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Rio+20: Growing cities and the search for clean water access

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"It's not like in the US, where you turn on a faucet and there is water, always," Mr. Vargas says.

Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world, and like so many communities in the region, Tecalipa is an illegal settlement and disconnected from the water system. As in other megacities, the politics of water here are fraught. Mexico City must play a balancing act when it comes to illegal settlements like this one, Vargas says – especially since the city doesn't want to send a message that it supports illegal encampments. So for now, Mexico City's initiatives are largely limited to delivering truckloads of water every week to communities like Tecalipa.

 Each family's share of water depends on its size: Garcia Velazquez gets four barrels for six members, which is half of the minimum 50 liters (13 gallons) a day the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends per person for basic needs to be met.

Garcia Velazquez's day revolves around water rationing. Women in this community manage their water supplies the way other families balance budgets, accounting for each drop. Garcia Velazquez first washes her white clothes, reuses the water to wash colors, and saves the leftover to wash out the toilet.

"Sometimes I bathe my four children with a single bucket of water," Garcia Velazquez says. "Water is what we are always thinking about."

Access to water is particularly bad during the dry season, which runs from late spring to fall: Citywide shortages are common. But in Tecalipa, it means that piles of dirty clothes lie strewn across the house and dirty dishes pile up on a counter outside. When it starts to rain, Garcia Velazquez can let down her guard. But in a cruel twist, the rainy season is when her husband's life gets more complicated: Despite chronic water shortages, Mexico City is also prone to flooding during torrential rainfalls.

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