The capital of Mexico nowadays represents a largely urbanized and heavily populated area where water scarcity, missing access and pollution are grave, yet long-lasting problems . Despite having periods of rainfall statistically everyday for a period of almost six months, poor planning, a lack of infrastructure investment and corruption have led to water shortages affecting especially poorer neighbourhoods .
The official statistic of the National Household Survey in 2017 estimated that in Mexico City, only 79% of households have daily water supply. Furthermore, that study found that 11% of homes receive water only two or even fewer times a week . Future projections by the World Bank and Mexico’s National Water Commission foresee even more severe water deficits by 2030, induced by urban growth and climate change and gravely affecting water access for millions of inhabitants .
Since 2012, water has finally been a constitutionally protected human right and is heavily subsidised, but its implementation in legislation is still absent and thus water often does not arrive at all or in bad quality. The coordination of the Water System of Mexico City (Sacmex) admitted that more than 40% of the city’s running water is lost to leaks . The water that arrives is contaminated by a variety of -sometimes- deadly bacteria. According to researchers at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma, Mexico City ranks first in the world for gastrointestinal infections from water consumption .
Although these problems are well known, solutions strategies in the context of Mexico City and the country itself, usually concentrate on private management, containing a dominant agenda of economic efficiency. These dominant strategies were not able to significantly improve water access infrastructure for vulnerable people, while at the same time water tariffs rates were increasing and creating economic distress for large shares of already precarious living citizens .
A fact tragically illustrated best by the cities semi-privatized Cutzamala water supply system, where water is coming from a small lake 100 km away from the capital, through 30-year-old pipes in desperate need of maintenance. Simultaneously water supply by this important system is deeply separated among the socioeconomic profile of the neighbourhoods which it crosses. In fact, poorer neighborhoods are more often exposed to water shortages and cut-offs while unofficial settlements almost have no access to such a water supply .
Since the 90s, water service contracts are in the hand of four private corporations, organized in four sections of the Federal District. Each of these companies is a mixed venture, consisting out of 51% of Mexican companies and 49% multinationals, including Veolia Water and Suez Environment . From the beginning, the involvement of these companies was questioned due to the frequent overbilling mistakes and distress affecting the population . Over the years, NGOs reported a multitude of cases where the private concessionaires failed to fulfill their obligations in the maintenance of hydraulic infrastructure, while gaining high profits out of their contracts .
Several attempts to further privatize services were made in recent years. In 2009, a scheme to privatize infrastructure maintenance was announced. This scheme excluded five delegaciones (regional areas), leaving city parts with the biggest technical and social challenges under the authority of the city government . In 2015 another debate in the national context about a neoliberal approach to water management favoured by the powerful central water authority aroused. The plan of the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), contained a privatization friendly agenda and led to marches with thousands of protesters claiming that “El H20 no es un negocio - Water is not a business.’’ . The agenda was based on a controversial General Water Law (Ley General del Agua), also known as the 'Korenfeld Law' after a leading politician of the ruling party and also the director of CONAGUA. It was largely based on a technocratic interpretation of the constitutional reforms mandate to institutionalize the human right to water. Due to the public outcry, the law was later suspended .
On the other side Civil Society Actors and advocates for the improvement of public management such as 'Agua para Todxs' are challenging the ineffective water management . In 2015, a citizen’s initiative was started containing a socially inclusive approach developed by activists, academics and civil society groups with a human rights agenda for universal and equitable access to water. That approach was explicitly focused on marginalized poor communities, healthy watersheds, and an expanded capacity for citizen participation. Although the demands of civil society actors and the success of a progressive coalition in the last elections showed that traditional power imbalances are shifting, a legally binding framework to guarantee the universal human right to water without discrimination is still not implemented .
In times of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mexico City became a grave example of the gap between rich and poor. Entities in charge are discriminating users actively by favouring the distribution of scarce water resources and infrastructure developments towards richer, more lucrative, and thus powerful citizens . The capital of Mexico soon became the epicenter of the countries Covid-19 infections and especially poorer parts as the overcrowded neighbourhood Iztapalapa, were severely affected by the virus. Missing or only very limited access to safe water supply and thus hygiene measures resulted in high infection and fatality rates among its residents. In absence of any social protection, many residents are forced to expose themselves to the virus in order to survive economically  . In the light of these grave water access inequalities, the government's approach to tackle the pandemic by public health campaigns based on water and sanitation as a prevention strategy seems tragically paradox .