See Spanish Original.
Mexico. In the state of Durango, in the northern part of the country, there are areas where it hasn’t rained for more than two years. During the last 22 months, 350,000 heads of cattle have been lost. The land is suffering from erosion and this has led to a decrease in agricultural production, 80 percent of which is dependent on storms. This means that it is completely dependent upon precipitation. The area’s residents struggle every day to find water and food.
Already by October 2011, the area’s reservoirs on average did not exceed 48 percent of their total capacity. The lack of water was even greater in the region’s semi-desert municipalities: Tlahualilo, San Juan de Guadalupe, Cuencamé, Simón Bolívar and Guadalupe Victoria. This has constituted a crisis for Duranguenses in several aspects of life, with hunger being the main—and most worrying—one.
Far from resolving itself or even improving, the problem only continues to get worse as the months pass. Just a few days ago—on Friday, June 8— the news of the murder of Regina Flores Flores broke. Regina was an eight-year-old girl from the indigenous community of El Chalete who had walked a kilometer and a half with her father in order to look for water in a well. When they reached the community of La Cantimplora, they were threatened by a man who ordered them not to take any water. After a verbal argument between the two men, father and daughter filled their three casks. The man, who had left the scene after the argument, returned with a gun, and proceeded to fire repeatedly. One of the bullets entered through Regina’s back, hitting her kidney and taking her life.
Hunger has led thousands of families to migrate, to the state capital, Zacatecas, Nayarit, Monterrey, and—for those who can—the United States. Although it is expected that this hurricane season will help in regards to the low water level, as a result of the migration there will be no one left to work the land.
For those who have stayed, “it has been a very difficult situation” states Santos de la Cruz Carrillo, member of the Regional Wixarika Council and agricultural official of the community of Bancos de San Hipólito, a municipality of Mezquital, Durango. “The drought is affecting the entire Mexican nation, but it is hitting some places harder than others: desert areas such as the states of Durango, San Luis Potosí and Sonora.”
A drought like the current one in Durango and the whole northern region “hits us, the Wixarika people, hard, because we the indigenous people have stuck to this process of harvesting, of growing corn, which is our families’ food staple. The Wixarika people support themselves with this essential element, which is why the drought is hitting us so hard. Corn is part of our survival and all of the work that comes with growing it is done for the families. We plant to have sustenance every year.”
The price of tortillas has gone up in Durango, especially in isolated places like the municipality of San Dimas, where a kilo of tortillas can cost up to 18 pesos (US $1.30). In spite of this, tortilla consumption has also increased, since it is the only foodstuff that Mexican families are not willing to cut back on. They can give up greens, meat, and vegetables, but as a result, tortillas gain greater importance in their daily diet.
On June 14, Secretary of the Interior Alejandro Poiré declared that more than 27 billion pesos had been given to the 22 states afflicted by the drought in the northern part of the country between January and May of this year. Of this amount, 300 million has been used to ensure a supply of drinking water, 265 million for access to food and health care and 500 million to promote seasonal employment. Furthermore, 10.1 billion pesos have been directed towards maintaining productive capacity, 330 million towards the sustainable use of natural resources, 380 million towards insurance for producers and 10,900 towards boosting their production.
However, the general population and farmers do not seem to be reaping the benefits of such investment. Santos explains that “often, what happens is that resources are released and they remain with the top authorities. They really don’t reach those affected. And so I believe it is important to call for the Mexican state to not only offer alternatives such as food staples and checks for five thousand pesos or X amount of money for each family, but also to implement sustainable projects, projects that will really work in the region.”
As Santos says, “it is the responsibility of the State to make investments in order to somehow bring the situation back to normal. One way or another, they must implement projects for those communities that are otherwise left to the mercy of natural phenomena, such as droughts.”
Santos de la Cruz recognizes that the main problem is not political, but rather cultural and social. “Culture has failed us with our not taking care of the environment, not taking care of nature. In view of the current climate change crisis, we as citizens of this country and this world, we are obliged to take care of these things, because in our region things have deteriorated; there is an invasion, logging on our lands. Our natural resources are being hoarded by corporations, by a powerful group that is hurting Mother Nature.”
Another factor to consider, the geographer María Aldana points out, is drug cultivation: “This is indeed a more prolonged drought, but we have to look at the rain gauges: the water that is seeping out is being snatched up for other interests. There is a lot of drug trafficking in Durango, and there wouldn’t be if there were no water or places to plant.” Besides, even though there hasn’t been any rain, it snowed this year in the northern part of the country and this is another important supply of liquid resources.
In the meantime, nature continues to run its course, families are suffering its ravages, Regina is dead and the General Director of the National Water Commission (Conagua), José Luis Luege Tamargo, has stated that the prospects for rain this season are “rather alarming. It is now time to pray; it is time to do whatever possible so that this storm season might be better. Right now the forecast for rain does not look good.”