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date: 19 October 2019

Natural Hazards Governance in Mexico

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.

The earthquakes that occurred in Mexico in September 1985 represent a breaking point in the public policies associated with disasters.

As a result of these events and their fatal human and material consequences, the federal government created mechanisms to institutionalize disaster response, reinforced the monitoring and generation of knowledge about natural hazards, and, furthermore, developed financial mechanisms to handle the rehabilitation and reconstruction post-disaster. In the scientific field, the earthquakes of 1985 also gave a strong impetus to academic research in some disciplines of natural science that were being conducted in the main universities of the country.

Over the years, and with the occurrence of new disasters, both public policies and the focus of research have achieved significant progress in some areas that have even earned excellent reputations internationally, including, among others, the creation of financial mechanisms to face high levels of material damage in intensive disasters and the development of anti-seismic materials and construction techniques.

Less remarkable progress exists in the design of policies to address the “roots” of risk and, consequently, in stopping the growing trend of disaster occurrences and the accumulation of damages and losses. Issues such as the marginalization of millions of people, the chaotic growth of cities, the informality in land occupation, as well as severe levels of environmental degradation throughout the country have been systematically ignored despite the existence of a broad knowledge and evidence that can feed the design of public policies for risk integral attention.

The profile that disaster risk management has acquired in Mexico is not exclusive. It is a response to an international dynamic where the predominance of “technocratic” solutions to disasters and the “physicalist” approach in the generation of knowledge seems to be returning. Currently, principles such as the social dimension of risk and disasters; the questioning of the economic growth models based on inequality; and the need for protection of natural resources as a public good are overwhelmed by the world of the insurance that has gained ground in protecting the interests of government and big business but not those of the millions of people who live in risky conditions. Not even the evidence on global warming, which can increase the intensity of some hazards and their impact on millions of people, has been able to contain the surge of the international financial sector and the design of selective and short-sighted mitigation mechanisms.