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Water & Sanitation

Mexico’s Interoceanic Corridor Lacks Water

The port of Salina Cruz, in the southern state of Oaxaca, is one of the vital infrastructures for transporting goods and hydrocarbons. It is part of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, one of the megaprojects of the current Mexican government, which seeks to connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by means of a railroad and several highways, and is aimed at the economic development of the region through the creation of 10 industrial parks. CREDIT: Government of Mexico

The port of Salina Cruz, in the southern state of Oaxaca, is one of the vital infrastructures for transporting goods and hydrocarbons. It is part of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, one of the megaprojects of the current Mexican government, which seeks to connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by means of a railroad and several highways, and is aimed at the economic development of the region through the creation of 10 industrial parks. CREDIT: Government of Mexico

MEXICO CITY, Aug 16 2023 (IPS) - Due to insufficient pressure water does not make it up to Elliot Escobar’s house in the Mexican municipality of Matías Romero, where he lives on the second floor, so he pipes it up with a hose from his sister’s home, located on the first floor of the house shared by the two families.

“I store it in 1,000-liter tanks, which last me about a month. We recycle water, to water the plants, for example. In the municipality people don’t pay for the water because there is none, it comes out of the pipes dirty. It’s a worrisome situation,” said the 44-year-old lawyer.

"The most urgent thing is to make a master plan, which must have a water plan before other processes. It is crucial, before introducing industries. And each one must have very rigid zoning, to avoid pollution of water sources." -- Úrsula Oswald

Matías Romero, with a population of just over 38,000, sits along the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (CIIT), a megaproject under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Navy and one of the three most important projects of the current government, together with the Mayan Train, in the southeastern Yucatán peninsula, and the Olmeca refinery system, in the state of Tabasco, also in the southeast.

The demand for water from the CIIT works is causing concern among the local population, already affected by water shortages, explained the lawyer, who shares the house above his sister’s with the other two members of his family.

“The project will require water and electricity, and our situation is uncertain,” Escobar said. “Everything has to have a methodology, be systematized, the infrastructure must be consolidated. In Salina Cruz (another stop along the megaproject) there have been complicated water problems in the neighborhoods; it’s a problem that’s been going on for years. There are too few wells to supply the local population.”

The lawyer is a member of the non-governmental Corriente del Pueblo Sol Rojo and spoke to IPS from his home in the state of Oaxaca, some 660 kilometers southwest of Mexico City.

In the area, the local population works, at least until now, in agriculture and cattle, pig and goat farming. The municipality is also a crossing point for thousands of undocumented Central American migrants who arrive by train or truck from the Guatemalan border en route to the United States.

Despite the fact that water is a fundamental element of the megaproject, CIIT lacks a water plan, according to responses to requests for access to information submitted by IPS.

The works are part of the Tehuantepec Isthmus Development Program that the Mexican government has been executing since 2019 with the aim of developing the south and southeast of this country of some 129 million inhabitants, the second largest Latin American economy, after Brazil.

 

A map of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, some 300 kilometers long, which seeks to connect Mexico's Pacific and Atlantic coasts by means of highways and a rehabilitated railway to promote industrial development in the south and southeast of the country and encourage exports. CREDIT: Fonadin

A map of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, some 300 kilometers long, which seeks to connect Mexico’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts by means of highways and a rehabilitated railway to promote industrial development in the south and southeast of the country and encourage exports. CREDIT: Fonadin

 

An inter-oceanic transformation

The plan for the isthmus includes 10 industrial parks, and the renovation of the ports of Salina Cruz, on the Pacific Ocean, and Coatzacoalcos, on the Atlantic, connected by the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Railway, which is under reconstruction.

It also includes the modernization of the refineries of Salina Cruz, in the state of Oaxaca, and Minatitlán, in the state of Veracruz, the laying of a gas pipeline and the construction of a gas liquefaction plant off the coast of Salina Cruz.

The development program covers 46 municipalities in Oaxaca and 33 in Veracruz, over a distance of some 300 kilometers. The 10 industrial sites, called “Poles of Development for Well-Being,” require 380 hectares each.

Researcher Ursula Oswald of the Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Research at the public National Autonomous University of Mexico told IPS that she proposed a comprehensive model for analyzing all aspects of the megaproject.

“The most urgent thing is to make a master plan, which must have a water plan before other processes. It is crucial, before introducing industries. And each one must have very rigid zoning, to avoid pollution of water sources, and not to repeat the chaos we have seen in the north,” she said from the city of Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos, next to the Mexican capital.

The researcher said it is necessary to answer questions such as “which basins and aquifers (can be used), and how does the surface water interact with the groundwater?”

The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in office since December 2018, is looking for companies to set up shop in the south and southeast of the country, in an attempt to attract investment and generate jobs in these areas, the country’s poorest.

But one obstacle to development lies in the logistics of moving the products to the U.S. market, the magnet for interested corporations. Other problems are the lack of skilled workers and the environmental impact in a region characterized by rich biodiversity.

Some recent cases show the difficulties of such initiatives. The U.S.-based electric car-maker Tesla chose the northern state of Nuevo León in March to build its factory in Mexico, despite López Obrador’s interest in having it set up shop in the south.

Between 2020 and 2022, the CIIT’s budget was 162 million dollars in the first year, 203 million dollars in 2021, and almost double that in 2022: 529 million dollars. But in 2023 it has dropped to 374 million dollars.

Independent estimates put the total investment required for the CIIT projects at 1.4 billion dollars, although there is no precise official figure.

 

A demonstration in Puente Madera, in the state of Oaxaca, against the advance of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which runs between that southwestern state and Veracruz, in the southeast. The Mexican megaproject has generated opposition from some groups in the region, which see it as an imposed initiative that will hurt local communities. CREDIT: APIIDTT

A demonstration in Puente Madera, in the state of Oaxaca, against the advance of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which runs between that southwestern state and Veracruz, in the southeast. The Mexican megaproject has generated opposition from some groups in the region, which see it as an imposed initiative that will hurt local communities. CREDIT: APIIDTT

 

Water pressure

The megaproject puts greater pressure on water resources in a region where water is both abundant in some areas and overexploited.

Of the 21 aquifers in Oaxaca, five are in deficit, according to figures from the governmental National Water Commission (Conagua). Among these are the aquifers of Tehuantepec and Ostuta, which have suffered a deficit since the last decade and are on the corridor route.

In Veracruz, of the 20 water tables, five suffer from excessive extraction, such as the one in the Papaloapan River basin, also in the CIIT area.

One of the five objectives of the development program is to increase biodiversity and improve the quality of water, soil and air with a sustainable approach.

Meanwhile, CIIT’s regional program stipulates that the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources must guarantee water for both the incoming companies and the local residents.

However, the Auditoría Superior de la Federación, the national comptroller, found no information on increasing biodiversity or improving water, soil and air quality by 2021. Furthermore, it did not have sufficient data to assess compliance with the five CIIT objectives.

For the provision of the necessary water, CIIT identified in its 2022 progress and results report the sale of water rights among users, the transfer from the Tehuantepec aquifer, despite its deficit, and deep wells, the use of dams, rivers or the construction of a desalination plant, in addition to the consumption of treated wastewater.

 

A model of the Texistepec industrial center in Veracruz, which will form part of the Tehuantepec Isthmus Development Program, that includes the construction of five industrial parks in the southern state of Oaxaca and another five in the southeastern state of Veracruz, five of which the Mexican government has already put out to tender. CREDIT: CIITA model of the Texistepec industrial center in Veracruz, which will form part of the Tehuantepec Isthmus Development Program, that includes the construction of five industrial parks in the southern state of Oaxaca and another five in the southeastern state of Veracruz, five of which the Mexican government has already put out to tender. CREDIT: CIIT

A model of the Texistepec industrial center in Veracruz, which will form part of the Tehuantepec Isthmus Development Program, that includes the construction of five industrial parks in the southern state of Oaxaca and another five in the southeastern state of Veracruz, five of which the Mexican government has already put out to tender. CREDIT: CIIT

 

Indigenous people

A May 2021 document on consultations with indigenous communities in the Oaxaca municipality of Ciudad Ixtepec, also along the corridor, seen by IPS, suggests studies on the use of recycled and treated water for some industrial processes, the promotion of the use of rainwater for green areas, and the introduction of programs to raise awareness and foment responsible water use.

The megaproject’s area of influence is home to some 900,000 indigenous people from 10 different native peoples. But the consultation process, free of interference, prior to the development of the works and with sufficient and timely information, only covered less than one percent of the native population.

CIIT has already launched the international bidding process for the construction of three industrial parks in Veracruz and two in Oaxaca.

The right to a healthy environment is another aspect of a context of human rights violations. At the end of July, the Civil Observation Mission, made up of representatives of non-governmental organizations, found violations of access to information, free participation and freedom of expression.

For this reason, Escobar stressed the need for federal authorities to pay close attention to the project.

“Water is not a commodity, its supply has to be guaranteed to the local population,” the lawyer said. “We have to invest heavily in water and develop awareness about it. We do not understand their concept of modernity, they think it is only about building megaprojects. There is going to be an environmental problem in the medium term.”

For her part, Oswald suggested going beyond the traditional focus on attracting investment.

“No company is going to invest if it does not have guaranteed (water) supply, land, a way to export its merchandise on the sides of both oceans, and labor,” said the researcher. “It is necessary to link water, cost, social issues, and which indigenous groups are in the region. What other mechanisms do we have to provide water? Who has control in the region? That is basic to understanding the conflicts. It is a crucial socio-cultural issue.”

 
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