Citizen Initiative in Mexico Boosts Water for All

By Arturo Contreras  (IPS)

Amalia Salas Casas has been defending water and corn for 30 years in her community of Xochimilco to the southeast of Mexico City.  Photo: Arturo Contreras / Pie de Pagina

HAVANA TIMES – After eight years, and hundreds of meetings with communities throughout the country, the organization Agua para Todos (Water for All) recently presented an initiative before the Mexican Congress to modify the National Water Law, with the approval of almost 200,000 signatures.

The bill proposes giving power to the basin inhabitants to decide on their water. How much, who to, how and which uses are given to the resource – being some of the initiatives promoted by this citizens project.

“All of these societies have been working on a law that is the most congruent to guarantee the right to water. How? With the participation of citizens who are on the councils of waters and basins. They are the ones who will dictate how the resources are used,” said Oscar Monroy, a citizen representative who presented this initiative, who is also an expert on watershed issues.

“We are going to change a law that manages extractivism (mining and hydrocarbon exploitation companies). They represent two percent of water concessionaires and are the ones who manage 70 percent of the water in this country.”

The initiative seeks to give water control to the towns and communities through management entities built from the micro basin and basin committees, as well as from the municipal citizens’ comptroller offices.

The basins are depressions in the land where water flows to the same territory, explained Pedro Moctezuma Barragan – who specializes in water issues.

“There is currently a top-down structure in which Conagua (the governmental National Water Commission) is both a judge and party. This is the authority that makes decisions on the country’s waters,” says the academic who is also part of Agua para Todos.

“This law is fundamental because it is backed by the people, by many communities and especially by the academic institutions that are defending water bodies against different megaprojects,” he added.

Moctezuma Barragn notes that in the country today there is a law imposed by the ‘North American Free Trade Agreement’ that was adopted under pressure from the United States – which has sought the privatization of water, turning its back on the people’s right to the resource.

To present the citizen initiative for a federal law, one percent of the electorate must sign the petition.

This thus forced ‘Water for All’ to collect a total of over 130,000 signatures yet they managed to collect more than 198,000. There are people from all over the republic that signed. Some of them met in the Chamber of Deputies.

This is a bit of history of what led them to get organized.

Proponents of the citizens’ water initiative marched on the Mexican Congress to promote their project of water for all.  Photo: Arturo Contreras / Pie de Pagina

Freedom of management

“In Amecameca, in the state of Mexico, neither Conagua nor the state commission have been able to prove that they have done anything to bring water to the homes of their residents,” said Lucia and Juan Valencia. “These are decentralized systems imposed by the government, and all they have done is steal our water.”

In this municipality, for a total of 35 years the community created a system for collecting water via the thawing of ice on the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes – without any government intervention.

“From that point, they told us that they were going to sell us the water all together, a measure which not even they understand. They don’t know how to measure the flow rates,” said Lucia Valencia. One of the points of the initiative is to recognize peoples’ right to have their own community resource management systems.

If you pollute it, you fix it

“What we are living through here is listed as a health crisis and ‘a hell’ for the people. We have very serious health problems,” said Maria Gonzalez Valencia, of Jalisco. She collaborates with the Mexican Institute for Community Development.

For years, the river basins of the Santiago River and Lake Chapala have been contaminated. They receive industrial pollution from more than 300 companies that discharge their waste into this river.

“We have documented the deaths of women and children here. All because of companies’ release toxic substances into the water,” She said.

Therefore, the initiative claims that those companies which pollute water through their industrial processes must perform sanitation and treatments.

Democratize water management

In Chihuahua, for years there have been communities that cannot carry out small undertakings to guarantee their access to water.

“They are not allowed to do anything, not even small masonry dams that they use for their small farming companies or for their family gardens. They don’t let them, because Conagua has already granted that liquid to other larger companies,” said Bernardo Manzano, director of Pies de Tierra, an organization that defends the right to water in three municipalities of this state.

The proposal seeks that the residents (who watch the water run without being able to touch it) can decide on any work or activity that may affect the availability or quality of the water.

Something similar occurs in Villahermosa, in Tabasco, a state diametrically opposed to Chihuahua, both geographically and in water availability. Here, 30 percent of the country’s drinking water is concentrated. Despite this, there are communities whose right of access to the liquid – is threatened.

Julio Garduño, from the Corazon de Piedra Verde collective group, accuses the city government of seeking to remove a water treatment plant that serves the communities of La Isla by taking it to the new luxury residential subdivisions that have been built on the outskirts of the city.

Water is a right, not a commodity

One of the main points that Agua para Todos seeks to establish on the liquid, is that water is not treated as a market product which can be sold to the highest bidder. Something like this occurs in Chiapas – where a large part of the population has no access.

“These cases are happening a lot, especially in the urban area of ??San Cristóbal de las Casas, where there is a brutal exploitation of water,” said Fray Gonzalo Ituarte, who was vicar of this city for over 40 years and deeply understands the problems of the peoples of this region.

According to the friar, “everything is to do with neoliberalism and the commercialization of water. It is a commodity, a stream of privatization that has generated the dispossession and displacement of people from their territories, which also generates pollution from many sources of water”.

“It is destroying and it is contaminating water. It is a crime which, despite having enough water for the people – the population does not have access to it, and only the large mining companies can use it, which also entails polluting may water sources,” he added.

The counter initiatives

The mandate to reform the General Water Law said the effort should have taken place starting  the year 2014, when the Mexican Constitution was modified to recognize the right of access to water.

This has opened the door for other actors to submit proposals for changes to the law, such as private initiative through the Business Coordinating Council; composed of parties, like the governmental National Regeneration Movement (Morena) – or Conagua itself. All these actors have divergent interests.

Feliciano Flores Anguiano, the deputy who chairs the Water Resources Commission of the Chamber of Deputies – and who received the citizen proposal, said that he will analyze the law and weigh it up with all other proposals.

This means that the citizen proposal will have to compete in the legislative arena alongside other initiatives.

“We, as a Commission, have our doors open to receive (as they take turns), all the initiatives before analyzing them and in the end deciding (whether or not to issue a bill to the plenary),” said the deputy during the act of receiving the proposal.

During the delivery of the signatures to endorse the bill, Senator Marti Batres was present, who expressed his sympathy and agreement with the citizens’ initiative. “We will be waiting in the Senate to offer it our support,” he said.

This article was originally published by Pie de Pagina.

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