Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 20 Shawn's Log

Mexico and the Environment

PollutionWith increasing industrialization and an exploding population, the environment in Mexico is facing a multitude of problems, creating hazards for both human health and the fragile land and marine ecosystems abundant there. Air and water pollution are the biggest concerns, with deforestation and solid waste disposal not far behind. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has made Mexico a very popular location for factories and refineries due to the relative cheapness of labor and its proximity to US consumers.

NAFTA is an agreement signed by Mexico and the US (and now including Canada) intended to remove many of the government controls over businesses doing business across the border. The hope was that it would allow US companies to hire people to work cheaply in Mexico while providing Mexicans with more jobs, and allowing the US to more easily sell goods in Mexico.

Some of the side effects are increasing environmental destruction because environmental regulations and restrictions are far weaker in Mexico than in the US, reduced control over health standards for food crossing the border, and a long debate over whether it has helped the countries' economies or not.

For a journalist's analysis of the results, check out AFTA as of 1995, "For Mexico, NAFTA's Promise is Still Just a Promise," by the New York Times News Service.

For information critical of NAFTA, visit Public Citizen

For information supportive of NAFTA, visit the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce Site

Although industrial expansion is occurring rapidly, the Mexican government is not yet equipped to deal with certain aspects of it such as solid and chemical waste disposal and communities in the NAFTA corridor which are developing health problems at critical levels.

Simply managing human wastes is one of the biggest difficulties facing the Mexican government. In border towns such as Tijuana, where the population is rapidly growing to meet the demand for industrial workers, tons of raw sewage flow into the water supply daily because there is not an adequate infrastructure to treat all the waste produced. Industrial by-products like chemicals and solid wastes are also routinely dumped unsafely near populations, contaminating soil and water supplies. These factors have led to dramatic increases in cancer rates and birth defects among the Mexican population.

Air pollution is one of the biggest problems in Mexico. Mexico City is the largest city in the world with a population nearing 20 million. Although there is a large amount of dust in the air from the dry soil of the area, the greatest contributor to the horrific levels of air pollution is clearly the automobile. Every day, over a million cars, buses and trucks flood the streets of Mexico City, spewing out a thick brown cloud of smog, which remains trapped over the city by the high mountains which surround it. Any visitor to the city is sure to notice it almost immediately and long-term respiratory problems are endemic in the city's population.

Large tracts of rainforest in southern Mexico are routinely clear-cut to provide timber to the masses and to create grazing land for cattle. Many species of plants and animals who depend on this habitat are in danger of extinction and the indigenous people who live there find themselves with less and less land each year. The delicate coral reefs of the Gulf Coast are also in peril, their numbers dwindling to make room for tourist hotels and piers. For the most part Mexico is a beautiful country, abundant in life and with a broad range of ecosystems. However, industry and lack of government regulation threaten to damage and ultimately destroy this beauty if drastic changes in policy do not occur soon.


Related Dispatches: 
Shawn - Mexico and the Environment

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