The Stream, February 28, 2024: Mexico City Just Months Away From Water Calamity

Mexico City, the country’s capital and largest city, faces a water crisis. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/ Circle of Blue


  • Taps could soon run dry in Mexico City and its metro area of 22 million people, as officials warn a “Day Zero” scenario is just months away. 
  • A new hydroelectric plant in Tanzania, controversially located on a river which flows through a World Heritage site, has been connected to the national power grid.
  • In Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, hot weather and drought have farmers concerned about this year’s harvest.
  • A canal in Afghanistan, currently under construction and set to open in 2028, will divert water from a river that flows into Uzbekistan.

Farmers in arid regions, including parts of India, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan, have adopted solar-powered water pumps to irrigate their lands — but the water is running out. 

“The fundamental problem is not the solar technology itself…if the cost of pumping is zero, then people will pump unless some restriction is put on them.” —  Soumya Balasubramanya, World Bank economist.

More than 100,000 farmers in India’s Rajasthan state, 30 percent of farmers in central Yemen, and 60,000 farmers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province have adopted solar-powered water pumps in recent years to draw water from underground and irrigate crops such as rice, opium, and watermelon.

In hot and arid climates, the technology is working incredibly well — almost too well, Yale Environment 360 reports. Unchecked water extraction has contributed to an unsustainable “race to the bottom,” depleting the world’s groundwater at a rapid pace. According to Yale E360, “irrigation is responsible for around 70 percent of the global underground water withdrawals.”

And the “solar revolution” is just getting started. Close to 3 million farmers in India will be using the technology by 2026, and 11 million solar pumps are expected to be installed across sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half a million are already in use.

In context: Risks to Groundwater in India’s Solar Irrigation Pump Expansion

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

Mexico City, one of the world’s most populated metropolitan areas, may be just months away from its “Day Zero” scenario, in which taps run dry, CNN reports

Residents of the megacity — and people across the country — have for months been experiencing dire water shortages, including planned and unplanned shutoffs, their sinks at times releasing barely a trickle. Many people have relied upon water truck deliveries, but not everyone has the storage space for stockpiling. 

Several factors have contributed to the crisis. Some are historical: a history of Spanish colonists draining lake beds and cutting forests. Some are geological: a high concentration of clay-rich soil apt to sink and vulnerable to earthquakes. Others are modern: a lack of rainfall and high temperatures attributable to climate change, plus water delivery systems that haven’t always been reliable. 

One of the main concerns centers on the Cutzamala water system, which supplies about a quarter of Mexico City’s water via a network of pumping stations, reservoirs, and tunnels. The system is currently at 39 percent capacity, near its historic low. Meanwhile, Mexico City’s underground aquifer, which supplies about 60 percent of its water, is being drained so quickly that the city is sinking by about 20 inches per year.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


The amount of rain which fell in Daloa, Ivory Coast, last week, compared to a weekly average of 11.6 millimeters over the past five years, Reuters reports. A similar lack of rain has affected much of the country, including other western cities which make up “the heart of the cocoa belt.” Ivory Coast’s dry season runs from November to March, but rarely is it this hot and arid — average temperatures have climbed to between 84 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Farmers have reported their cocoa trees weakening, and worry that the year’s crop, of which the country is the world’s top exporter, could show marked regression in size and quality. 



Megawatt capacity of the new Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant, which had its first turbine switched on and connected to Tanzania’s power grid this week, Reuters reports. The project has drawn scrutiny from conservationists for its location on the Rufiji River, which flows through the Selous Game Reserve, a UN-designated World Heritage site. Last September, the country announced a series of power rations, as climate change-induced droughts brought water levels at existing hydropower plants to concerning lows, leaving only 38 percent of the country with power. The new plant is expected to fully open in June 2024. 

On the Radar

The Taliban has announced that construction has begun on the second phase of the Qosh Tepa Canal, which will divert water from the Amu Darya River to convert some 550,000 hectares of desert into farmland in northern Afghanistan, the Times of Central Asia reports. Leaders from Uzbekistan, which sits downstream in the river’s basin, have said that the canal will “radically change the water regime and balance in Central Asia,” and have expressed concerns about the project’s impact on their own farming, and regional water shortages. The canal is expected to begin operation in 2028.

More Water News

Ukraine’s Environmental Damage: After two years of war, Ukraine’s rivers and water infrastructure has been “deeply wounded,” costing an estimated $60 billion in environmental damage, Yale Environment 360 reports

Bailique Salt: Locals living near where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean have noticed longer stretches of salty water intruding on the freshwater ecosystem, a phenomenon exacerbated by climate change and which is producing saltier açaí berries, Mongabay reports.

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