Because her elderly neighbor had trouble hearing, Maria Luisa Robles, a convenience store employee in Monterrey, Mexico, repeated the question: “Have you run out of water?”
It wasn’t simply she who had done it. During a record scarcity that has seized Mexico’s most major industrial metropolis, the taps in this working-class neighborhood of Sierra Ventana dried up over a week ago.
“We’re all struggling because we don’t have flowing water,” Robles, 60, explained.
Robles and her neighbors have resorted to climbing to the top of a nearby municipal water tank, filling jugs, and dragging them back to their houses to drink, cook, clean, and wash bedsheets and school uniforms out of desperation.
According to the federal water authority CONAGUA, more than half of Mexico is now experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions, owing to intense temperatures blamed on climate change by experts.
Drought and years of below-average rainfall have resulted in citywide water shortages in Monterrey’s enormous metropolitan region, which is home to 5.3 million people.
At a press conference last week, Governor Samuel Garcia of Nuevo Leon stated, “We’re in a catastrophic climatic catastrophe.” “We’re all living it and suffering right now.”
In June, the city began limiting water availability to six hours per day, causing schools to reschedule classes and prompting a rush of bottled water purchases that cleared grocery shelves.
Protests and public outrage are also developing against soda and beer corporations, which have taken advantage of federal agreements to continue extracting water while locals go without.
The state administration claims to be conserving water by fixing pipe breaks and installing pressure valves, while clamping down on farms, businesses, and slaughterhouses that have been detected stealing water from rivers or secret wells.
The problem is projected to worsen as the summer progresses. Summer, it is hoped, would bring more continuous rains to this parched region.
According to Juan Ignacio Barragan, the president of the water and sewage department, two of the primary dams that serve the metropolitan area, Cerro Prieto and La Boca, might be empty as early as Tuesday. El Cuchillo, a third dam, is at 45 percent capacity.
Sierra Ventana is one of them, where Robles lives with her elderly mother, two disabled siblings, and a motor-impaired niece.
Robles trods to and there from the water tank numerous times a day, in temperatures nearing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), alongside fellow inhabitants dragging buckets or pulling baby strollers filled with jugs.
She’d barely made her last journey one day last week when she recalled her hard-of-hearing neighbor.
“Is there anything else we can do?” she said before returning to the tank for the final time. “We can’t exist without water.”