The 115th Peking University Medical Humanities Forum: Adalberto Noyola: Water Resources and Wastewater Management in Mexico: Environmental and Health Issues

Prof. Adalberto Noyola, Director of the Center of Mexican Studies of National Autonomous University of Mexico in China, was invited to deliver a lecture--“Water Resources and Wastewater Management in Mexico: Environmental and Health Issues” at the School of Medical Humanities, Peking University.Prof. Noyola is an environmental engineer with a PhD from INSA-Toulouse, France, a senior researcher and former Head of the Institute of Engineering at UNAM. The lecture was chaired by Associate Professor Su Jingjing (School of Health Humanities, Peking University), and Professor Zhang Daqing (School of Health Humanities, Peking University) was invited as the commentator.

This lecture consists of five parts: “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The Objective 6” “The Water and Sanitation Sector in Mexico” “Bottled Water” “Diagnostic Elements for Latin America” “Actions and Conclusions”. To start with, Prof. Noyola mentioned the six targets of the sustainable development, and introduced the burden of underdevelopment.


The Water and Sanitation Sector in Mexico

This section is the focus of Prof. Noyola’s lecture. With detailed data, he pointed out that the water and sanitation services in Latin America still lag behind. After that, he focused on the availability of water in Mexico. By showing the chart of “regional contrast between development and water availability”, Prof. Noyola emphasized that there is a significant regional imbalance between Mexico’s development and water resources. Moreover, the average natural availability of water resources is decreasing year by year. In addition, there are also some problems with the use and management of water resources in Mexico. But in fact, focusing on water and sanitation issues is a preventive investment to preserve health. It is imperative to alleviate the lack of water and sewer service in Mexico. Furthermore, Prof. Noyola listed some specific actions to solve the limited water and sanitation services in the urban and the rural areas of Mexico. He also introduced the potable water plants and wastewater treatment coverage in Mexico. In addition, Prof. Noyola stressed the impact of water supply on the infant mortality rate from diarrheal diseases.


Bottled Water

The deficiencies in quality and quantity of the water service make users distrust the quality of the water supplied by the municipal supply system. Mexico has become the world’s largest consumer of bottled water per capita. The equipment for water purification has become the choice of some families, and the market is growing. However, due to unequal economic development in Mexico, there is a lower household budget to cover the need for drinking water and food preparation among poor residents. Additionally, the presence of PET bottles in the environment may be considered out of control, which has brought a heavy environmental burden.


Diagnostic Elements for Latin America

Prof. Noyola pointed out that the deficiencies in health, food, education and security faced by a broad stratum of society are aggravated by population growth, particularly in urban areas, and the limited opportunities to increase the income levels of the poorest social classes. Public policies adopted in the region have focused on improving coverage rates rather than on the quality of service. As a result, drinking water and the sanitation services have not been supplied at the rate required to ensure the protection of public health and the preservation of the environment and natural resources. Therefore, the lack of sanitation services would lead to some environmental and public health problems, representing a real exposure to risks of illness and death for a significant number of inhabitants in Mexico, particularly the poorest and children.


Actions and Conclusions

Based on the above-mentioned content, the speaker proposed some suggestions and provided a summary. Prof. Noyola pointed out that some actions and conclusions should be proposed in order to meet and exceed the SDGs, and overcome the enormous challenge facing Mexico and Latin America in the water sector. For example, it is necessary to carry out institutional reforms; develop technical and managerial capacities; promote the participation of society in decision-making processes and in the governance of the resource; develop in the households a culture of care and appreciation of water, as a scarce commodity. Prof. Noyola also proposed the strategies for the urban environment, which included promoting a different resource management based on managing demand and not on increasing supply; advocating the rational use of water resources, modifying the consumption patterns that are currently in place and so froth.


Finally, a heated discussion on the issues of “the important issues in the history of medicine” “the consumption of bottled water and environmental problems” “the consumption of Coca Cola in Mexico” “the recycling of plastic waste” “the desalination of sea water” and “the use of water purification equipment” was carried out among teachers and students.

This lecture was funded by the Chinese National Social Science Foundation Major Project of the “Contemporary Historiography and Database Construction of Epidemics” (20&ZD224).


Yang Wenjun, Su Jingjing

School of Health Humanities