Mexico grapples with unprecedented heatwaves

Mexico grapples with unprecedented heatwaves
Mexico grapples with unprecedented heatwaves

In Mexico, it’s not just the elections — where, for the first time, a woman is expected to be elected president — that are historic. With temperatures well above seasonal norms and an absolute record of 34.7°C which has just been shattered in the capital, the country is struggling with unprecedented heat waves and is currently going through a third since the early 2024.

In Monterrey, one of the largest cities in Mexico, the population is worried about this “calorazo” (extreme heat), while summer has not even fully set in yet. Already, local media have reported three deaths due to the heat, plus around forty others elsewhere in the country.

“Are you listening to the news? Monkeys are falling from trees! » says the taxi driver, in reference to the hundred or so primates who died due to high temperatures in the southern state of Tabasco. “No, this heat is not normal for this time of year. »

As his car speeds along the highway bordering the Santa Catarina River — which has been completely dry for several years — he says that on the single day of May 27, he transported five families, who had not had water for more than a week, to go and take them back to relatives. “This year is worse than last year. I don’t know what they do with the water, but it’s gone. »

Recent temperatures have peaked at 45°C, 9 degrees warmer than the average temperature of 36°C recorded for the 365 days of 2023, according to biologist Antonio Hernández.

Met in his office southwest of the city center, this environmental activist has his own idea of ​​what causes this heat. “We are a city of industry and commerce that continues to grow,” he explains. It points to an interactive map of the areas in red, where the highest temperatures were recorded: the industrial zone, shopping centers and new residential complexes, devoid of trees. “There is a direct correlation,” says the man who works for Pronatura Noreste, an NPO that works to preserve the environment.

In a context of global warming, the increase in temperatures is not surprising, he adds.

Water and electricity problem

Adjoining the wealthy San Pedro Garza García with its green lawns, Santa Catarina, a small municipality in the Monterrey metropolitan area, spreads out in the heights with breathtaking views of the city. Poorer in places, the town does not have adequate infrastructure to supply water to residents, who now have to deal with frequent service cuts. There is even a WhatsApp group “Sin agua en Sta Catarina” (Without water in Santa Catarina) in which residents can discuss their problems.

“We have become accustomed to it,” says Luís, behind the counter of his small general store. His fridges are full of bottles of water and electrolyte drinks of all kinds. “The water is cut off around 11 a.m. and it comes back on at the end of the day,” he says.

Nothing to help, strong winds in the area seriously damaged water and electricity installations last week. This storm, which also affected San Pedro Garza García, also abruptly ended the campaign of 3e presidential candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez. The stage he was on collapsed, causing the tragic deaths of nine people and injuring around a hundred others.

In the Monterrey metropolitan area, several municipalities were also without power due to the electrical overload. “Air conditioning in businesses, offices and homes puts pressure on the network. We saw people living for four or five days without electricity, says Antonio Hernández. The historic temperatures of 2024 are linked to the context of drought in which we have been living for eight years. »

Eight years of drought

Nicknamed the Mexican Yosemite, La Huasteca impresses with its immense rock faces, real stone walls set in an arid setting. Having become a national park for cyclists and hikers, this bed of the Santa Catarina river, which crosses the entire city and which is today completely dry, became flooded during heavy rains. “It was impressive to see how much water it could fill with,” reports university professor Alma Lara, who often came to the area to go climbing.

According to Antonio Hernández, Monterrey has been in the process of desertification for a long time, due to the overexploitation of water and the loss of natural spaces. “It’s not that there is no water, but we have overexploited this resource,” he maintains, citing the large steel and cement companies and beer breweries, which consume a lot of this precious blue gold.

The metropolitan area entered an acute drought period in 2019, due to significant decreases in precipitation. “The peak of severity was in 2022, but I consider that it will be worse in 2024 because the dams have less water than ever,” he notes. The water we consume comes more from surface water than from groundwater. And they have decreased significantly. »

Already, the government of Nuevo León has taken a step forward by announcing its intention to plant one million trees in six years. A very good idea, according to the biologist. “Areas of forests and trees are the least warm,” he reiterates. In the heart of the city, Fundidora Park is a green oasis, where the temperatures recorded were the lowest.

Mr. Hernández nevertheless calls for broader reflection on the growth and development of Monterrey. “As a community, we must ask ourselves if we want this model of urban sprawl, which favors commerce and industry, but which comes at the cost of the well-being of citizens and the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity. . »

With Adil Boukind

This report was financed thanks to the support of the Transat-International Journalism Fund.The duty.

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