Mexicans urged to drink tap water

2014-01-24 16:57
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Mexico City - The Mexican government has called on residents and restaurant owners to drink tap water and install filters, in an effort to stem widespread obesity and to create a culture of water consumption.

Drink water. It's a suggestion alien to Mexico City residents who have long shunned tap water in favour of the bottled kind and to the throngs of tourists who visit the city each year, bringing with them fears of "Montezuma's Revenge".

But a law recently approved by Mexico City's legislators will require all restaurants to install filters, offering patrons free, apparently drinkable potable water that won't lead to stomach problems and other ailments.

"We need to create a culture of water consumption", said Dr Jose Armando Ahued, health secretary for Mexico City. "We need to accept our water."

Bad tap water accounts in part for Mexico being the highest consumer of bottled water and worse soda, some 43 gallons per person a year.

Afraid to drink water

With an obesity epidemic looming nationwide, the city's health department decided to back the water initiative.

Mexico City officials say 65 000 restaurants will have six months to install filters once the bill is signed later this month. Health inspectors will make periodic visits and impose $125 to $630 fines to those not complying. The law doesn't cover thousands of food stalls along Mexico City's streets.

Some restaurants already have the filters. Business consultant Jose Frank recently ate tacos with two colleagues at Yucatan Cravings in the Zona Rosa tourist district. They all had bottled water.

"I'm afraid to drink the water for everything they say. I don't feel secure. I prefer bottled", Frank said.

A general distrust of tap water is not without reason. The city's giant 1985 earthquake burst water pipelines and sewers, increasing waterborne diseases, and officials blamed water supply systems for a spread of cholera in the 1990s.

$5bn market

Tourists still dread getting diarrhoea from the microbes in untreated water.

Mexico City's health secretary said 95% of the capital's drinking water is clean, based on daily checks of chlorination at various treatment plants. But experts note that while Mexico City water leaves the plant in drinkable form, it travels through old underground pipes and dirty rooftop water tanks to the consumer.

Giants such as French Danone, and Coca-Cola and Pepsi are finding that bottled water is the fastest growing segment of their business.

Martinez-Robles estimates the bottled-water market in Mexico reached $5bn in 2012, suggesting it will be hard to get Mexicans to change their habits and trust what comes out of their taps, even if it is filtered.

"It's a huge market", he said. "We don't trust our water distribution system. I'd say it's more of a cultural thing than hygiene."

High consumption of bottled water does not translate to healthier lifestyles, though. Seven out of 10 Mexicans are overweight and have surpassed the US in obesity rates, according to a United Nations report, mostly due to a diet of fatty foods and sugary sodas.


Read more on:    un  |  mexico  |  water

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