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Understanding the resilience of Mexico City to future water crises

Long-term solutions for water poverty in one of the world's largest cities in the face of climate change and a growing population.

Drone image of Mexico City during sunset. There are many skyscrapers and blocks of smaller dwellings, many of which are a deep red or yellow in colour. Mountains can be seen in the background and some clouds dot the sky. David Arenas @ Pexels.
Drone image of Mexico City from above during sunset. David Arenas @ Pexels.

Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities and its population, geographical setting and aging infrastructure have put its natural water reserves at risk. Climate change and a growing population are forecast to put further strain on these reserves, making water crises and water poverty increasingly common. Long-term solutions need to look beyond purely technical water-management solutions and integrate sociological processes into future practices.

Socio-hydrological resilience

Socio-hydrology looks at the interactions between people and water, providing a holistic platform to better understand the impacts of water-management practices.

Making cities more socio-hydrologically resilient reduces the potential for water crises in the future. Working with the Architectural Association School of Architecture and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL, BGS developed a tool for assessing the socio-hydrological resilience of cities, both currently and under various scenarios. This tool allows decision makers to assess the effects of changing water-management practices.

With guidance from local stakeholders, the team looked at how different climate-change scenarios could affect the socio-hydrological resilience of the city and how the development of household-scale wetlands across the city could improve this resilience. These ‘constructed wetlands’ consist of small areas of vegetation, soil and organisms that have been engineered to act as a biofilter to remove pollutants from water. They provide a decentralised, sustainable way to treat waste water, reducing disease and the need for infrastructure maintenance whilst improving access to green infrastructure, thus providing ecological benefit.

Constructed Wetland in Mexico City
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Example of a constructed wetland in Mexico City. © Fluxus 2021.

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Mexico City today

The socio-hydrological resilience of Mexico City is currently divided into two main areas. The central and western parts of the city are generally more resilient, whilst the eastern, northern and southern neighbourhoods are less so. In the east and north, this lower resilience is attributed to a reduced capacity for society to adapt to water crises, but in the south, there is greater natural stress on water resources.

The development of constructed wetlands across the city has, under today’s climate, the potential to decrease the number of people vulnerable to water poverty by 32 per cent (around six million people). Wetlands also have the ability to decrease the number of highly vulnerable people by half a million.

socio-hydrological resilience of Mexico City
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Image showing the socio-hydrological resilience of Mexico City. The dark red regions are less resilient, and the light yellow more resilient, to social and water-related stress. © Architectural Association.

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Mexico City in the future

The project found that, with no improvements to water sustainability, around four million people in Mexico City will move from low to moderate vulnerability by 2050. These people will have greater difficulty gaining access to a reliable, clean water supply. Additionally, around seven in every ten people in the city would be classed as highly vulnerable, meaning that they are highly unlikely to have a secure water supply. The team found that optimising the development of constructed wetlands can improve socio-hydrological resilience in the future, bringing levels in line with those that we see today.

​Although constructed wetlands have the ability improve socio-hydrological resilience across Mexico City, they will need to be combined with other, decentralised green-blue infrastructure, such as rain-harvesting systems, to further improve resilience in the future.

You can find out more about the project and access the open-source tool by visiting the Mexico Socio-hydrological Resilience website.

Partners and funding

This project was funded by British Council Institutional Links and developed in collaboration with the Architectural Association School of Architecture and the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), a research centre at University College London.

About the author

Andrew Barkwith
Dr Andrew Barkwith

Principal numerical modeller and smart observing systems lead

BGS Keyworth
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