A water footprint can be applied to countries as a whole, or to specific industries or economic activities, such as mining or agriculture. The countries of Mesoamerica, however, have made no attempt to calculate this indicator, beyond a few isolated initiatives.
The region, made up by the southern states of Mexico and the seven countries of Central America, is generally rich in freshwater, but is extremely vulnerable to changes which, in the medium to long term, could diminish its availability.
Waste, pollution and lack of governance pose serious threats to the supply of this precious resource, sources consulted in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador told Tierramérica.
Non-governmental organisations from the region plan to denounce this situation at the 6th World Water Forum, taking place Mar. 12-17 in Marseille, France.
In Mexico, poor water management "is reflected by pollution and inequality in its distribution between different uses, between urban and rural areas, and between cities," said Claudia Campero, Latin American regional coordinator for the Blue Planet Project, a global initiative based in Canada that works with partners around the world to protect the right to water.
Some 500,000 agricultural irrigation users consume 32 million cubic metres of water annually in this country of 107 million people, according to the National Water Commission of Mexico.
At the same time, however, 30 percent of Mexican households do not have piped water and 15 percent receive water through other means only every three days, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.
Access to drinking water is a basic human right, recognised by the United Nations through a General Assembly resolution in 2010. The UN has also declared it to be a legally binding right, which means that all member countries are obliged to incorporate it in their constitutions and national legislation.
Mexico must now reform the National Water Law in order to adapt it to the changes made in its constitution. Guatemala and El Salvador do not even have this type of legislation.
In Guatemala, agriculture accounts for 40 percent of the freshwater consumed, households use another nine percent, and other sectors, including industry, make up a combined share of three percent. The remaining 48 percent goes to so-called non-consumptive uses, primarily the generation of hydroelectric power, according to the Secretariat of Planning and Programming of the Presidency.
Although the country’s freshwater supply is sufficient in general, the Corredor Seco (Dry Corridor) area of central and eastern Guatemala is characterised by recurring droughts in the Northern hemisphere summer months and semi-arid soils with low crop yields. Unsurprisingly, the region has been repeatedly hit by food crises and suffers high rates of malnutrition, sometimes even fatal.
Some efforts have been made to improve water management in the country, said Ever Sánchez of the non-governmental Water and Sanitation Network of Guatemala.
"A specific government department was created to foster better interinstitutional coordination and develop a water policy," he reported. Nevertheless, serious problems persist in the management of household and industrial wastewater and solid waste.
El Salvador is the only country in Central America with a shortage of water, according to the report "Situación de los recursos hídricos en Centroamérica: hacia una gestión integrada" (Water Resources Situation in Central America: Towards Integrated Management), published in April 2011 by the Global Water Partnership (GWP).