MEXICO CITY, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Mexicans are being told to cherish water as a member of the family -- to value and hold it in high regard -- as part of a major campaign to stem wastage amid chronic shortages of the resource.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon is exhorting Mexicans to be aware of the importance of conserving water and to consider saving water as important as protecting their family.
"The water is like your family, protect it!" Calderon said while promoting a water-saving campaign going by that slogan.
He said water was a member of the Mexican family, present at home every day and therefore deserving of attention, not neglect.
Mexico is facing its worst drought in 69 years with poor rainfall depleting underground water reserves and thwarting irrigation of crops. In the capital the problem is compounded by a rapid drying of Mexico City's lake-bed soil and sinking of the sprawling metropolis.
The drought is seen by scientists as a result of climate change, but water wastage is blamed by campaigners and officials on ignorance, mismanagement and waste.
The government campaign is aimed at increasing public awareness of water conservation and is costing more than $12.6 million, according to media reports citing government figures.
Calderon said everyone from authorities, business, schools to parents and children had to be involved with a sustainable water management.
While half a century ago, every Mexican had 18,000 cubic meters of water to use that figure was now down to 4,000 cubic meters, he said.
Of every 10 liters of water in Mexico City, 4 liters were wasted, he added.
Authorities in some neighborhoods have announced hefty fines for those hosing down cars or sidewalks or watering lawns.
Campaigners say wastage is worse where water is needed most -- in the shanty towns around Mexico City, where scarcity of water leads to tensions in poor neighborhoods.
In the parched countryside, water shortages have hit corn and wheat yields and livestock production. Mexico's agricultural exports have dropped as a result.
Officials said continued water shortages could lead to food shortages and force Mexico to import more grain and meat.
The drought is blamed largely on El Nino, the weather phenomenon that has warmed the Pacific Ocean, causing widespread climate shifts.
But in Mexico City, the shortages are partly the result of runaway urbanization to house its 20 million inhabitants and overuse of underground water resources in an area that, before the Spanish conquest in 1521, was an Aztec citadel perched on an island surrounded by a lake.
With abundance of asphalt, concrete and urban sewers, rainwater now goes into the drains instead of replenishing subterranean water resources. And, as the underground aquifers dry, experts say the city is sinking up to a foot a year -- compared to just a fraction of an inch a year for Venice, Italy.