Drinking Water Source of Death in Mexico - OECD

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Sunday August 13 12:41 PM ET Drinking Water Source of Death in Mexico - OECD

By Rosario Torres Limon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Water may be the source of life. But in Mexico, it is also a cause of death.

Frequently contaminated with fecal matter, pumped through aquifers that date back to Aztec times, and fouled by industrial and domestic waste, Mexico's drinking water is an environmental catastrophe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a report.

``In most regions (of Mexico), the water is qualified as contaminated, either strongly or excessively,'' the OECD said in its study released Thursday.

Environmentalists say one major problem Mexico faces in the 21st century is a scarcity of water. More than half of the nation's land is arid and unproductive, especially in the northern deserts.

The problem becomes even more acute when what little water is available is largely undrinkable.

The OECD, a grouping of the world's big economies that has included Mexico since 1994, said one-third of gastrointestinal problems suffered by Mexicans could be traced to water supplies contaminated by feces.

Based on 1997 data, the OECD report said the situation was worse in poorer states.

It said that 54 of every 100,000 inhabitants of the indigenous southern state of Oaxaca died because of bad water. This mortality rate is 14 times higher than in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, where many of Mexico's biggest companies are based and where the standard of living is far higher than among the Indian villages in the south.

The OECD acknowledged that Mexico has made some progress recently in modernizing its water distribution system.

But it added that Aztec-era drainage and water distribution systems that are at least 500 years old were partly to blame for the poor water quality.

``Mexico's hydraulic engineering dates back to pre-Hispanic times,'' it said, citing Mexico City, the heart of a sprawling urban area encompassing some 20 million people.

The OECD said Mexico needs huge investments in water treatment and distribution to support a growing population.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), August 13, 2000

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