The privatization and plunder of water

Monterrey, Mexico: A microcosm of global drought

April 2022. A crowd fills containers at a public water distribution as they contend with brutal drought conditions in the Monterrey region of Mexico. PHOTO: Daniel Becer / Reuters
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Families in poorer neighborhoods in the wealthy metropolis of Monterrey had dry taps for over a month in summer 2022. Residents of 400 neighborhoods were forced to rely on water trucks for brackish water in the second largest city in Mexico.

Meanwhile, beverage companies nearby, Coca Cola and Heineken, were siphoning billions of liters from public reservoirs. Wealthier neighborhoods were allotted running water for up to 12 hours a day to keep their lawns green and pools filled. This water crisis and its inequities foretell the same upheaval looming over the western United States and throughout the world.

Multiple causes led to this perfect storm in Mexico’s manufacturing center. The weather phenomenon La Niña, intensified by climate change, brought drought. Increased heat and lack of rainfall drained its three reservoirs. Rapid industrial and population growth outpaced the neglected water infrastructure. Profiteering mega-factories making Caterpillar tractors, Carrier air conditioners and Mercedes-Benz buses continued to suck water from the city’s strained aquifers.

Poorer neighborhoods located further from the city’s major aqueduct experienced weeks-long dry taps because water pressure was too low to reach their homes. City government’s inaction and lack of planning led to families suffering through sweltering heat and carrying buckets of water long distances to cook, bathe and drink.

Worldwide crisis. Water disenfranchisement afflicts poor people and communities of color globally, with extreme drought plaguing entire regions of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Water wars between countries are escalating, as severe weather events and desertification drive whole populations from their homes. Turkey’s hydroelectric dams, for example, have cut almost all water flow to Iraq.

Government neglect, massive corporate depletion and privatization of water, and severe climate-caused drought are to blame. The United States is no exception. More than a third of the country is experiencing water scarcity. This year, over 1,300 wells in California went dry.

In the San Joaquin Valley, home of many low-income Latinx workers, emergency water tanks were installed to keep taps running. Hedge funds and other investors, anticipating further water shortages, have been buying land to sell water to municipalities at exorbitant rates, over ten-fold what it would normally cost.

Water is a human right. Creative reforms are necessary for survival now, and corporate theft of water and climate destruction must be stopped. The Change Coalition in California’s Central Valley acknowledges that continued drought requires reducing farming operations by almost half. It seeks to convert some farmland into wildlife habitat and other land to solar farms to provide jobs to residents while prioritizing safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities. However, this is a temporary fix.

Under capitalism, water crises such as Monterrey’s will only continue to grow in scale. Privatizing water rights puts this vital natural resource under control of free market profiteers. It is this production-for-profit mentality that has led to climate change in the first place, with all its destructive manifestations. Only careful socialist planning and public management can mitigate the seismic disruptions to and degradation of this essential resource.

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