Climate change and disasters in Mexico
24 January 2011
By Salvador Urteaga, Consultant Emergency for Caritas Mexico
A coffee nursery in Reyes Llano Grande, Oaxaca, Mexico. This coffee seedling is one of thousands that the Michizá cooperative in Oaxaca is growing with support from the CRS CAFE Livelihoods project. Coffee trees in the region are old and well beyond the peak years of their productive lives. Planting new plants will improve coffee productivity and quality and increase household income for participating farmers.
Mexicans have recently experienced larger and more frequent natural disasters previously unknown in our history. The list includes hurricanes, heavy rains, landslides and floods in some regions and water scarcity in others.
The most disadvantaged peoples are being affected the hardest. Aside from those living in rural communities, those living in cities have had to reinforce their infrastructure to offset hurricane or heavy rains. As climate change increases, there will be more disastrous consequences for communities living in extremely vulnerable places.
Tabasco saw rivers breaking their banks and the flooding of almost the entire city. Tragedies such as these open up the possibility of future breaks in the dam which would result in the need to evacuate a million people, the loss of human lives and the loss of assets such as crops, livestock, infrastructure.
The people of Monterrey believed that they were equipped to handle heavy rains from their experience with Hurricane Gilbert. However, when Hurricane Alex hit Mexico, it exceeded all expectations. It shattered the infrastructure that was supposed to be able to withstand any amount of water and turned what appeared to be a ‘hurricane prepared city’ into an unprepared one.
Hurricane Karl hit the mountains of Puebla and the water began to drag the soil from the forest into Tlacotalpan city and into the port of Veracruz. Veracruz is as a city that had over a hundred lakes, which were filled and converted into residential areas. During hurricanes, water seeks to find its own channels and therefore it flooded the area of the lagoons.
Events are happening in communities where there was no previous experience of them. Communities are trying to figure out how to face situations that are unpredictable. They ask themselves when the next rains come will it be a hurricane? Most of all, they wonder how can this devastation be prevented.
In a country that has millions of poor people, the greatest tragedy of these events is that disasters increase and aggravate the situation of the marginalized and excluded. For Caritas Mexico, care for marginalized communities and care and protection of Creation and is where our resources are invested.
Ecological deterioration is an overriding priority. We seek to create decent living conditions for all people and increase their resilience so that they are better equipped. We should not consider man and woman as masters of the universe who exploit natural resources in order to make money because this comes at the cost of displacing nature and people.
Over the past 25 years, Caritas has tried to work with communities to encourage them to be the main actors in their development. This process is structured around three key themes: rehabilitation, reconstruction, and prevention.
By means of solidarity, capacity building and reflection of faith, communities can re-construction their own cities, maintain their dignity, and respect their cultural ways of rebuilding. Caritas Mexico is trying to turn a situation of death and destruction into a situation of resurrection and empowerment.
RESOURCESAnnual reportHow Caritas works: Climate Change Guide on Environmental JusticeClimate change on Caritas BlogClimate justice newsletter vol. 6