by Maria de Lourdes Ramirez-Flores
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)
On September 9, a magnitude 8.1 wrecked the Southwestern states of Mexico. This quake left towns in Oaxaca and Chiapas—two of the most impoverished states—in ruins. The death toll reached 96 people and left about 2.5 million Mexicans are in need of aid.
On September 19 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake devastated the central region of Mexico. The quake—which was harshest on Mexico City, Morelos, and Puebla—left 360 dead and thousands of people homeless. This last earthquake destroyed some of the already weakened houses and infrastructure in Oaxaca.
Both earthquakes claimed human lives, and they left a considerable number of survivors with physical injuries and psychological distress. While human life and integrity are priceless, the material resources like buildings and infrastructure can be estimated in terms of money.
The efforts of the Mexican society, some Mexican institutions, and the international community have been outstanding. In the aftermath, Mexicans joined efforts to aid victims of both earthquakes: volunteers dug out survivors, provided first aid for the injured, cooked food for victims and volunteers, collected food and medicines for victims, and opened shelters. Emergency services personnel such as paramedics and firefighters, soldiers and members of the Mexican Navy stood shoulder to shoulder with the Mexican people. A Navy rescue dog named Frida became a symbol of hope.
People from all over the world have donated money to help in the immediate relief. Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Chile, China Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Korea, Panama, Peru, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the Vatican, Turkey, the United States and Venezuela sent technical and material support to aid search and rescue operations.
However, the Mexican government did not see eye to eye with the society during this tragedy. Citizens and some media sources alike accused the federal government and the governments of Mexico City and Morelos of negligence, of trying to gain political favor and of attempting to give the aid collected by the citizenship as a personal gift or as government handouts. There is a general sensation among the population that politicians’ actions are negligent and dishonest, even in the wake of a crisis.
Although the immediate emergency is over, many warn about what is yet to come. The 1985 earthquake also sparked the Mexican people’s solidarity, and it created political consciousness. In fact, this is considered a turning point in Mexican history and the genesis of organized civil society in the country. However, most people forget the dark side of solidarity narrative: the help waned quickly, and those who were struggling were left to their own means. Witnesses of the 1985 societal eventual oblivion of the victims are warning us against making the same mistake.
There is no exact count of the people that lost their homes during these earthquakes, but it is likely in the tens of thousands. The September 7 earthquake damaged homes, businesses, hospitals, churches, and schools. The September 19 earthquake left over 3,000 buildings damaged just in Mexico City. There are about 20,000 damaged homes in the state of Morelos, where about 95% of the damage was done. In the state of Puebla, 1700 homes were damaged, more than 400 of them destroyed entirely.
Thousands of people have lost their homes and ways of making a living, and the future looks bleak for those who have neither a place to live nor resources to relocate. This is the challenge Mexico faces: rebuilding homes, aiding those who lost everything to get back on their feet. Recovery is a long and arduous process.
These are a few NGOs that could use your help:
Techo is an international NGO with a presence in 21 countries in Latin America. Their focus is a community-based approach to fight poverty in urban slums. They provide emergency and permanent housing to people in need, but they also have an interest in child and adult education and overall community development.
You can donate to Techo’s fund for Mexico’s reconstruction here. You can use your US card.
Semillas is a non-profit organization focused on improving women’s lives in Mexico. According to their website, they “dream of a country where all women, indigenous, mestiza, black, young, migrant, heterosexual, lesbian, mothers, and students alike, can make their own decisions and have access to health services, a decent job, justice, and happiness.”
To achieve this, Fondo Semillas supports groups and organizations of women. Throughout the past 25 years, Fondo Semillas has directly benefited more than 640,000 women and 2.4 million more women, girls, boys, and men indirectly.
To donate for Mexico’s relief through Fondo Semillas, you can click here. You can use your US bank account or PayPal.
This website, based on the concept of Airbnb, lets you symbolically book a room or a house destroyed by the earthquake. All proceeds go to house reconstruction in Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. The funds will be managed by CADENA, an NGO with an international presence that aids people in natural disaster zones.
You can support Mexico through UNICEF too. You can contribute using your US card, online banking, and PayPal.
Maria de Lourdes Ramirez-Flores is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Cornell University. She is a Mexican citizen. Her research looks at return migration and how the US-born children of return migrants integrate into Mexican society.