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A water crisis restricts usage to 6 hours a day in one of Mexico's largest cities

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Water is in short supply in Monterrey, Mexico. The three dams that supply the city of more than 5 million people with water are close to being dry. Authorities now restrict water to just six hours each day. And, of course, the city is hot - often more than 100-degree days for most of the summer.

Marcos Martinez Chacon is a reporter for the Associated Press who's based in Monterrey. Mr. Chacon, thanks so much for being with us.

MARCOS MARTINEZ CHACON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What's it like to live in Monterrey this summer?

CHACON: Well, it's a difficult situation, Scott. Residents here are experiencing a mix of panic, disbelief. The water supply and the network of the city has failed to provide this service in some places for around three to four weeks.

SIMON: Some people haven't had any water for three or four weeks? Is that what you said?

CHACON: That's right. There are residents that I spoke to that told me that they are feeling panicked, that they are feeling desperate. They either go to public parks where local authorities have installed huge water tanks where people can sort of fill up their jugs and take them back home, or they can go to stores, but also, we're seeing shortages in convenience stores and supermarkets.

SIMON: This is going to sound awfully naive, but what if a child needs a drink of water in the middle of the night?

CHACON: That's the problem. For instance, the poor regions, they are protesting. They are blocking important avenues, roads. They are demanding the government to send water tanks. But the issue is affecting definitely most of the poorer communities. The most affluent regions, of course, the residents there have the resources to buy water tanks that they then install in their homes that can help them. So we're seeing this inequality as well, and people are growing angrier as time passes by.

SIMON: What's the cause, Mr. Chacon? Is it as simple as drought?

CHACON: Authorities and experts have told me that it's a mixture of an intense drought, as you mentioned, poor planning by the government, and also a high water use that definitely has left the residents of this industrial powerhouse to resort to extreme measures. People are storing water in buckets to basically use it in a scoopful at a time.

SIMON: I mean, there are beer and soft drink bottlers in Monterrey, aren't there? They must use an awful lot of water.

CHACON: That's right. And authorities have been calling on these industries to share the water that they have been basically granted by the government through decades-old permits that sometimes have run unchecked on how much water they are using and how they are exploiting it.

SIMON: I mean, recognizing that those are big industries and important to Monterrey in their own way, are you saying that there are beer and soft drink producers who are able to use water, while some people haven't been able to brush their teeth in three or four weeks?

CHACON: That's right. The urban consumption - the water that people use - comes from three major dams in the region. Two of those are almost dry. A third one is the one that the metropolitan area is relying on right now mostly. And the industry's function and the water consumption that they use comes from wells. So the government is trying to negotiate and convince those industries to share those resources that were granted to them decades ago. That's why the industry hasn't stopped functioning right now.

SIMON: Are there Americans who will be able to drink a bottle of Mexican beer this weekend while people actually in Monterrey, Mexico, don't have any water?

CHACON: That's a good way to put it. There's a crisis that, of course, experts have said that is and was caused by poor planning. The government at the state and federal level have said that a fourth dam was needed and wasn't built in time, that a project that was aimed at providing water to Monterrey for the next 50 years wasn't built when it was supposed to be built. So that also explains this contrast that you're mentioning.

SIMON: The National Water Commission of Mexico has formally declared a state of emergency across the country because of drought. This must be a very tough summer for many Mexicans.

CHACON: According to the North American Drought Monitor, for example, 56% of Mexico is experiencing some level of drought. Regions like Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila are also seeing the impacts of this intense drought that has run longer than usual and that some experts say is caused by a mix of La Nina, the weather phenomenon, and also climate change.

SIMON: Marcos Martinez Chacon is with the Associated Press in Monterrey. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

CHACON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.