Mexico is a country known for its beautiful scenery and historic views. One such is the views of the Sumidero Canyon in the Chicoasen dam, which is located along the Grijalva river, in the state of Chiapas. With cliff-walls up to a kilometre high and water up to 300 metres deep, this river is home to numerous wildlife including vultures, crocodiles, iguana, fish and spider monkeys. The breathtaking views were only marred by the piles of garbage littering the waterway.
Our guide for the day informed us that during the rainy season, much of this rubbish is washed down from the towns and villages above. In fact, the state of Chiapas has employed locals to trawl the river and remove the garbage. On average, working for 8 months of the year, they remove between one and two tonnes per day.
Of course, many would be quick to dismiss this as being because Mexico is a poorer country. But as always, it is never that simple. The tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink, so almost every person is purchasing bottled water to drink every day. And with a population of approximately 3.4 million, that is a lot of plastic bottles.
Plastic bottling is a huge industry on Mexico, with international companies such as Coca-Cola Femsta, the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottler, owning most of the bottling plants, and making a profit of 3.15billion pesos ($173.4US) in the third quarter of 2017 alone. The states of Chiapas and Yucatan peninsula are the largest consumers of coca-cola in country, with the company supplying many go the remote areas with fridges and coolers for the stores and cafes to sell their product, some even painted in the famous red and white logo.
Recycling is left up to the states to handle, and currently, the only state with a recycling initiative is Mexico City. This initiative is only a few years old, and many citizens do not have access facilities for household waste, or, being a relatively new initiative, are yet to make recycling a habit.
Much like other developed counties, Mexico is suffering from a public health crisis, with childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes posing a very serious threat to the population. They are taking some action, being one of the first countries to enact a tax on sweetened drinks, with the tax supposed to go towards public access to clean water through public drinking fountains, but 3 years on, no fountains are to be seen. Valeria, a Mexican local, tells me that it is widely known that the Senator who introduced this law has received multiple death threats.
Some states invested their tax money in public sports centres, which operate at a low cost, but are not free. Some built functional gyms in parks, which doesn’t work in some states, where infrastructure isn’t in place to allow access to parks. The water purification industry has taken off too, with 20L bottles ranging from 10-25 pesos, depending on whether you source it from a craft factory, which is usually only in larger cities, or from a large company like Coca-Cola. (For reference, the national minimum wage is 80 pesos per day.)
But all of this seem to be reactive measures to the problem, instead of solving the root problem: why do the people of Mexico not have access to clean drinking water? We can try to blame the seismic activity of the area, but countries with frequent earthquakes like Japan and New Zealand manage to supply consistent and reliable safe water.
Is it because the country simply can’t afford it? With an average wage of 31.3 pesos ($2.41US) an hour, that may seem the case. However, the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, earns $165,000US annually, or 33 times the national average. For comparison, President Putin earns 15.5 times Russia’s national average wage, Chancellor Merkal earns 8.3 times Germany’s national average, and even Prime Minister Turnbull only earns 6.7 times the average Australian salary. And for a country like Mexico, with a GDP of $8201 per capita, which is on par with China, I don’t really think that is a legitimate argument.
The reality is, greed and corruption mean that the people of Mexico are held hostage. Forced to buy safe water, something which is a basic human right. The government has both the power and the means to fix this problem, but unfortunately lack both a spine and basic human decency.