Sunday, May 10, 2009

dry taps in mexico city


Time | The reek of unwashed toilets spilled into the street in the neighborhood of unpainted cinder block houses. Out on the main road, hundreds of residents banged plastic buckets and blocked the path of irate drivers while children scoured the surrounding area for government trucks. Finally, the impatient crowd launched into a high-pitched chant, repeating one word at fever pitch: "Water, Water, Water!"

About five million people, or a quarter of the population of Mexico City's urban sprawl, woke up Thursday with dry taps. The drought was caused by the biggest stoppage in the city's main reservoir system in recent years to ration its depleting supplies. Government officials hope this and four other stoppages will keep water flowing until the summer rainy season fills the basins back up. But they warn that the Mexican capital needs to seriously overhaul its water system to stop an unfathomable disaster in the future. (See pictures of the world water crisis.)

It is perhaps unsurprising that the biggest metropolis in the Western hemisphere is confronting problems with its water supply — and becoming an alarming cautionary tale for other megacities. Scientists have been talking for years about how humans are pumping up too much water while ripping apart too many forests, and warning that the vital liquid could become the next commodity nations are fighting over with tanks and bombers. But it is hard for most people to appreciate quite how valuable a simple thing like water is — until the taps turn off.