Oxfam Emergency Briefing: Mexico Floods

Report
from Oxfam
Published on 29 Oct 1999
Background to the Flooding
The first rains hit Mexico at the end of September - raining first in Oaxaca, Hidalgo and quickly spreading to the Atlantic coast by the beginning of October. In the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Puebla heavy rains in the hills changed much of the geography of the landscape overnight: blocking roads, causing landslides, washing away hillsides and charging rivers. Housing problems exasperated by the heavy rains in these regions have been further compounded by the earthquake, which hit the region on 30th September. The accumulation of waters in hydroelectric dams around the region is currently threatening the structure of the dams and in some cases a high risk of overflowing is threatening the downstream population in Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Chiapas/Tabasco.

In the coastal regions of Vera Cruz and Tabasco heavy rains have caused severe flooding in river plains. Given the landscape and nature of the soil in the region, the onset of the emergency was slower than in the hills. On 12 October the government declared the zone a state of emergency, with many communities reported as being under 1-2 metres of water.

Current local estimates, as of 26 October are giving figures of:

  • A total of one million Mexicans in six states affected by the rains
  • Over 56,000 houses destroyed or affected in two states alone.
  • Approximately 1,250,000 hectares of crops and farm land have been destroyed.
  • Over 400 people dead.
The municipal authorities in Zaragoza, Vera Cruz estimated that over 91% of this year's crop had been lost.
However, statistics in general are confused and widely dispersed, with estimates coming from community organisations, the government, municipal authorities and small-scale farmer associations. Access to statistics from any one source is not currently possible.

439 shelters have been set up and help in the form of clothing, blankets, medicines and shelters is being supplied to the most affected zones by the army, Mexican Red Cross and other national NGOs, although it is felt that many of those affected have still not been reached.

The loss to those affected living in the countryside has been almost total in terms of houses, household goods, crops and animals. So far, a decrease in food production has not been made public, yet the cost of wheat, maize, sorgum, oats and rye, has already risen at least twofold in some areas. Many producers claim there has been an incredible loss of crops and an irreversible inbalance which will force massive food importation by the end of the year.

One thing is clear: the disaster has only served to compound the extreme poverty already existing in these affected areas of Mexico.

Oxfam's Response

Oxfam will be assisting FAM (Foro de Apoyo Mutuo- Forum for Mutual Assistance), a long standing partner, with technical support for an assessment of the most affected areas of Puebla y Vera Cruz. FAM is a national network of NGOs with more than 300 member institutions and groups across the country, working on social policy issues and the increasing poverty resulting from the effects of structural adjustment and NAFTA.

A two person assessment team specialising in Public Health Water and Sanitation has been in the area since 19 October in order to support FAM and its members to:

  • Complete a detailed evaluation of the damage and needs of the population in the worst affected areas;
  • Design a response and possible activities for rehabilitation (water, food security, shelter, emergency preparedness);
  • Provide regular reports on the situation with recommendations for

    - the type and scale of humanitarian need

    - coverage of other actors (government, other NGOs etc)

    - the need for an appropriate intervention by Oxfam.