The human right to water in Mexico: Challenges and opportunities

Margaret O. Wilder
School of Geography and Development and Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA; mwilder@email.arizona.edu

Polioptro F. Martínez Austria
UNESCO Chair on Hydrometeorological Risks, Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), Puebla, México; polioptro.martinez@udlap.mx

Paul Hernández Romero
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), Puebla, México; paul.hernandezro@udlap.mx

Mary Belle Cruz Ayala
Department of Arid Lands Resource Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona; marybelca@email.arizona.edu

ABSTRACT: This article analyses Mexico’s 2012 constitutional guarantee of the human right to water and the new General Water Law that is required to implement it. Mexico has struggled to find consensus regarding a new law, but none has as yet been adopted. We examine three key questions regarding the 2012-2019 period: How is the human right to water defined in the Mexican context? What is the legal and institutional framework for implementing it? What are the opportunities and challenges involved in institutionalising it in light of the proposed water legislation? This research is based on a literature review, participation and observation at public forums, and in-depth interviews with key actors. Two principal legal proposals emerged in 2015, contrasting a technocratic approach with a socially inclusive one; neither was adopted but both remain relevant to the current discourse. The 2018 election re-energised social mobilisation around the right to water, and the government launched a new process for developing legal proposals. Using legal geography and political ecology as theoretical framings, we find that the new law creates opportunities for transforming access to water for marginalised communities, yet faces social, political and structural obstacles. Despite the challenges, the constitutional guarantee of the right to water is a positive foundation for democratising water governance in Mexico.

KEYWORDS: Human right to water, legal geography, political ecology, Mexico