Nestled three miles from the Mexican municipality of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, lies San Felipe Ecatepec, an indigenous town currently experiencing water insecurity. “In the past four years, our wells have started drying up,” says Juan Urbano, who has just come off a three-year term as the president of the Communal Territory of San Felipe Ecatepec. “People sometimes walk two hours a day to get water. Others have to buy their water.”
The missing water can be traced to a Coca-Cola bottling plant in between San Felipe and San Cristobal operated by FEMSA, a multinational beverage and retail company headquartered in Monterrey, Mexico. In 2016, the plant consumed over one million liters of water per day. As a result, urban development in the region has stalled.
Chiapas, which has the highest renewable water resources per capita in all of Mexico, currently has more than one in three people without safe drinking water. “We have been asking the government to install a deep well in the community for 12 years,” says Urbano. “We’ve gone to the municipal, state and federal governments, but they’ve done nothing.”
According to Article 115 of the Mexican constitution, the government is required to provide all municipalities with clean water and proper waste management, however, Mexican authorities have flouted their responsibilities. According to a study out of ECOSUR, a Mexican research university, salmonella is now an issue. In its research, ECOSUR found high levels of bacterial pathogens in the water, including coliforms, which indicate the presence fecal matter in the water.
The situation in Chiapas has also garnered global attention. Léo Heller, who serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, recounted his visit to Chiapas in a press conference held on May 12, during which he said the evidence collected builds a case against the state of Mexico. He believes Mexico is in direct violation of its own asserted human right to clean water and sanitation. There is also mounting pressure from public health organizations like El Poder del Consumidor (Consumer Power), which argues that soda consumption has contributed to Mexico’s rise in diabetes and obesity rates. A 2012 National Health and Nutrition survey claims diabetes is the leading cause of death in Mexico, affecting 13 million people. Another study found that one in six diabetes cases could be directly linked to soda consumption.
Community leaders in San Felipe Ecatepec will raise their grievances at the upcoming National Indigenous Congress, which highlights Indigenous issues, during Mexico’s presidential election set to take place next year.