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Water is the real thing … but millions of Mexicans are struggling without it | Global development

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The water truck parks on the same block, a 10-minute walk uphill from Rocio Vega Morales’ house, for 15 minutes at most. She has no clue what time of day the pipa will arrive in her neighbourhood, delivering the precious water she and her four children need to bathe, wash dishes and flush the toilet. It could be while she is at work, or in the middle of the night.

Sometimes she will get there seconds too late, and have to chase the truck down the street, plastic buckets swinging.

Vega Morales lives in a low-income area in Monterrey; one of Mexico’s largest and most industrial cities, in the state of Nuevo León, it has a population of more than five million. Taps have been dry here for over a month, so pipas, primarily run by the city authority, are the only way to deliver water to homes and businesses.

Most trucks do not carry drinking water – sometimes it is brown or has insects floating in it. Vega Morales has two 20-litre buckets to fill daily, and uses most of it in the bathroom. “I don’t want to get to the point where we can’t flush the toilets. That’s where I would start to feel really gross,” she says. “The kids don’t understand – it is hardest on them.”

A man holds up a large water bottle of muddy brown water as people queue with buckets to collect water
The quality of water distributed from pipa trucks makes it unfit to drink, forcing most people to buy drinking water – at prices equivalent to the cost of petrol. Photograph: Daniel Becerril/Reuters

Her children are aged from one and 11. The older two want to bathe every day but there is not enough water to go around. This summer is tough for the family: they have to buy their drinking water in shops, and the price has nearly tripled in the past two months. Monterrey is facing a “sanitary crisis” as the cost of bottled water means people who cannot afford to pay for it end up drinking unclean water from the pipas.

Northern Mexico is facing its worst water crisis in 30 years as reservoirs serving about 23 million people dry up. The climate crisis has caused consistently hotter summers, and this year’s La Niña weather patterns created the perfect conditions for severe drought.

Several cities have now reached “day zero” – the point of critical water scarcity when supplies run out.

More than half of Mexico is suffering from drought, and the national water authority, Conagua, declared a state of emergency in four northern states. Jarring side-by-side photos of the Cerro Prieto reservoir in Nuevo León, taken from space by Nasa, show a deep blue-green in 2015 and what looks like desert this summer, as if the reservoir had never existed.

Cerro Prieto reservoir on July 20, 2015, and on July 7, 2022.
Water levels in Cerro Prieto reservoir in July 2015 and July 2022.
The reservoir in Nuevo León state, which supplies Monterrey, Mexico’s second-largest city, has been drying up for years. But a deepening drought since 2020 has brought the reservoir, built in the 1980s, to its lowest point yet. This month, it fell to 0.5% of its 393m cubic metre capacity.

Nowhere is the crisis felt more acutely than in Monterrey’s poorest areas. Several brewers and soft drinks companies have factories in the city, and these use about 60 times the amount consumed by the city’s population, nearly 90bn litres a year in total, and over half of that – nearly 50bn litres a year (or 50m cubic metres) – is water from public reservoirs.

The drought has not halted their water use; companies including Coca-Cola and Heineken use private wells to continue extracting groundwater for their production lines.

On 18 July, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, asked the drinks companies to stop production and give their water to the public. Heineken said it would allocate 20% of its supply for public use; Coca-Cola invited the public to collect free water from its Topo-Chico mineral water factory, but it is too far away for most residents.

In recent weeks, activists have popularised the phrase: “No es sequía, es saqueo” (“It’s not drought, it’s plunder”).

Jaime Noyola, director of the Alliance of Users of Public Services, says his organisation predicted the crisis four months ago. The public-interest group regularly protests outside government buildings. They allege that local leaders, including the governor of Nuevo León state, Samuel García, are directly profiting from drinks companies’ water use.

“From the behaviour of the companies, we don’t see anything that indicates they will give up [water] voluntarily,” Noyola says. “And on the part of the local and state government, there’s a crisis of ineptitude, and they blame everyone but themselves.”

Two helmeted paramilitary officers with sub-machine guns along the edge of a reservoir
State security forces patrolling along a dam in Tanguma, Nuevo León, to prevent the theft of water in June. Photograph: Daniel Becerril/Reuters

The alliance is calling for the removal of Monterrey’s director of water and drainage, Juan Ignacio Barragán, due to conflicts of interest. Barragán’s family – which is among Mexico’s wealthiest – founded one of Coca-Cola’s bottlers, Arca Continental.

In a joint statement, Arca Continental and the Coca-Cola Company emphasised that Monterrey’s industrial sector consumed only 4% of public water in Nuevo León state. However, this does not account for private wells.

Though a group of drinks companies, including Arca Continental and Coca-Cola, have collectively pledged to give up 28% of the water they use while the drought continues, the companies did not mention lowering prices of the essential drinking water they sell.

Women and a child wave empty water bottles as they block a highway with trucks behind them
Demonstrators block a highway in protest at the lack of water in Escobedo, Nuevo León, in April. Photograph: Daniel Becerril/Reuters

“How do you assign a price to water? It’s a human right,” says Noyola. “But these companies, namely Coca-Cola, in selling bottled water as the only potable water source, have made their product obligatory. Now water costs nearly as much as gasoline.”

Mexico is the world’s largest per-capita consumer of bottled water. Noyola adds: “Even if they stop production, they are still selling their products while people are suffering and infections are spreading [from people drinking water from the pipas].

The water crisis has sparked protests and violence along class lines, as wealthier areas are given higher water quotas than poorer areas, and still have tap water for up to 12 hours a day. On 16 July, residents of two impoverished Monterrey suburbs learned that a portion of the remaining water from a nearby reservoir would be diverted to the city. In response, they blocked a highway with a barricade of cars, tyres, rocks and tree branches, stalling traffic for two days. Then they burned the water pipes.

“I won’t be surprised if people get together and start hijacking the pipas,” Noyola says. And Vega Morales concludes: “If it gets any worse, I don’t know how we’ll live like this till September.”

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Brazilian woman and fake seer con elderly mother out of $142 million | International

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A woman was arrested on August 10 by Rio de Janeiro police who charged her with conning her mother out of millions. In a strange story of greed abetted by fake psychics, Sabine Boghici and her accomplices stole more than $142 million in money, jewelry and artwork from Boghici’s mother over a two-year period.

Geneviève Boghici, the widow of a major art collector and dealer named Jean Boghici, was walking out of a bank in January 2020 near the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) when she was approached by a supposed psychic prophesying her daughter’s imminent death unless she underwent “spiritual therapy.” They walked together to Boghici’s apartment, where the psychic threw some shells in a mystical ritual that confirmed the tragic prophesy. The 82-year-old victim knew that her daughter suffered from psychological problems, and her affinity for the supernatural swayed her to transfer $980,000 to the swindlers.

Soon after the two-year con began, the elderly woman became suspicious and halted the money transfers when her daughter started to isolate her from friends. Sabine would not allow her mother to use the phone and dismissed all the domestic workers, justifying them as Covid-19 precautions. Yet Sabine and her cronies entered freely to loot her mother’s home of its valuables. Several psychics took items from the home, saying they were “cursed” and needed to be “prayed over.” The increasingly suspicious Geneviève tried to resist, but Sabine began threatening her life. According to the police, she wouldn’t allow her mother to eat and put a knife to her throat.

Police recover 'Sol Poente' by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.
Police recover ‘Sol Poente’ by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.Policia Civil de Rio de Janeiro (EFE)

The victim told the police that her daughter had some sort of relationship with one of the supposed psychics, Rosa Stanesco Nicolau, who practiced her trade in Rio de Janeiro as “Mãe Valéria de Oxossi” (Mother Valeria), and was a known con artist. Starting in September 2020, under constant threat from her daughter and accomplices, the elderly woman made another 38 bank transfers to the thieves.

Sabine and her cohorts stole 16 paintings and sculptures, and sold them all to art galleries or private buyers. Two of these works – Elevador Social (Social Elevator) by Rubens Gerchman, and Maquete para o menú espelho (A model for my mirror) by Antonio Dias – were bought by Eduardo Costantini, owner of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Argentina), for his private collection. The São Paulo (Brazil) gallery owner who brokered the deal said he was not suspicious because he had known the family for a long time and the seller was the daughter of the deceased art collector. Constantini released a statement saying that he bought the paintings in good faith and was in direct contact with Genevieve Boghici.

In 2012, a fire in the Boghici’s Copacabana apartment destroyed part of their valuable collection, including Di Cavalcanti’s Samba and Alberto Guignard’s A Floresta (The Forest). Sol Poniente (Setting Sun), painted by Tarsila do Amaral in 1929, is one of the most valuable works in the Boghici collection ($49 million). It survived the 2012 fire but not the rampant greed of their daughter. The stolen painting was found under a bed by police, who arrested Sabine and three other people, including the fake seer. In a final twist to the whole bizarre story, the scamming psychic was apprehended trying to escape through a window.

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India’s HIV patients say shortages leaving hundreds of thousands without drugs | Global development

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Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India are struggling to access treatment because of a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to campaigners.

Up to 500,000 people have not been able to get hold of free ARVs from government health centres and hospitals over the past five months, they say, as the country experiences stock shortages of key drugs.

ARVs that are available in privately run pharmacies and shops can be prohibitively expensive. Some people have been given alternative drugs, but others have stopped taking any medication.

“Does the government even realise that at least 500,000, or one-third of the patients, are affected by this? Some adults are being given 11 doses of paediatric medicine to compensate,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), an NGO that works to improve the treatment and facilities for people living with HIV and Aids. “We only demand an uninterrupted monthly supply. This treatment is our right.”

According to Gangte, who has been protesting with about 30 others outside India’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in Delhi for 22 days, at least 12 other states, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, are facing ARV shortages. He said several state governments have asked patients to change their longstanding drug regimes.

“The [Covid-19] pandemic had already broken our backs. Now this shortage is pushing us further into penury,” Gangte said.

Kedar Nath, a 30-year-old street vendor taking part in the protest, said he has not taken his ARVs on several occasions over the past two months. He cannot afford the £50 a month it would cost to buy the drugs on the open market.

“I have been taking these drugs for the last 13 years. They have helped me continue with my life despite the virus in my body. But the recent shortage has turned my life upside down since I can neither find the strength to work, nor have any savings to live off,” he said.

According to government figures, 2.35 million people in India are HIV-positive. About 1.5 million people are on antiretroviral therapy, far lower than the World Health Organization’s “90-90-90 target” – under which 90% of people with HIV are diagnosed, 90% are on ARV treatment, and 90% are no longer infectious.

India says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 58,900 Aids-related deaths were reported in the country.

The government has refuted Gangte’s claims of a shortage. The Indian health ministry said it had “reviewed the entire situation and held a series of meetings with the protesters. ARV drugs are being provided for [a] duration of less than one month, but at no point in time has there been any shortage of drugs for any of the PLHIV [patients living with HIV]. There is adequate stock nationally for 95% PLHIV.”

Naco did not wish to comment. However, in a letter seen by the Guardian that was dated 30 May, Naco asked all state Aids prevention and control societies, which oversee HIV testing and treatment in each state, to switch to other regimes “to tide through the crisis situation as an interim arrangement”.

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J&J Stops Global Sales of Scandalous Talc-Based Powder After 130 Years

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Once one of its top products for families, J&J’s talc-based powder has been haunted by claims of causing cancer in recent years even as the company consistently denied what it has called rumors and “misinformation”.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will be ceasing the sales of its talc-based powder, two years after stopping them in the US and Canada, after keeping it in its product line for 130 years. The company will be replacing the product with a cornstarch-based powder.

“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the company’s statement said.

The J&J talc-based powder has been at the epicenter of several lawsuits claiming it caused ovarian cancer due to the presence of a known cancer-causing material – asbestos. However, the company has repeatedly denied these allegations, despite losing $3.5 billion in these lawsuits.

As the firm announced the retirement of the talc-based powder, it once again repeated its long-held position on the controversial product’s safety.

“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the statement said.

Apart from losing a number of lawsuits, J&J faced tough questions following a 2018 Reuters investigation, which claimed the company knew about the asbestos contamination since at least 1971 but failed to act on it. As the veins of asbestos are often found in talc deposits, the extracted talc used to make the powder can be contaminated with the cancer-causing mineral.

A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.06.2021

Pay Up: Supreme Court Rejects J&J’s Request to Appeal $2 Bln Verdict in Talc Cancer Case
Despite continuing to maintain its innocence, J&J stopped selling talc-based powder in the US and Canada in 2020, citing the harm done to the sales by the “misinformation” about its safety. However, the company continued to distribute it around the world alongside the cornstarch-based alternative, which will now completely substitute it.



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