Creating a Culture of Water AwarenessTue, 11/01/2016 - 16:50
Problems with infrastructure can be far reaching. Uninformed decisions now can create big problems down the road. Take the construction of Mexico City. The sprawling metropolis was built on shaky foundations and now finds itself steadily sinking into the remains of Lake Texcoco. “When a municipality builds a street there is a general lack of oversight, meaning that construction is not carried out in a properly sustainable manner,” says Rogelio Mora, Director General of Nabohi, a consultancy and manufacturer of sewage and wastewater treatment equipment that works with public authorities across the country and also has a strong distribution network in the US.
Mora believes that services like those provided by Nabohi must become essential for municipalities to avoid later complications. “In Mexico there is no prevention culture. To avoid floods, for example, a consultancy service would inform local authorities that the sanitation network needs to be constructed first, then the stations for re-pumping wastewater to treatment plants. This infrastructure not only prevents flooding but also allows the recycling of water.”
Prevention can be a cure that comes in many forms, Mora says. For example, cities with large urban concentrations that impede the reconstruction of infrastructure would benefit from aqueducts or pipelines with larger diameters that allow the passage of larger volumes of water. “Mexico City and the adjacent municipalities from the State of Mexico keep growing and expanding but discharge pipes are not growing,” he says. “This means whenever it rains, the city floods. Here, prevention plays an important role, especially considering that year after year the floods get worse.” He points out that climate change is generating more rain and if rain patterns are changing then the infrastructure needs to change accordingly. Mexico City is gradually upgrading its sanitation network but Mora does not believe this is being done fast enough. “Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix solution,” he says.
Due to territorial extension, population density and the amount of garbage generated, the city also needs constant maintenance. Frequent protests in the streets generate garbage that clog storm drains. The expenses related to regular maintenance of sanitation networks and establishing re-pumping wastewater stations are high but necessary, says Mora. “One of the most common problems we face is trying to convince the authorities of the need for drainage infrastructure, regardless of the price,” he says. “Since this kind of infrastructure is usually hidden from the public, authorities do not want to spend on it, preferring to spend on more striking and eye-catching infrastructure.”
Drainage infrastructure is not only necessary but also represents an important source of employment for locals, who can easily build sanitation networks. Water treatment plants, however, need to be constructed by electro-mechanic specialists. Municipal authorities also need to enforce regulations, Mora says, particularly on illegal settlements that are the most effected whenever there are floods.
Mora believes the government’s role in this kind of infrastructure development is necessary to spark a change in culture. “The government needs to promote prevention campaigns that target the public’s awareness of the dangers of throwing garbage and food down the drain,” he says. “The dangers and disadvantages of neglecting the sanitation of the city, such as the proliferation of rodents and cockroaches, need to be emphasized. The city and its corresponding political divisions need to invest in sanitation.” A water treatment plant in the Iztapalapa area of Mexico City would require a MX$800 million (US$42.1 million) investment but the benefits would surpass the cost, especially if it could recycle water. The construction of a water treatment plant would provide the city with the necessary water when the Cutzamala system is undergoing maintenance.
Mora calls on the authorities to prioritize the topic of water. Private companies can participate in the construction of water management infrastructure but water sanitation processes are managed entirely by local governments. “Although providing concessions to private companies might seem like a good idea this might have negative consequences since it could hike water prices,” he says. “We need to make sure that every person has access to water.”