Mexico’s Depleting Water Portend Crop Failure

A long-term drought that has hit two-thirds of Mexico is poised to worsen in the coming weeks, portending crop failure and water supply shortages, which is set to drive up prices. The states most severely affected are in the northwest, including key farming areas.

Increased water demand for both human consumption and agricultural production, coupled with poor water management and lack of contingency planning, has contributed to a rapid depletion in water reserves, according to a U.S. government report. 68 percent of the country’s reservoirs are below half of their capacity, while 60 large reservoirs are below 25 percent of capacity.

The onset of the drought is attributed to increased domestic demand during the COVID-19 pandemic last year and a surge in water demand by agricultural production. Rainfall was only three percent below average across Mexico as a whole throughout 2020, which can be considered normal given historic fluctuations.

The trajectory of the drought will be determined in the coming weeks as the traditional rainy season, known formally as the North American Monsoon, approaches.

“The next three months will be really crucial in how this drought turns out,” said Andreas Prein, an atmospheric scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Most of Mexico sees between 50 percent and 80 percent of its annual rainfall between July and September.

Water shortages are prevalent in parts of Mexico, though the severity and frequency has worsened, according to reports from Mexico’s federal water commission CONAGUA.

About 70 percent of Mexico is affected by drought, up from about half in December. Around a fifth of the country is experiencing extreme drought, compared with less than five percent each year since 2012. The deteriorating conditions has been linked to climate change.

“Over the past 70 years, the temperature in Mexico has a clear and conclusive increasing trend. In the last decade, it increased very rapidly and that rise is even higher than the average for the planet,” Jorge Zavala Hidalgo, of the National Meteorological Service, said.

The increase in temperature also represents a fire risk. As of May 5, over 500 forest fires had been registered, which marks a 27 percent increase from 2020. Furthermore, the burned area has expanded by 69 percent, reaching almost 900,000 acres.

“There is more drought and therefore the vegetation is waiting for someone to arrive, light a leaf and from there, the fire begins,” revealed César Robles, deputy manager of the Fire Management Center of Mexico’s National Forestry Commission. “The area affected by fires is directly correlated with the increase in temperature and the decrease in rainfall.”

The severity of the drought has had  a ripple effects across the financial markets. When Mexico’s central bank hiked its interest rates last week – the first time it’s done so since 2018 – it cited the ongoing drought as a major inflation risk.

Drought appears to be “part of the shocks we’re seeing affect inflation,” central banker Gerardo Esquivel conferred with Bloomberg News after the bank’s rate increase on June 24.

Across the world, the calamitous effects of climate are being felt, often by those who’ve contributed very little to its ascent. The prevalence of humanitarian crises emerging from forces propelled by climate change is straining local social and economic stability.

Mexico’s drought parallels the experiences in Brazil, where the country is suffering its worst water crisis in a century and inflation has risen above eight percent, and the United States and Canada, where the two countries are grappling with extreme heat crippling  agricultural production.

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