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Synthesis/Regeneration 6   (Spring 1993)

Water, Deforestation, Desertification
and Endangered Species

by Barbara Chicherio, Gateway Green Alliance

Multinationals have expanded production in Mexican cities that are not able to provide sanitation. They exacerbate this problem by dumping their poisons into these cities' water. Border rivers such as the Tijuana and Rio Grande are full of toxic chemicals and raw sewage. In Mexicali, the New River is full of bacteria, industrial chemicals, and heavy metals.

In addition to poisoning water, corporations deplete it during industrial processes. Border cities are using groundwater at a rate 20 times faster than the aquifers can refill them. In 1989, the multinational Grand Met took over Pillsbury-Green Giant and moved its Watsonville, California plant to Irapuato, Mexico. Hundreds of women averaging 14 years employment lost their jobs. Their organization, Trabajadores Desplazados, described how Grand Met-Pillsbury-Green Giant uses over half a million gallons of water per day to process export food products. Many Irapuato citizens are without clean running water. The water table has dropped by 400 feet. Grand Met-Pillsbury-Green Giant's waste water goes into the Guanajuato River.

Depletion of groundwater will only exacerbate the process of deforestation. Mexican agricultural production has been shifting from staple crops to beef and other cash and export products. Expanding corporate agriculture has accelerated the destruction of croplands and rain forests.

GATT began in 1948. It is a model for NAFTA and its recent application to logging shows its threat. U.S. logging companies recently sued to stop the British Columbia from subsidizing the replanting of forests. They claimed it was an unfair subsidy of Canadian loggers. The government of British Columbia went along and stopped paying for the replanting.

Mexico has the largest remaining tropical rainforest in North America and one of the largest forest reserves in the world . It also has one of the world's highest rates of deforestation, losing more than one million acres annually. Groundwater depletion and cutting of timber are creating massive deserts in Mexico. Fertile topsoil is disappearing at an annual rate of 560 million tons. Every year, over half a million acres of Mexican land become desert. Already one-third desert, its lakes and rivers are visually drying up.

About 15% of Mexico's plant and animal species are found nowhere else on earth. But deforestation and desertification threaten many of those species. For years, environmentalists have been struggling to protect species. By prohibiting the importation of tuna which was caught through excessive netting of dolphins, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was a victory. International trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA would undo laws passed to protect life forms. According to Rachel's Hazardous Waste News (#303): On Aug 16, '91, a GATT panel concluded that US import restrictions on "dolphin-unsafe" tuna from Mexico constituted an illegal restriction on trade. The GATT panel ruled that it is illegal for member countries to make distinctions between products based on the manner in which they are produced.

NAFTA would have a devastating effect upon ecology. "Free" trade would bring millions into border cities which already suffer from insufficient sewage treatment. "Free" trade would vastly increase the toxic poisoning of water. "Free" trade would allow multinationals to increase groundwater depletion. "Free" trade would encourage the cutting of Mexico's tropical rainforest. The groundwater exhaustion and forest cutting would greatly increase the rate of desertification in Mexico. Mexico would lose even more species.

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