Water Scarcity a Major Source of Inequality in Mexico: OECD Chief

27 Jun 2014 by OOSKAnews Correspondent

Lack of water is one of the main sources of inequality in Mexico and throughout Latin America, according to José Ángel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

While some parts of Mexico have enough water to meet demand without conflict, in the two-thirds of the country where there is the most economic development and the highest population concentrations, there is high demand for water resources that have already been committed for other uses, Gurría said at the inauguration of Latin American Water Week, which was held in Mexico City from June 23rd to 27th.

He said Mexico’s social, economic, and political stability has been compromised by conflicts that have broken out in some of the country's basins due to increasing water demand and competition among different users.

According to the country’s 2014-2018 National Water Program, 69 percent of the natural runoff available in Mexico is concentrated in the basins of the Balsas, Santiago, Verde, Ometepec, Fuerte, Grijalva-Usumacinta, Papaloapan, Coatzacoalcos, Pánuco, Tecolutla, Bravo and Tonalá rivers.

The area drained by these 12 rivers corresponds to only 38 percent of the surface area of Mexico, however, meaning that more than 60 percent of the country has only about 31 percent of the natural runoff, he said.

Of the 731 hydrological basins in the country, 104 have water availability issues. Over-exploitation of aquifers is increasing, Gurría warned -- 32 aquifers were over-exploited in 1975, and by 2013 that number had risen to 106. 

"If we improve the efficiency of water in rural areas, we will improve supply in cities,” he said.

He called for the removal of subsidies on natural resources like water or fuel, since "when we give things away, people cease to appreciate them.”

"In spite of advances, countries must confront crucial challenges in the administration and use of water,” he said. “In the OECD, we analyzed 13 Latin American countries, and … we concluded that the region faces serious challenges in terms of quantity and quality of water... It is calculated that in Latin America 36.8 million people still lack access to secure sources of potable water and almost 70 million will not have access to sanitation services next year.” 

He cited institutional fragmentation as another major challenge in designing and implementing water policies in the region.

During Latin American Water Week, World Water Council (WWC) President Benedito Braga called for development of a regional agenda for water management, with fair and balanced decision-making, attention to shared needs and construction of water infrastructure.

Braga said wastewater treatment was a major issue for Latin America, and no country has good record in this regard. However, he recognized the Mexican city of Durango for its sanitation and reuse of 100 percent of its wastewater, a practice he urged all the world's cities to adopt.

Mexican National Water Commission (Conagua) Director David Korenfeld said the goal of the water week was to look at the problems of water in Mexico and Latin America as a whole, as well as to promote partnerships and alliances between individuals and organizations with different specializations related to water security and to provide water management solutions.