For Californians, drought is a common nuisance. Expensive cars are washed with less frequency, imported plants are left to the elements in would-be pristine yards and water bills are regarded with a wince. Nevertheless, people are never forced to forgo showering for a few days or wash dishes by hand rather than in the dishwasher. This is California, after all.
Not so for Mexicans currently experiencing the most severe drought their country has felt in 70 years. In Mexico City, the fine for hosing down a car or watering the lawn during peak daytime hours is anywhere between 1,500 and 15,000 pesos. Crops are wilting in the heat, and increasingly severe water rationing policies are forcing even the wealthy to cut back on their usage. Reservoir levels are dropping at an alarming rate, and, as crops across the country die in the heat, a serious food crisis looms on the horizon.
Importing food is a constant reality within the American economy, where most families never know exactly where their food comes from (or how ethically it was produced). For Mexico, which is already battling a severe recession, the increased costs of imported food could force many Mexican families to go without the staples of their normal diet. Fields of corn, beans, barley and sorghum have been hit particularly hard, causing losses of approximately 1 billion pesos for local farmers. The effects could be felt well into next year.
There is also the unspoken question of how the drought will affect Mexico’s massive illegal drug market. The Mexican drug war has been increasingly dangerous in recent years, but, with the drought, many crops may well dry up and die. Local purchases could decrease significantly as people without employment spend their money on food, rather than overpriced drugs.
Raised prices and lowered access to marijuana, cocaine and opiates could increase the in-fighting between competitive sellers, but other sources of employment would soon seem more appealing to smaller businesses. With fewer sellers on the streets, authorities may be better able to crack down on those who continue to make a business of the illegal drug market.
But for those whose everyday lives are interrupted by the terrible heat, economics is of secondary concern to the simple reality of finding water. In Mexico City, which has a population of 20 million people, some homes have their water cut off for up to six weeks without warning. Government trucks bring in bottles of water for residents, some of whom have attempted to commandeer the vehicles and ensure that their families have access to the precious resource.
An interesting part of Mexico City’s crisis is that the problem is not El Niño-induced water scarcity, as in other areas. Rather, it is a question of managing abundance. Instead of flowing into the city’s underground aquifers, rainwater is channeled into sewers. So instead of relying on hurricanes and natural water flows into the area, the city has spent the last decade over-pumping water, emptying deposits and causing the city to sink, in some areas, by more than a foot a year.
American scientists are constantly innovating and finding new ways to protect natural resources, with water being a key issue in the current environmental discourse. Yet for those nations still battling to simply provide citizens with adequate access to resources, finding a place in the budget for research and restructuring of major systems is nearly impossible.
Although Mexico is feeling the heat today, environmentalists warn that even the United States could face serious consequences sooner than anyone might think. As global warming continues to heat up Earth, every individual, even those who can afford it, should make responsible consumption a priority.
Rosaleen O’Sullivan is a junior majoring in English and international relations. Her column, “Global Grind,” runs Mondays.