The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Severe Water Shortage

Aug 15, 2022

Local governments have partially or totally cut off the supply of water to people across a huge swath of Northern Mexico. In some parts of Monterrey, one of the country’s biggest and richest cities with about five million people, there has been no running water for more than 75 days. When a little water does come out of the tap, it is green, foul-smelling, and full of particles.

Supplies of bottled water have also been running out, and prices have skyrocketed. The government has been sending water trucks out to the parched neighborhoods, but they often arrive just once a week. Residents wait in line for hours, and in some cases, anger has boiled over, with residents stoning and stealing water trucks and breaking into pipes.

Large numbers of people are getting sick and many are dying from dehydration, heatstroke, or drinking polluted water. Small farmers have seen their livestock and crops die. Small businesses like restaurants and flower shops cannot operate.

Part of the problem is caused by the climate. Northern Mexico has faced years of drought, and this year is one of the worst. In the entire state of Nuevo Leon, which includes Monterrey, not one drop of rain fell in the entire month of March, the first time that has happened since the government began keeping records. Average temperatures in big parts of Nuevo Leon exceeded 100 degrees for many days in a row. These conditions are likely to worsen as climate change accelerates.

Another culprit: under a 1944 treaty, Mexico is required to give the U.S. a set amount of water each year. This year, the water came from two dams that normally feed Mexican farmers. Instead, those farmers got water from a dam that normally feeds Monterrey.

Northern Mexico has also been steadily gaining in population as large numbers of industries have located there, especially to produce for the U.S. market. But while the local, state, and federal governments have given tax breaks and built the necessary infrastructure to attract this investment, they haven’t put nearly enough into the region’s basic water infrastructure. As a result, there is a shortage of water storage and treatment systems, and of pollution protections.

But in fact, there is still water available in this part of Mexico—for some. Of course, the rich neighborhoods get water first—irrigated, green golf courses continue to dot the landscape. More importantly, today, Monterrey has facilities for more than 40% of the world’s largest manufacturers, many based in the U.S., including in aerospace, steel, electronics and beverages. These industries have concessions that give them first dibs on what water there is.

No one even knows how much they take. The national water law says that all holders of water concessions must have a meter, but an anti-corruption advocacy group found that only about 11% actually do. But it’s clear the companies take out huge amounts. To give one example, soft drink companies like Coca Cola and brewers like Heineken have major facilities in Monterrey that continue to operate—combined, brewers and soft drink makers draw 24 billion gallons of water a year. Other factories that consume large amounts of water, like the giant Ternium steel mill, also produce without pause. Large farms, often producing for export to the U.S., overdraw water supplies for their fields—with their concessions requiring them to pay nothing for the water they use.

On June 28, the Mexican government issued an official communication "exhorting industrial and agricultural companies in Monterrey to temporarily give up some water to supply the population." It announced that some companies, that, combined, control 49.9 million cubic meters of water, agreed to let the Monterrey water department access 3.6 million of those—while the companies kept the rest.

Since then, a few companies have donated a few cases of bottled water or given a little water back to the city’s water system. All the while, the shortage continues to worsen, and the government has made no moves to take back the water from these companies to help the people who are literally dying of thirst.

The Mexican bourgeoisie—and behind it, the U.S. bourgeoisie—have their priorities. Profit comes first, and the population’s desperate thirst is just an afterthought.