The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Mexico:
- Air Pollution
Mexico has been notoriously known as one of the world’s worst air-pollution problems, even children in grade school colour the sky with brown and yellow crayons instead of blue. With more than 18 million people and 6 million cars in Mexico City alone, most of the air pollution is from industrial and automobile emissions. The city also fails to meet World Health Organization standards.
According to the World Bank, air pollution kills nearly 33,000 Mexicans every year. Nearly 20,000 of these deaths are due to outdoor air pollution, mainly in towns and cities. The remaining 13,000 are from household air pollution, caused by cooking with wood and other solid fuels. This affects mainly rural communities. Air pollution is a real problem in Mexico, causing about one in 17 (5.9%) of all deaths in the country. It is the eighth largest cause of death, after factors such as diet, overweight, high blood pressure, alcohol and drugs, smoking and lack of exercise.
The most dangerous of the airborne particles are known as PM2.5 (particulates less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre across), which can penetrate deep into the lungs. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a limit for average outdoor ambient air pollution of 10 micrograms (thousandths of a gram) of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air. Over 16 million Mexicans – more than one in every eight – cook primarily with firewood or charcoal and many households use them as secondary fuels. Pollution levels in these rural households can be 6-15 times higher than in urban areas and this can severely damage health. For the person doing the cooking, concentrations of PM2.5 in the air breathed in are 11-26 times higher than the WHO recommendation.
- Water Crisis
Another important issue that Mexico has been battling is the lack of clean water. Less than 0.3% of the world’s water is available for human consumption. With about 112 million people living in Mexico, the demand for clean water also continues to increase. 42% of Mexico’s water supply is groundwater from aquifers of the Basin of Mexico. Mexico greatly depends on these aquifers to access water. Because of the dependency, the water extracted is almost 3 times the natural recharge capacity. The pollution in water has been estimated to have exposed 1.25 million people to health risks. The problem has not been fixed and has drastically changed the way Mexican citizens use water in their house. In 2011, the Inter-American Development Bank found that Mexicans consumed more than four times bottled-water in the United States and all countries surveyed, about 127 gallons of bottled water per person a year. Some Mexicans waste about three hours each week and spend up to 10% of their income just for clean water. The water has been tainted for so many years that it has become a habit for citizens to continue to buy bottled water.
Deforestation is also a pressing issue in Mexico. It is reported that Mexico has recorded an annual loss of 380,000 acres of forests and jungles, placing Mexico as the fifth country suffering from the greatest deforestation. Between 2000 and 2005, Mexico lost about 6.9%, around 4,778,000 hectares, of its 33% forest cover. However, deforestation has decreased 15.3% since the close of the 1990s. Although deforestation has been slowly decreasing, deforestation in Mexico is still considered a national problem by the government.
Only 27 percent of indigenous children in Mexico graduate from high school. The national illiteracy rate is 8.4 percent, but the illiteracy rate among indigenous people is 44 percent. Indigenous children are more likely than non-indigenous children to drop out of school, and indigenous girls are especially at risk of not completing their education.
The BBC reported that more than 320,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were cohabiting with a man. More than 80 percent of these girls who were formally married left school. More than 90 percent of those who lived informally with the man dropped out of school.
Another concerning issue for education in Mexico is the shrinking number of dependable teachers. Out of all the teachers on the payrolls, 13 percent never show up to work. Over 60 percent of schools report that many teachers are habitually absent, leaving children without any form of instruction.
- Poverty and Hunger
Mexico has suffered from the effects of poverty and food insecurity for decades. About 8.5 million residents of Mexico or about 7 percent of the population need to live on less than $2 a day. Mexico is experiencing an unbalanced distribution of wealth where the richest part of the population has nearly 14 times more money than the poorest one.
As different social classes have different access to food the main problem with food insecurity is accessibility, not availability. At least 10 percent of all residents of Mexico experience poor access to food, while the inadequate food access affects between 25 and 35 percent of the population in 9 states. Mexico suffers from issues like malnutrition, anemia, overweight and obesity. The rates of malnutrition have dropped significantly but about 13 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition and one in four children is overweight or obese. Rates of malnutrition are highest in rural areas and obesity is highest in urban areas. In 2008, 18.2 percent of the population in Mexico was in poverty meaning they could not buy adequate food for their families even if they use their entire income.