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Bottled water in Mexico: The rise of a new access to water paradigm

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Providing a case of bottled water as the main source of drinking water for a nation, this article looks at the unfolding of this development in Mexico and locates it into the mainstream debate about how to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) Target 6.1: universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. This is timely and relevant due to the 2017 amplification of the indicators defining access to improved sources of water to include the use of bottled water, under the broader category of “packaged water.” This signifies that populations that rely on bottled water as a complement to tap water, independent of the frequency and quality of this service, will be considered to have achieved the target. In only two decades, the phenomenon of bottled water has grown from a high‐end, niche consumer good to a global industry valued at $170 billion and climbing. The industry now stands poised to show how the private sector can be involved in achieving global targets, such as SDG 6.1, while earning large profits. In Mexico, 2017 estimates show 73% of the national population relies on bottled water as their unique source of drinking water, up from 61% in 2010. The article will trace the industry's history in Mexico rising out of an earthquake, a cholera epidemic, a financial crisis and the actions of the bottled water corporations. The profitability of this particular model of water delivery has attracted large‐scale investment by multinational food and beverage corporations and banks as well a recent explosion of small‐scale neighborhood water shops selling relatively small quantities of water. Today, this Mexican model is actively being replicated in other regions. Using a literature review and interviews with key informants from CONAGUA, Mexico's national water commission, the article traces four “lines of flight” of the origin and development of the bottled water industry in Mexico. The article reviews the current expansion of market actors and the published strategies of the dominant multinational corporations, to show the various configurations of the bottled water industry that are competing for the future of water delivery. The paper concludes by suggesting that the consequences of this trend deserve renewed examination by the water research community. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water Governance
Bottled water shops, small and large are common throughout Mexico. Photo by Ian Carmody
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After 5 months without access to network water women in la Azucena, El Salto, Mexico, protested on a local highway. Afterward they met to discuss their experiences. Here, they are raising their hands to show who is using bottled water for bathing and washing. Photo by Joshua Greene
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Typically women and children transport bottled water from the shop to the home. Here, a woman is using a shopping cart. Photo by Joshua Greene
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This man is bringing his water home on his bicycle. Photo by Joshua Greene
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Customers who rely on low‐cost bottled water utilize a wide range of techniques to bring the water home. Photo by Joshua Greene
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A recent entrance of small water businesses has entered the Mexican waterscape and guarantees that prices are competitive. Here, a small businessman shows off his delivery machine which he proudly made himself. Photo by Joshua Greene
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