By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
A long-term drought has struck more than two-thirds of Mexico’s farmlands, and environmentalists are warning that the situation is only going to get worse in the weeks ahead due to soaring temperatures, severe crop damage and impending water supply shortages.
But as experts desperately try to sound the alarm that climate change is already taking a toll on the Mexican environment, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) continues to turn a deaf ear to their warnings and proceed full speed ahead with unsustainable measures, such as his promotion of nonrenewable energy over clean sources, and irresponsible biosphere stewardship projects, like his controversial Tren Maya tourist train, which threatened to extinguish up to 50 percent of the Yucatan Peninsula’s fragile ecosystem.
And it’s not just eco-obsessed tree-huggers that are trying to get AMLO to take environmental action to stop the country’s worst drought in more than three decades.
When Mexico’s Central Bank unexpectedly raised interest rates late last month, it cited the ongoing drought as “a major inflation risk” leading to crop losses, excessive migration and severe forest fires.
AMLO’s supposed flagship environmental program — Sembrando Vidas (Sowing Lives), which is intended to pay farmers to plant new trees and which the president has gone as far as to try to get the United States to finance — has so far been a resounding disaster, with a plethora of alleged operational flaws and massive corruption schemes, according to participating farmers.
In fact, according to a report published in El Universal newspaper, more than 230,000 farmers who were paid 5,000 pesos a month to plant and tend trees have reported delays in sapling deliveries, a lack of adequate irrigation facilities and a shortage of essential supplies and tools.
Some of the farmers also said that they had to pay financial kickbacks to Sembrando Vidas middlemen to get their monthly payments.
And in some cases, participating farmers admitted to cutting down trees in order to replant new ones and receive payments.
The Washington-based NGO World Resources Institute estimated that this practice may have caused forest loss of nearly 800 square kilometers of land during the program’s first year alone.
According to the government’s own figures, the Sembrando Vidas program fell short of its 600,000 hectare target in 2020, planting trees on just 150,000 hectares of land.
AMLO has long promised a new water administration law to clearly define which government agencies are responsible for potable water distribution, but after two and a half years, that proposed initiative has gone nowhere.
In response to growing water shortages, the government plans to seed clouds with silver iodide over the course of the next three months in the farming states of Sinaloa, Sonora and Chihuahua, but this will be just a temporary fix and will not address the root problems that are causing the drought.
Across the country, Mexico’s water reservoirs are running dangerously low, at less than 25 percent of their capacity, according to the National Water Commission (Conagua), and so far, the July to September rainy season has not provided much help.
Also according to Conagua, as of the end of June, more than 70 percent of country was suffering from drought, compared to about 50 percent in December.
Meanwhile, AMLO refuses to listen to anyone who tries to point out the dangers of using coal- and oil-based fuels (which contribute to global warming) to power the nation’s electricity demands, even though his archaic policies violate both national and international law.
Unless the government takes urgent action now, the problem will only worsen and water will destroy Mexico’s agricultural and agro-industry sectors, which account for nearly 5 percent of the nation’s total GDP.