Mexican President calls for crusade to save forests and water supplies

Mexico’s President has issued a dramatic plea for his nation to work together to save the threatened environment, citing it as a matter of national security, and threatening to use the army for its protection.

Vicente Fox launched the National Crusade for Forests and Water with a plea to the 90 million strong nation’s conscience. “The objectives of this crusade, in the short term, are to make citizens aware of the importance of our resources, and to enforce their protection with concrete actions, which the whole population can actively take part in,” a statement from the president’s office announced.

Fox’s declaration said that in the last decade environmental degradation had cost Mexico the equivalent of 12% of the GDP, or more than US $38 million. The statement said that it was time to reverse the current trend whereby between 20 and 50% of water is wasted by domestic, agricultural and industrial use, and, in the last 20 years 59% of Mexican forests had been lost (see story in ‘world’ section). The WWF names Mexican dry forests as one of the 10 most threatened ecoforest systems in the world. “The human and economic potential of our nation’s biodiversity is still important,” Fox declared. “We must care for and increase these 21 million hectares of forests and give them a rational use.”

Mexico’s environment ministry, SEMARNAT, said that the government would work with 4,246 NGOs to protect the country’s water systems. The north of the country suffers from water shortages, and Mexico is concerned about US plans to alter the water distribution system of the Colorado River, shared by both countries (see related story). A new forest commission has also been established to assist in rainforest protection.

The environment secretary, Victor Lichtinger, said that the government would, for the first time, make sure that government departments would work together to make sure environmental conflicts did not arise and that all future plans would take environmental impact into account. He recognised that one branch of the agriculture ministry had been responsible for deforestation. Lichtinger also recognised that Mexico’s deforestation is largely due to organised crime and said the army would be called on in enforcement matters. “There are unsafe areas for our inspectors to enter because they do not have guns, and so often we will require the help of the army,” he said.

The ministry also insisted that the death of 22 million Monarch butterflies, which environmentalists claimed was due to the deliberate spraying of pesticides by loggers to be able to use of protected forest, was in fact due to the cold.

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