Mexico faces major challenges in terms of water availability and access. Eight of the country's 13 hydrological regions suffer from water stress (the Valley of Mexico being the region that suffers the most from this phenomenon); two-thirds of the population lives in regions where there is less water, and of the 653 aquifers, 157 are overexploited.

These data are reflected more specifically in multiple deficiencies for the population: 14 states have significant lags in terms of daily access to water and sanitation services; approximately 10 million people do not have access to water, and many of those who do have this service are unaware of its quality or do not receive it on a continuous basis.

The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) estimates that only 53.6% of the population has daily access to water in their homes, while INEGI estimates that due to the lack of access to water, 1 out of every 3 people must carry it home, mainly women and children.

On the other hand, climate change and its major effects on water resources further aggravate the problem. The sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was recently published, which clearly shows the impact of this phenomenon on the hydrological cycle, leading to more intense rainfall, floods, and droughts.

This analysis predicts that if the temperature increases to a warming of 1.5 °C, heat waves will increase, warm seasons will lengthen and cold seasons will shorten. On the other hand, at a warming of 2 °C, extreme heat events would reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health more frequently, while coastal areas would experience a continued rise in sea level, which would contribute to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas.

In the case of cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, particularly heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings) and flooding due to intense precipitation events in shorter periods. All of the above implies serious damage to public and private property, damage to infrastructure, and, in the worst cases, loss of life.

In Mexico, the National Water Commission estimates that, by 2050, the country's climate will be between 2 and 4 degrees warmer, and between 2060 and 2090 a reduction in precipitation of between 10-28% is predicted.

These effects have been evident in the country since the beginning of this year, firstly through a severe drought that affected the availability of water in different regions, as was the case in the north and in the Valley of Mexico and, secondly, through heavy rains and floods that have had a great impact on entities such as the State of Mexico and Hidalgo. All this in the same year.

On the other hand, we are experiencing an accelerated phenomenon of damage to ecosystems and natural areas, which are of incalculable value since they are the main sources of water, guaranteeing the long-term availability of this precious resource for different uses, but which are seriously threatened by deforestation, immoderate logging, illegal invasions, erosion and accelerated urbanization processes.

In Mexico, up to 128,000 hectares of forest cover are lost annually; it is estimated that in the last 13 years, 9,000 hectares of forests and natural areas that supply water to the Valley of Mexico have been lost, while in Mexico City, it is estimated that between 150 and 200 hectares of conservation land are lost each year, thus compromising water security.

Furthermore, the importance of water for people's health is clear, especially in the context of a pandemic that requires people to be able to wash their hands and have access to water for consumption in a safe manner, in the necessary quantity and quality in their homes, workplaces and schools. Undoubtedly, the levels of inequality, development, and social inequity in our country and its regions are exacerbated by the lack of access and availability of water in sufficient quality and quantity.

Faced with this complex scenario, what can we do? It is necessary to promote new management models, public policies, and laws that address the problem in a comprehensive manner, with a long-term vision, a sense of inclusion and equity, and incorporating the dimension of risk and climate uncertainty, as well as the protection and care of ecosystems, including the use of nature-based solutions to promote better water management.

The budgetary component deserves special attention at this time, given that the Federal Executive recently submitted to the Chamber of Deputies the proposed Expenditure Budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Although this proposal proposes an increase of 36% with respect to 2020 in nominal terms (in the order of 33,916 million pesos).

Although it is an advance, this budget is still far from the infrastructure investment needs that the different regions and communities need to expand their coverage and services, given that it is not only about the construction of new infrastructure, but also about the maintenance of the existing one, many of which already have severe deficiencies in their attention for their proper operation. Significant resources must also be contemplated to deal with emergencies resulting from climatic phenomena such as those we have experienced this year.

The magnitude of the challenge we face is enormous. If we want to achieve the water security required by the country and its inhabitants, we must make in-depth decisions, in a co-responsible manner among the different stakeholders and sectors, with a long-term perspective. We must not forget that the water challenge is a present-day problem and that we still have time to address it.

By Eduardo Vázquez, Executive Director of Agua Capital. Source: El Sol de Mexico