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Rio+20 challenge: access to water in Mexico City

Lives revolve around finding water in parts of Mexico City, where 33 percent of residents don't have daily access to it.

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"Sometimes I bathe my four children with a single bucket of water," Garcia Velazquez says. "Water is what we are always thinking about."

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Access to water is particularly bad during the dry season, which runs from late spring to fall: Citywide shortages are common. But in Tecalipa, it means that piles of dirty clothes lie strewn across the house and dirty dishes pile up on a counter outside. When it starts to rain, Garcia Velazquez can let down her guard. But in a cruel twist, the rainy season is when her husband's life gets more complicated: Despite chronic water shortages, Mexico City is also prone to flooding during torrential rainfalls.

With pressure on aquifers, the city is sinking, taxing the drainage system. So streets fill with rain, backing up already snarled traffic and turning commutes into hours-long affairs.

"Sometimes he comes home soaking wet," says Garcia Velazquez of her husband, who works as a welder in the city. When traffic is at a standstill, he gets off the bus and walks home.

The threat of serious flooding is so big that the city is undertaking a massive sewer tunnel project that includes plans for water treatment to help on the supply side.

On a recent day, down the hill from Garcia Velazquez's house, her sister Carmen's 4-year-old rushes up to his mom. "Water, water," he says. She pours him a glass. All the water they drink they buy, in 20-liter containers, spending about $10 a week, or about a 12th of their family income. They, like 11 percent of the world's population, according to the WHO, lack access to safe drinking water.

Carmen Garcia Velazquez says water dominates their community, rainy season or not. On weeks with public holidays falling on Mondays, for example, the water truck never arrives. So residents often pool money to buy their own private supply. And at least twice a month, she says, the truck arrives without enough water, so some families are left lacking. "There can be fights in the community," she says. "Most will share a bucket of their own water, but some don't want to." She says she tries to help as she can: If a family hasn't managed their water well one week, she'll allow the children to bathe at her house before school. "That is what bothers me the most, thinking about the hygiene of my children," she says.

When Carmen goes to bed at night, she lets herself think about what it would be like to have a faucet with a limitless supply. She thinks about cleaning the blankets on the beds and enlisting the kids in chores. But for now she and her sister can't afford a careless action, a bucket spilled on the way up the steps, or a child washing a pair of tennis shoes with the same amount of water a mother could wash the entire household's clothes. "It's not worth it," she says.


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