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Mexico City is facing a crisis as it sinks by as much as 40cm annually, driven by a deepening water shortage that dates back 500 years. The city’s reliance on underground water as the aquifer drains has caused the ground to settle, leading to dramatic subsidence. The situation is particularly dire in disenfranchised areas like Iztapalapa, where the water supply is inconsistent, leading to shortages and even stopping entirely for days or weeks.

The historical problem of water shortage in Mexico City dates back to the Spanish conquest of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan and the draining of the surrounding lake system over the centuries. This has led to a difficult relationship with water, with the city now reliant on importing fresh water at great expense. The subsidence has caused issues like listing buildings, uneven streets, and compromised infrastructure, such as the metro system which is deteriorating. The city is also losing a significant amount of water due to leaks from broken pipes, further exacerbating the crisis.

The looming water crisis has already arrived for many residents in Mexico City, with water shortages affecting large parts of the population. The depletion of the Cutzamala Water System, which provides 30% of the city’s water, has led to talk of a potential Day Zero when wells run dry. However, the deeper issue lies in the aquifer beneath the city, which supplies 70% of the water consumed. Experts warn that without immediate action, a total water disaster is inevitable, with estimates ranging from five to 20 years before the aquifer is depleted.

The city’s response to the water crisis has been focused on short-term solutions like water rationing and water trucks, but long-term sustainability requires a shift in mindset. Privatisation and climate change also play a role in the water shortage, with industries granted significant water concessions exacerbating the problem. Experts emphasize the need for collective action and a focus on circular solutions, such as recharging the aquifer and removing asphalt to allow rainwater to replenish the underground reservoir.

As Mexico City faces its worst water crisis yet, the need for dramatic action is clear. The city must look beyond immediate fixes and work towards sustainable long-term solutions that address the root causes of the crisis. With the worst yet to come, the future of Mexico City’s water supply depends on collective action and a fundamental shift in how water is perceived and managed in the city.

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