds us of Chloé’s one, with gabions in Arizona ! We let you enjoy Fernanda’s interview.

Cheers from Colombia !

See you soon,

Antoine