Category Archives: Mexico

Farming Heroin with National Geographic Channel

A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with a talented team at the National Geographic Channel on this story about the heroin trade in Mexico. For a photojournalist and filmmaker, working for National Geographic had always represented the gold standard in documentary and so I was more than happy to join the team.

The full episode is available online or directly from the National Geographic Channel, but I wanted to share this short preview of the episode. It’s not every day that you get to work with such a great group of TV and video professionals, and some of the lessons I learned on this production I will carry over into all my future projects.

Also posted in Blog, Central America, Drugs, Video Tagged , , , , , , , |

Post Earthquake Spirit in Morelos

After covering the earthquake damage in various zones of Mexico City, it became clear that the hardest hit areas were some rural towns closer to the epicentre of the quake where buildings were often made from adobe instead of concrete and rebar. Morelos, a state to the south of the capital, had reported multiple towns in critical condition, along with an unknown but growing number of casualties.

From the viewpoint of a videographer it was clear that we needed to go to Morelos, so a reporter from The New York Times requisitioned a car and we made the three hour drive to Jojutla.

As soon as we hit the town’s periphery it was obvious that the situation was critical. Roadblocks had been set up two kilometres away from the city centre to stop necessary traffic entering the damaged parts of the town and our vehicle was not allowed to pass. Only by hitching a ride with some locals in their beat up minivan could we get into the city, and for the rest of the day and into the night we tried to get a sense of the damage.

A local official estimated that 60% of the buildings had been damaged in some way, and many of them would never be fit to live in again. We met families picking their things from under the crumbled remains of their living room wall and others who had lost parents in the collapse. Entire street corners had fallen, bringing down as many as six homes at once. The devastation was massive, and the resources few.

But throughout it all the general spirit of the people seemed to be one of defiance and determination. “We will get through this,” was a phrase I heard more than once, and defined the mood of the day. Even though many of them had lost everything and the only home they’d ever known, they were already looking ahead to the rebuilding process.

“We are Mexico.”

Also posted in Blog, Central America, Disaster, Video Tagged , , , , , , |

Documenting the Mexico City Earthquake

When I saw the news that Mexico City and the surrounding states had been struck by a powerful earthquake on September 19th, 2017, I was in JFK airport returning from a few weeks of meetings and visiting friends. In those first hours it wasn’t clear what the extent of the damage was, and so the plane took off for Mexico after only a short delay. It was when we landed, however, and the pilot announced we were stuck behind a backlogged queue of nearly 40 other planes, that I realized that maybe the situation was worse that I had thought.

The videographer/filmmaker part of my brain told me to immediately send emails to my contacts in the media, and luckily was able to connect with The New York Times. By the time I got out of the airport and through the gridlocked city it was nearly 3 am, so I closed my eyes for a few hours and prepared to get up with the sun.

I was planning to go and investigate the site of a collapsed school in the south of Mexico City, but no sooner had I jumped in a car with a few colleagues did we realize there was an incredible drama unfolding just two blocks from my apartment.

This kicked off more than a week of frantic coverage in a city that I have come to call home. Documenting a crisis in my own backyard, albeit an adopted one, was a new and difficult experience, but ultimately for me the earthquake was a narrative of selflessness and community spirit rather than of despair.

Volunteers poured into the streets in the thousands, and ordinary citizens opened their doors to help in rescue efforts. While the event was a horrific tragedy for Mexico City, the solidarity and social awareness displayed by the people who live here was inspiring to say the least. If such collective spirit could be put towards reforming other sectors of the nation, Mexico would be an even better place to live in no time.

 

Also posted in Blog, Central America, Disaster, Video Tagged , , , , , , |

Portraits of Michoacán

Fishing boats on Lago de Cuitzeo.

Fishing boats on Lago de Cuitzeo.

I recently had the chance to get out of Mexico City to help a friend with a video production and some drone piloting, giving me my first opportunity to explore the state of Michoacán, even if just for a few days.

Michoacán has developed the unfortunate reputation in recent decades of being one of the most dangerous states in Mexico, having increasingly fallen under the control of narco traffickers. At the same time widespread poverty and lack of opportunities have led to large scale emigration out of the state, often in the direction of the United States. One woman I spoke to in a rural village commented that Michoacán’s main export was young men, and the fact most small towns we visited largely consisted of children and the elderly seemed to confirm this.

But Michoacán has been inhabited by people for the last 10,000 years, and was the home of the Purépecha empire —a powerful rival to the Aztecs in pre hispanic times. Despite the disturbing rise of crime and the exodus of the state’s young people, their culture is still very much in tact. Traditional dresses were common in the cobblestoned alleys of small villages, and the language, totally distinct from Spanish, was often heard in the streets.

While I was primarily working as a drone pilot, I managed to find time to grab a few portraits of the people we met and a bit of the landscape. An incredibly beautiful place unfortunately marred, like many places in Mexico, by the dominance of the drug cartels, Michoacán should not be avoided on the basis of its dangerous reputation. To be sure these problems are very real, but ultimately it is a state that is best defined by its small tranquil villages and unique culture, not the plague of violence that it has come to be associated with.

Early morning on the highway from Mexico City to Michoacán.

Early morning on the highway from Mexico City to Michoacán.

A young man trains his horse in Angahuan, Michoacán.

Making tortillas on a hot stone in Angahuan, Michoacán.

Making tortillas on a hot stone in Angahuan, Michoacán.

A Purpecha woman sits for a portrait inside an old Spanish convent that has been repurposed as a cultural museum.

A Purpecha woman sits for a portrait inside an old Spanish convent that has been repurposed as a cultural museum.

Organic eggs are one of the benefits of living a rural life in Michoacán.

Organic eggs are one of the benefits of living a rural life in Michoacán.

The winding alleys of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

The winding alleys of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

Street traffic in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

Street traffic in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

A cat stretches in a pottery workshop in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

A cat stretches in a pottery workshop in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

A group of Purépecha women work together to prepare tortillas for lunch.

A group of Purépecha women work together to prepare tortillas for lunch.

 Purépecha kitchens are often defined by their wood fired stoves and hot stones.

Purépecha kitchens are often defined by their wood fired stoves and hot stones.

Purépecha women wear a unique style of traditional dresses and scarves. The Purépecha culture dates back to pre Hispanic times and once rivalled the Aztec empire.

Purépecha women wear a unique style of traditional dresses and scarves. The Purépecha culture dates back to pre Hispanic times and once rivalled the Aztec empire.

A young boy drives his donkey-drawn cart home as the sun sets in rural Michoacán.

A young boy drives his donkey-drawn cart home as the sun sets in rural Michoacán.

A member of a local marching band practices the trumpet at dusk.

A member of a local marching band practices the trumpet at dusk.

Looking out to Janitzio Island on Lake Patzcuaro. The island community, watched over by a giant statue of Christ, is very strict in its immigration policies. Very few outsiders are permitted to settle on the island, and if a daughter marries someone from another community she is required to leave the island.

Looking out to Janitzio Island on Lake Patzcuaro. The island community, watched over by a giant statue of Christ, is very strict in its immigration policies. Very few outsiders are permitted to settle on the island, and if a daughter marries someone from another community she is required to leave the island.

Also posted in Blog, Latin America, Travel Tagged , , , , , , |

The Passion of Iztapalapa

Early morning on Good Friday, actors and their crosses begin streaming into Iztapalapa for the annual Passion of the Christ procession.

Early morning on Good Friday, actors and their crosses begin streaming into Iztapalapa for the annual Passion of the Christ procession.

Since basing myself in Mexico City, most of my personal work has been focused on the water crisis for urban poor in Iztapalapa – the most populous of the city’s 16 boroughs. So when I heard that several million Catholic devotees would be converging on Iztapalapa to reenact the Passion of the Christ, complete with horses, costumes, and fake blood, I knew it was an event I had to cover.

I teamed up with Al Jazeera English, and the following text was originally published there along with a nice selection of images.

I’m adding a few unpublished pictures here, and if you’re interested in seeing the complete edit, you can look though my archives, here.

In short, the Iztapalapa Passion of the Christ is a photojournalist’s dream in terms of visual overload, and if you find yourself in Mexico City during Semana Santa (holy week), it is well worth the trip.

Catholic devotees carry a statue of the Virgin Mary through the streets of Iztapalapa, clouded in incese smoke.

Catholic devotees carry a statue of the Virgin Mary through the streets of Iztapalapa, clouded in incense smoke.

The Passion of Iztapalapa

Every April for the last 174 years, massive crowds have been gathering in Iztapalapa, Mexico City, to express their Catholic devotion at the annual Passion of the Christ procession. A country with a massive Catholic majority, with more than 80% of the population prescribing to the faith at the last census, the event brings in millions of spectators to Iztapalapa – already Mexico City’s most populous borough. They come to watch thousands of actors in full costume wind their way through Iztapalapa’s streets to the summit of Cerro de Estrella where Jesus’ crucifixion is reenacted, fake blood and all. The players come from all demographics, like Miguel Julian, a handyman from Iztapalapa who has been dressing as a Roman legionary for the last 17 years. When asked why he gives his time to sweat in the Mexican sun clothed in heavy leather armour, he says, “to give thanks to God.”

Actors playing Roman cavalry ride through the streets of Iztapalapa. Most of the horses for the annual event are on loan from the Mexico City police force. Despite being well trained, there are horse-related accidents nearly every year.

Actors playing Roman cavalry ride through the streets of Iztapalapa. Most of the horses for the annual event are on loan from the Mexico City police force. Despite being well trained, there are horse-related accidents nearly every year.

Young men dress as Roman legionaries for the 174-year-old Iztapalapa Passion of the Christ procession. Upwards of 10 000 actors will participate in the event.

Young men dress as Roman legionaries for the 174-year-old Iztapalapa Passion of the Christ procession. Upwards of 10 000 actors will participate in the event.

Local bands practice their marching songs for the annual Passion of the Christ procession. Participating in the event is seen as a sign of devotion and a point of pride for locals.

Local bands practice their marching songs for the annual Passion of the Christ procession. Participating in the event is seen as a sign of devotion and a point of pride for locals.

Unlike in other parts of Latin America where similar passion tributes dates back to Spanish colonial times, Iztapalapa’s event was formed after a cholera epidemic in 1843 ended. To express their faith that God had saved them from death, locals wrote and stages their own version of the Passion of the Christ – an event that has now grown to be one of the region’s largest religious events.

The procession has become a point of local pride for Iztapalapa, an urban sprawl on the Eastern edge of Mexico City home to nearly two million people. One of the city’s lowest income areas, Iztapalapa has been plagued with high crime rates and instances of domestic violence for years. The prestige and scale of the Passion procession is therefore a much needed source of honour for a community that is so often portrayed negatively in the news. “I’ve been coming to this event since I was a little boy,” said 38-year old taxi driver and Iztapalapa local Omar Zepeda. “I used to carry the crosses up the hill like the others, and it always made me feel proud that this event happens here in Iztapalapa.”

Catholic devotees dressed as Nazarenes begin the Passion of the Christ procession in Iztapalapa dragging 100kg (220 lb.) crosses behind them for the long walk to the summit of Cerro de Estrella.

Catholic devotees dressed as Nazarenes begin the Passion of the Christ procession in Iztapalapa dragging 100kg (220 lb.) crosses behind them for the long walk to the summit of Cerro de Estrella.

A cross-bearer takes a break from carrying his 100kg (220lb.) cross up the Cerro de Estrella. In the mid day sun, dragging the crosses up Iztapalapa's tallest mountain is an exhausting physical feat.

A cross-bearer takes a break from carrying his 100kg (220lb.) cross up the Cerro de Estrella. In the mid day sun, dragging the crosses up Iztapalapa’s tallest mountain is an exhausting physical feat.

After reaching the summit of Cerro de Estrella, people quickly drop their heavy crosses and rest in whatever shade they can find after the exhausting trek.

After reaching the summit of Cerro de Estrella, people quickly drop their heavy crosses and rest in whatever shade they can find after the exhausting trek.

While there are thousands of actors and participants in the parade, the competition for the main parts – especially Jesus – is fierce as the honour associated with such a role is immense. The actor who is chosen (this year 27-year-old Eder Omar Arreola Ortega won the part) must be able to drag a 100 kg (220 lb.) wooden cross for roughly six kilometres, much of which is uphill. In order not to collapse in front of the nation’s TV cameras, he must train up to six months in advance.

Young women in full costume wait in the streets as the procession is halted in the winding streets of Iztapalapa. An estimated 10 000 actors and actresses will participate in the event.

Young women in full costume wait in the streets as the procession is halted in the winding streets of Iztapalapa. An estimated 10 000 actors and actresses will participate in the event.

Up to 10 000 actors and actresses participate in the annual event, which winds for kilometres through the streets of Iztapalapa before ending on the summit of Cerro de Estrella.

Up to 10 000 actors and actresses participate in the annual event, which winds for kilometres through the streets of Iztapalapa before ending on the summit of Cerro de Estrella.

With an estimated 2-4 million spectators lining Iztapalapa's streets for the procession, a heavy police presence is needed to control the crowds.

With an estimated 2-4 million spectators lining Iztapalapa’s streets for the procession, a heavy police presence is needed to control the crowds.

Broadcast by satellite and now the Internet all across the Spanish-speaking world, Iztapalapa’s Passion of the Christ is only growing in popularity, just as the religion itself continues to gain ground in the developing world. And there is every indication that massive crowds will continue to gather on Cerro de Estrella for years to come.

An actor dressed as a Roman legionary prepares the wooden crosses at the summit of Cerro de Estrella on which Jesus will be crucified.

An actor dressed as a Roman legionary prepares the wooden crosses at the summit of Cerro de Estrella on which Jesus will be crucified.

27-year-old Eder Omar Arreola Ortega, the actor playing Jesus in this year's Passion of the Christ parade, carries his wooden cross to the summit of Cerro de Estrella. Being chosen to play Jesus is seen as a huge honor and the actor must train up to six months in advance for the phycial feat of dragging a 100kg (220 lb.) piece of wood up hill in the sun.

27-year-old Eder Omar Arreola Ortega, the actor playing Jesus in this year’s Passion of the Christ parade, carries his wooden cross to the summit of Cerro de Estrella. Being chosen to play Jesus is seen as a huge honor and the actor must train up to six months in advance for the phycial feat of dragging a 100kg (220 lb.) piece of wood up hill in the sun.

Jesus and one of the unnamed thieves he was crucified with hang from crosses on Cerro de Estrella, in a representation of his crucifiction.

Jesus and one of the unnamed thieves he was crucified with hang from crosses on Cerro de Estrella, in a representation of his crucifixion.

A tired devotee in Roman legionary's clothing takes a break after hoisting Jesus onto the cross.

A tired devotee in Roman legionary’s clothing takes a break after hoisting Jesus onto the cross.

After dying on the cross, disciples remove Jesus' crown of thorns towards the end of the annual Passion of the Christ procession.

After dying on the cross, disciples remove Jesus’ crown of thorns towards the end of the annual Passion of the Christ procession.

Actors carry Jesus' body down from Cerro de Estrella as the annual procession ends.

Actors carry Jesus’ body down from Cerro de Estrella as the annual procession ends.

Click here to see a longer edit of images from my archives.

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Mexico City’s Invisible Rivers – From the Air

Mexico City, beyond being one of the biggest cities in the world, is also one of the most at risk global capitals in terms of water security. This was not always the case, however. In fact, much of what is now Mexico City used to sit on top of Lake Texcoco – a body of water now almost completely covered over by the massive urban sprawl of 24 million people. But even after the lake was sacrificed to accommodate the city’s growing population, there was still a network of rivers that flowed through the city, providing irrigation, drainage, and green space.

Starting in the mid 1900’s, however, the rivers became so polluted from discarded trash and human waste, which when combined with the explosion of personal cars in Mexico led local government to the decision to enclose these rivers in pipes and pave over them with new roads. Some of the city’s main thoroughfares — Rio Churubusco or Rio de la Piedad, for example — still bear the names of the waterways that they replaced. While there is still some form of running water underneath these roads, they are now more sewer than river.

A woman uses an overpass to cross Rio Churubusco, a major freeway that was once a river.

A woman uses an overpass to cross Rio Churubusco, a major freeway that was once a river.

Recently there has been rising interest among architects and environmental activists to dig up these rivers and restore them to their original state, cleaning the water in the process and providing natural space for locals to enjoy. Unsurprisingly these plans have not been wholeheartedly embraced by the government which does not seem interested in spending large sums of money on projects with little promise of economic returns. Yet that hasn’t stopped people from drawing up plans for what such a project might look like and architecture firm Taller 13 has been among the lead voices in advocating the benefits of a city through which rivers once again flow.

 

Concept art from architecture firm Taller 13, showing what the Rio de la Piedad might look like if rejuvenated.

Since moving to Mexico City and starting a three year investigation into all facets of the city’s water situation, I’ve wanted to get a sense of the scale of these former rivers. Previously I’d driven along some of them and taken photos, but the real magnitude of the environment can’t be grasped from ground level. Instead I set aside my camera and travelled across the city with my drone and I think the footage gives a much better idea of both the size of the city and of the invisible rivers that were once above the surface.

Also posted in Blog, Drone, Environmental, Video, Water Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Sean Gallagher Mentorship Program 2017

I’m pleased to say that I have been awarded the 2017 Mentorship with environmental photojournalist Sean Gallagher. I’ve been following Sean’s work for years, and he was one of the first role models I had to follow when I initially started considering making environmental issues may full time focus. Sean’s work on India’s toxic leather industry and his long-term partnerships with the Pulitzer Center showed me that it was possible to pursue complex environmental stories, even though they might not be dramatic enough to be sought after by the mainstream media.

Ever since I started in this industry I have found that I develop much faster as a storyteller when I have consistently feedback from people I respect, and so I’ve always tried to get as much outside input as possible. In this sense, having a photographer like Sean, someone who is interested in the same issues as I am and who is giving me a full year of his time, will be incredibly valuable and I am looking forward to getting started.

Throughout the course of this program I will continue to work on my long term project about water shortages in Mexico, and I have no doubt that his input is going to increase its power hugely. The visual documentary industry, and the even smaller environmental photojournalism niche within it, can be a solitary one and I am incredibly grateful that there are people like Sean out there who are willing to help along the way.

 

Also posted in Blog, Photojournalism Tips Tagged , , , , |

Iztapalapa by Air

As part of my ongoing long term project about water shortages in Mexico, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time in Iztapalapa – Mexico City’s most populous borough, and one of the most chronically short of water.

The size and scale of Iztapalapa is truly hard to grasp from the ground. For a visitor at street level it’s impossible to get any sense of place, so thick is the urban environment. Low-rise concrete houses interspersed with light industrial operations seem to continue without end and the lack of any tall buildings makes navigating without GPS a challenge. Add to that the fact that Iztapalapa has one of the highest crime rates in a city of roughly 24 million, and wandering around lost becomes a situation best avoided.

Despite the difficulties of working in the area, the majority of Iztapalapa residents are possessed of the same hospitality that Mexico as a nation is famous for. And as a photojournalist and videographer newly based in Mexico City, Iztapalapa is a visual playground. So after a few months of meeting people and exploring various neighbourhoods I finally decided to come back with a drone to get a better sense of where I was in the greater context of the city.

As a drone pilot with experience in multiple countries across Asia, Canada, and Latin America, I have seen my fair share of impressive aerial views. But the expanse of urban jungle as dense as Iztapalapa was by far one of the most dramatic landscapes I’ve flown over.

Narrating in the background is Marisol Fierro, a community representative of the Mixcoatl neighbourhood and one of the people I make sure to visit every time I pass through Iztapalapa. This short video is part of a much longer section on the state of water shortages in the city, and will be eventually part of a much larger narrative. In the meantime, enjoy this birds eye view of Mexico City’s largest borough.

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For questions or proposals about photojournalism, videography, or drone operations in Mexico or the rest of the America’s, you can contact me here.

Also posted in Blog, Drone, Water

Urban Drought: Mexico City’s Water Crisis

Iztapalapa is Mexico City's most populous borough, home to roughly 2 million people. It is also one of the most water starved.

Iztapalapa is Mexico City’s most populous borough, home to roughly 2 million people. It is also one of the most water starved.

Since leaving Cambodia to base myself in Mexico City last spring, I have been asked the same two questions repeatedly — why Mexico, and what are you working on there? Conveniently, the answers to both are more or less the same: water. Of course there are many other reasons for changing continents, and I am doing a variety of non-water related photojournalism and videography, but my primary focus for the last six months has been on the city’s water starved low income neighbourhoods.

Mexico City is the second largest city in the world with an estimated metropolitan population of 24 million people.

Mexico City is the second largest city in the world with an estimated metropolitan population of 24 million people.

The second largest city in the world, no one is exactly sure exactly how many people actually live in Mexico City, but a good guess for the greater metropolitan area is somewhere around 24 million. Only Tokyo is home to more, and its high-tech, hyper-efficient organization makes it an entirely different experience to the functional chaos of Mexico City. With such a staggering population and its under-funded and aging infrastructure, it is in some ways unsurprising that the city is running out of water. Al Jazeera, quoting author Jose Estiban Castro, reported that the city’s water usage average per capita is around 300 litres per day, which is around double what many European cities use (but less still than the American average), and when multiplied across the tens of millions of citizens the total quantity of water needed every day is mind boggling. With this figure in mind it is actually quite impressive that they are able come close to meeting their water needs, especially considering that a devastating earthquake in 1985 caused extensive damage to the underground water infrastructure — much of which still hasn’t been fully repaired.

In fact, if you were to pay a visit to Mexico City and head to some of the trendier colonias, defined by coffee shops, bars, and beautiful parks, you might not notice that there was a water shortage at all. It is only when you venture into some of the sprawling low income suburbs that encircle the city that you realize just how scarce water can be for working class chilangos, as residents of the capital are referred to in the rest of the country.

A pipa drives through the extreme outer edges of Iztapalapa, areas that are water starved as well as possessing high crime rates.

A pipa drives through the extreme outer edges of Iztapalapa, areas that are water starved as well as possessing high crime rates.

Iztapalapa, the city’s most populous borough, is such a place. Home to nearly 2 million and possessing a reputation for high crime rates, Iztapalapa is a different beast than the downtown core that helped earn Mexico City the top spot on The New York Times’ list of cities to visit in 2016. During one visit to the extreme edge of the borough, I was warned by a man I was interviewing not to enter certain vacant buildings because there were often gang-related kidnap victims held inside. In many such neighbourhoods, to have running household water is considered a luxury. In the community of Mixcoatl, for example, the only thing that comes out of the taps with any regularity is a kind of empty gurgling sound. Residents consider themselves lucky if it is followed by actual water more than a few times per month.

Police officers armed with assault rifles man a checkpoint in Iztapalapa, one of Mexico City's poorest neighbourhoods, and one that suffers from chronic water shortages.

Police officers armed with assault rifles man a checkpoint in Iztapalapa, one of Mexico City’s poorest neighbourhoods, and one that suffers from chronic water shortages.

A guard dog protects a scrap yard on the outer edges of Iztapalapa.

A guard dog protects a scrap yard on the outer edges of Iztapalapa.

The first time I went to Iztapalapa it was on the roof of a government water tanker, known as a pipa. From my high vantage point I watched as people ran out of their houses at the sound of the truck’s roaring engine. The pipa would then reverse as close as possible to the person’s house and a crew member would drag a heavy rubber hose inside to fill up whatever kind of vessels they had. More prosperous residents (or those lucky enough to have skilled construction workers in the family) built high capacity underground cisterns to store the delivered water in. When coupled with a small electric pump, these cisterns allow people to have functioning taps in their kitchens, giving the illusion of a functioning public water service.

Waiting for pipas to arrive is a daily occurrence for residents of parts of Iztapalapa.

Waiting for pipas to arrive is a daily occurrence for residents Mixcoatl, a neighbourhood in Iztapalapa.

A man delivers garrafones (large jugs of purified water) in Iztapalapa. Mexico is the highest consumer of bottled water per capita in the world as neither the tap water or the water delivered in tanker is fit for drinking.

A man delivers garrafones (large jugs of purified water) in Iztapalapa. Mexico is the highest consumer of bottled water per capita in the world as neither the tap water or the water delivered in tanker is fit for drinking.

Women in Ecatapec wait to see if government water delivery trucks will enter their neighbourhood. With just three funcitoning trucks for more than 30 000 people, it is sometimes days or weeks between resupply of certain neighbourhoods.

Women in Ecatapec wait to see if government water delivery trucks will enter their neighbourhood. With just three functioning trucks for more than 30 000 people, it is sometimes days or weeks between resupply of certain neighbourhoods.

Those without cisterns relied on a hodgepodge collection of plastic barrels and buckets. Once I even saw someone using a baby’s bathtub as a container of last resort, so desperate were they to make sure they secured every drop of water possible. When I asked why they didn’t just fill up the biggest containers they had and then flag down another truck when they were empty, I was told it might be as much as three weeks before another pipa passed. A family of four, even if each person was using just half of the citywide average, would need more than 4000 litres of water per week. Looking at the size of the vessels some of the people were using, it was clear that they were not even close to being able to store weeks worth of water at, even at one quarter the normal rations.

A mother holds her son back in front of their Iztapalapa home after having an argument with a governement water delivery truck over the infrequency of their visits.

A mother holds her son back in front of their Iztapalapa home after having an argument with a governement water delivery truck over the infrequency of their visits.

A woman hoists a water pipe from a governement tanker onto the roof of her home in Iztapalapa where her family's water storage tanks are located.

A woman hoists a water pipe from a governement tanker onto the roof of her home in Iztapalapa where her family’s water storage tanks are located.

One woman I spoke to told me that she hadn’t been able to do a load of laundry for almost a month because her cistern was dry. Bucket showers had to be taken sparingly and the bather often had to stand inside a plastic tub so that the water could be saved and used to either flush the toilet or wash the floor. Dishes were piled high in many homes until a sufficient quantity had built up to justify filling the sink.

Women in Iztapalapa survey the amount of water that has been delivered to their home, after having used every empty vessel available. It is not uncommon for weeks to pass between water resupply.

Women in Iztapalapa survey the amount of water that has been delivered to their home, after having used every empty vessel available. It is not uncommon for weeks to pass between water resupply.

Two brothers clean their their family toilet using as little water as possible. With days or even weeks passing between water resupply, no water can be wasted.

Two brothers clean their their family toilet using as little water as possible. With days or even weeks passing between water resupply, no water can be wasted.

A woman holds a bucket to catch the water from her kitchen sink so that it can be reused to wash the floor. With extreme water shortages in certain neighbourhoods, careful recycling is needed to meet daily needs.

A woman holds a bucket to catch the water from her kitchen sink so that it can be reused to wash the floor. With extreme water shortages in certain neighbourhoods, careful recycling is needed to meet daily needs.

The problem was not limited to Iztapalapa, nor just to Mexico City for that matter. In the Ecatepec, a 30 minute drive out of the city into Mexico State, I met Yolonda Carillo, who told me that at one point she had gotten so desperate for water that she and her neighbours had essentially kidnapped a pipa crew after being told they would not be receiving a delivery that day. They then called the supervisor at the water depot and demanded that another pipa be dispatched to them or they would not let the crew leave. A stout, motherly woman who fed me tacos and homemade guacamole me after having spoken to me for less than an hour, she was not what I thought a kidnapper would look like. But as she said, water is life, and the lack of it makes people unpredictable.

A boy sits on an empty water tank near his home in Ecatapec, waiting for government water delivery trucks.

A boy sits on an empty water tank near his home in Ecatapec, waiting for government water delivery trucks.

Yolonda Carillo stands outside her home on the edge of Ecatepec, 30 minutes outside Mexico City. Like Iztapalapa, parts of Ecatepec suffer from extreme water shortages.

Yolonda Carillo stands outside her home on the edge of Ecatepec, 30 minutes outside Mexico City. Like Iztapalapa, parts of Ecatepec suffer from extreme water shortages.

An elderly woman in Ecatapec shouts at a water delivery truck for not visiting her home in over a week.

An elderly woman in Ecatapec shouts at a water delivery truck for not visiting her home in over a week.

I realized these shortages affected nearly every aspect of people’s lives, and provided a frightening example of what an increasingly waterless future could look like. Mexico City has already depleted the vast majority of its underground aquifers and has to pipe most its water from river and lake systems, some of which are hundreds of kilometres away. The fact that the city is located on top of a 2,200 meter plateau makes the process of pumping water from so far away an engineering marvel in itself. But with roughly 40% of this water being wasted due to leakages in the pipes, the city’s high usage rates, and the unfortunate reality that the needs of poor citizens are a lower priority than those of the rich, the current system is a temporary fix, not a long term solution.

Women watch as water leaks from a tanker pipe in the streets of Icatapec. Studies suggest that up to 40% of Mexico City's water is lost to leaky infrastructure.

Women watch as water leaks from a tanker pipe in the streets of Icatapec. Studies suggest that up to 40% of Mexico City’s water is lost to leaky infrastructure.

Ecatapec residents wait for their family's barrels to be filled, and then sign a waiver to indicate how much they have received. Though the water is supposed to be free of charge, residents are often required to pay a mandatory 'tip' for the tanker crew or face the possibility that the trucks will not return the following week.

Ecatapec residents wait for their family’s barrels to be filled, and then sign a waiver to indicate how much they have received. Though the water is supposed to be free of charge, residents are often required to pay a mandatory ‘tip’ for the tanker crew or face the possibility that the trucks will not return the following week.

A man pays 20 pesos ($1 US) to the water delivery crew as a "tip", though according to government policy, the water should be free.

A man pays 20 pesos ($1 US) to the water delivery crew as a “tip”, though according to government policy, the water should be free.

As the world continues to urbanize at an irreversible pace and as freshwater supplies dwindle globally, the looming danger for the world’s megacities can be seen in Mexico. This is only an overview of the situation and it is far from complete. It represents just the beginning of what will be a three year investigation into water, which, when finished, will include photography, short videos, and essays. The more time I spend in these communities, the more I am coming to realize how terrible it is to live in an urban environment without water. Yet when I’m done I hope to provide insights into possible solutions to this problem, and not only draw attention to the problem itself.

The future of humanity is in our cities, but as I have learned in Mexico City, without water urban life is untenable.

A community greenhouse in Ecatapec died after government water trucks did not visit the community for over a week.

A community greenhouse in Ecatapec died after government water trucks did not visit the community for over a week.

If anyone knows of innovative urban water programs or solution based initiatives, please feel free to contact me at luc@lucforsyth.com.

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