Few weather-related disasters are more damaging – or more economically crippling – than flooding. Last year, global economic losses from natural disasters amounted to more than $210 billion, according to Aon Benfield. Roughly 33 percent of this total derived from losses caused by high water levels.
Should a border wall be built between the U.S. and Mexico, flooding conditions could grow worse, Mexican officials believe, creating numerous delays in the process.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Antonio Rascon, chief engineer on the International Boundary and Water Commission, warned that based on where the border wall is expected to be built, its sheer enormity could lead to an increase incidence of flooding emanating from the Rio Grande, which separates Mexico from the U.S. Additionally, the structure itself would violate a treaty that already exists between the neighboring countries.
"A concrete wall that blocks trans-border water movement is a total obstruction," Rascon told NPR. "If they plan that type of project, we will oppose it."
The treaty Rascon refers to was signed in 1970. It states that in order for a structure to be built, both Mexico and the U.S. have to agree to the terms, a decision made by members of the International Boundary and Water Commission.
"For us, we are not in agreement with construction of a wall in the floodplain that affects the trans-border flow of water," Rascon stated. "In general, we have been complaining about the fence since 1992. We're talking 25 years. That's when they installed the first fence in San Diego, and it's been advancing and advancing."
Flooding has ripped through both U.S., Mexico
Both the U.S. and Mexico have seen their fair share of floods over the years. In fact, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flooding is the No. 1 natural disaster every year, often preventing delivery companies and postal workers from accessing roads. A few years ago, for example, in the border city of Nogales – two flooding events led to substantial damage both in Mexico and the U.S., Telesur reported. Additionally, in 2016, Tropical Storm Earl swept copious amounts of precipitation throughout Mexico, which led to landslides and widespread flooding. According to multiple reports, at least 40 people were killed. Additionally, more than 200 houses were damaged and public service interruptions lasted for days, due in part to inaccessible infrastructure.
Stephen Mumme, a political science professor at Colorado State University, told NPR that these catastrophes could get worse and more common if the border wall project goes forward as currently constituted.
"[Flooding] can occur, and probably will occur, if you create, in effect, a series of little dams along one side of the river," Mumme told NPR. "We have a history. We know they occur."
Border wall remains a divisive issue
When President Donald Trump was on the campaign trail, a signature element of his platform was the construction of a border wall to stop the flow of illegal immigration. It's estimated that roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the U.S. Supporters of the wall's construction believe that its size would help diminish border crossings. However, few have thought about what environmental repercussions the border wall would have.
The wall's development is hardly an inevitability, as lawmakers have yet to consider how it will be paid for. Some think that its funding ought to come from Mexican visas. However, this isn't an opinion shared by most Americans, according to survey data from Gallup. Fifty-one percent of respondents were opposed to the use of visa funds to finance a border wall's construction.