Seventeen earthquakes with magnitudes greater than four on the Richter scale hit Mexico from 7-24 September- the most devastating ones struck on 7 and 19 September, and the earth still trembles on the coasts of Oaxaca and Chiapas.
A state of emergency has been declared in 165 municipalities and according to official reports 331 people are dead. Over 27,000 houses have been affected, damaged or destroyed in Chalco, Oaxaca, Tuxtla, Ecatepec, and Chiapas, and 900 churches have suffered some sort of damage in the state of Chiapas alone.
Still no official news on how many families have been affected, and given the geographical extent of the destruction, it is still difficult to quantify damages.
In partnership with Caritas Mexico, Caritas Internationalis launched an emergency appeal as an immediate response to the earthquake that hit central Mexico on 19 September. Caritas Mexico is acting under the General Secretariat of the Episcopal Conference while coordinating with other national and international entities, and civil society organizations. It is working hard with teams of volunteers made up of doctors, engineers, psychologists and youth to deliver food, medical supplies and temporary shelters to the dioceses that are in most trouble.
Until now 35 tons of food has been distributed to the different communities, 32 collection spots have been set up in Mexico City, seven in Puebla and churches across the country serve as centers for shelter and collection. Parish priests are on the frontlines trying to aid relief efforts although many are also in shock. The damage to the churches has not only been physical, but also spiritual. Priests are trying to restore faith as many interpret the tragedy as a punishment.
Concern is growing as there are complaints that authorities are diverting aid. The bishop of the Diocese of Cuernavaca has publicly denounced reprehensible actions by authorities that obstruct access to humanitarian aid by diverting it to warehouses where it is stored and labeled- causing social unrest. In some cases, robberies and assaults have been reported.
Several affected dioceses have been exposed to threats and have been advised not to make public the information on where the aid is directed to. Consequently, they have had to close some reception centres because of these incidents. No clear plan for the reconstruction of housing has been released either- leading to a rising sentiment they may just be empty promises. The communities of Arriaga, Chiapas, are still waiting for a housing plan after the devastating effect of Hurricane Barbara in 2013.
Caritas is also paying close attention to vulnerable groups like indigenous peoples, the elderly, and people with special needs- often invisible in the response. It is collecting information by age and by sex to respond with equity.
Facing great challenges in the upcoming months, a workplan is being developed addressing four stages: response, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and prevention, which includes the following lines of work: information gathering, encouraging local participation, strengthening local capacities, and identifying needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. Fortunately, support between dioceses has been coordinated, and work will begun to restore and reconstruct people’s livelihoods.