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The Good and the Bad of the Recent Mexican Earthquakes

Perhaps it is no surprise by now that Mexico has experienced a string of bad earthquakes this month that have devastated and killed thousands. Earlier this month, a 7.1 magnitude quake hit an area close to the capital city — about two weeks before that, a different area saw a whopping 8.1 magnitude disaster. Just this past Saturday, two more earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 6 hit the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

While the city is just beginning recovery efforts that will doubtless last months, other issues have arisen as well, namely the memory of the infamous 1895 earthquake in Mexico City that killed at least 5,000 people. This tragedy was fresh in people’s minds, as the city had coincidentally run a practice drill in memorial of this disaster just hours before another earthquake struck. The ’85 earthquake had a magnitude of 7.0 — but in a merciful twist, the ones that struck this month had nowhere near the death toll of ones in the previous decades. Overall, there were 78 fatalities in Oaxaca, 16 in other surrounding areas, and 220 for the newest disaster. Although this is still devastating news, it is nowhere near as awful as before.

What could be one reason for this change? Building codes and improving public education.

In the past 20 years, millions of dollars have been spent to update and reinforce the ancient buildings that comprise Mexico City and its surrounding areas. New constructions built in the ’90s and 2000s must comply with strict earthquake codes, largely due to the fact that the city itself sits on a particularly vulnerable dried-out lake bed. When city workers go to improve or check out a building site, they are now subject to strict regulation codes and checklists that didn’t exist in 1985.

In addition, improved public warning systems have been implemented and the public has been better trained to react to them. Although the city still suffered an extreme tragedy this month, with countless people still missing and many trapped under the rubble for days, the state-of-the-art warning systems doubtlessly improved the situation to a considerable degree. Now when people hear the sirens, they know to quickly exit their buildings and stand clear of any shaky ones nearby. 

However, as with most natural disaster events, this tragedy has also brought forward messages of extreme inequality and hardship. Even before the earthquake devastated some of the lower-income states, many families earned less than two American dollars per day (the Mexican minimum wage is $4.50 a day). Despite the Mexican economy being listed as the 15th greatest economy in the world, Oaxaca and Chiapas, the poorest of the regions to be affected, took a decidedly harsher hit than the richer cities. In those poor regions, 85,000 houses have been affected or destroyed, and 2,500 schools were similarly damaged. Relief efforts are underway, but even in countries equipped to handle large natural disasters, it is never easy to fully return an area to its previous state. Even 10 years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, some residents are still displaced and reconstruction is decidedly not finished. 

Right now, 46 percent of Mexican households are below the poverty line; for comparison, only 14.5 percent of Americans find themselves in the same situation. And although Mexico has plans to disperse over $901 million in federal disaster aid, many are still facing quite an uphill battle in front of them — earthquake or not. 

If you wish to donate to this cause, check out the links below:

Mexican Red Cross

Fondo Unido México

Direct Relief

Images: 1, 2, 3

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