Volume 43 Number 3
World Spotlight: Mexico -- Studying Water, An Innovative Way to Predict the Future
The future is often a tricky thing to accurately forecast. That's why "primitive" and "fascinating" is what first came to my mind when I ran into this peculiar water-related story. As a reader with ties to the water quality improvement industry, I'm sure you'll find it perhaps foolish, very unscientific and even puzzling to say the least.
Picture this: An old, wise man fills a bowl with water just taken out of a well; carefully and in slow motion, he sets several spiders on the water’s surface (amount, variety, gender and size known only to him); he sits on the ground and watches. What for, you might ask? We all know many indigenous tribes around the world have plenty of legends and stories related to the precious liquid that gives us life -- water. Nevertheless, prediction of the future by analyzing a spider’s movements on the water surface was practiced only by the Purepechas -- a native tribe of people from a region in central México -- to my knowledge.
We have come a long way since these events took place and it's thanks to technological advancement that we can now say, “How interesting!” In paradox, the truth is we're still not capable of predicting the future. However, thanks to statistics, reports, projects and profiles, we get as close as possible to effectively envisioning an almost clear picture of what lies ahead.
There are 600 aquifers recorded in México. The major ones are located in interior drainage basins, on the coastal plains and in narrow bands along major streams and rivers. To date, 100 aquifers are known to be overdrafted or exploited. Regarding pollution levels, figures vary but we know for a fact that rivers are highly contaminated. The National Water Commission reported that 914 water treatment plants had been built in México, but only 727 were in operation in 1998. One hundred percent of wastewater treatment is only performed by Servicios de Agua y Drenaje de Monterrey (a water works system serving 710,000 consumers proportional to 3.5 million inhabitants, located in Northern México). Presently, environmental laws and regulations are under strong review, with improved sanitation being a priority. Figures from 1998 show that for a total population of 95.8 million, 86.4 percent had potable water and 72.4 percent had proper sanitation (see Figure 1).
Among severe water-related problems facing Mexicans -- adequate water supplies, waterborne diseases, increasing population, infrastructure shortfalls and poor training of water system operators and professionals -- the last remains the easiest to address. It's also one the municipal water works, water bottlers and point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) water treatment system dealers can unite behind a government effort to limit health risks and increase the confidence of the general public in their drinking water.
The Mexican Water Technology Institute -- Instituto Mexicano de Tecnología del Agua (IMTA) -- developed a product and quality control certification system at the production line level, allowing manufacturers to be listed as certified product suppliers for the water sector. It’s currently distributed to 1,500 users and includes manufacturers from United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Spain. The supplier’s list is now validated by CERTIMEX (equivalent to NSF) in its latest version and will be of special interest because of México's NOM-180-SSA1-1998 regarding bactericidal claims for residential water filters. Draft of the NOM stated that potability was guaranteed if a water filter could claim removal of 95 percent or higher of all mesophilic bacteria and coliform bacteria.
Since 1999, 11 institutions were involved in its manufacture with the main objective of assisting the population in their water quality consumption and health related concerns as municipal distribution. As stated before, systems don’t comply frequently to good standards and domestic equipment for water treatment didn’t have a legal framework for its manufacture or import. As a result, effective Dec. 30, 2000, residential water filters will be required to remove 95 percent of all mesophilic bacteria, and 99.99 percent of all coliform bacteria.
In 1995, CONOCER -- which is the Consejo de Normalización y Certificación de Competencia Laboral (Normalization and Certification Council for Competent Labor) -- was created as the result of a new vision of improved human resources in México and establishes a link between the education system, industry and the individuals wishing to become certified. The project relates to all major economical and productive activities in the country, working in conjunction with the Public Education Ministry -- Secretaria de Educación Pública (SEP), and the Work and Social Prevention Ministry -- Secretaría de Trabajo y Previsión Social (STPS). The venture is sponsored by the World Bank and has 64 nationwide Labor Competence Committees (CNCL) that keep a close link with 13 private national universities and all technical colleges in the country. The 440 labor competence norms to date, done by experts in each field, contain the basis for quality in the tasks performed and assure that future curricula will contain labor competence norms and standards of each industry. CONOCER is ISO 9001 certified and was included in México’s short list for the 2000 National Quality Prize.
Among the labor competence committees relevant to the water treatment industry, we find the CNCLs for: • Water & Sanitation Operational Organisms, • Purified bottled water industry, and • Hydraulic Operations
The first two are national. The last, was established as a subcommittee involving only the water works system in the Federal District, which is equivalent to the District of Columbia in the United States. It's of special interest as it oversees the metropolitan area in México City, where a task force of approximately 12,000 workers serves about 20 million people.
In the past, a nationwide scarcity of adequately trained specialists in water and sanitation prevailed. With the new capacity of technical support, norms are being generated, operational manuals are being produced, courses are made more available, scientific seminars, videos, virtual courses and many other technical aids for various educational levels will assist everyone in the industry.
A collaborative effort
With the opening in last October of the Mexican Center for Water and Sanitation Training (CEMCAS) built with the French government’s assistance near México City in Texcoco (not yet officially inaugurated), a new scope for the sector in continuing education’s program has been established.
About the author
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