Due to their western coast lying along the eastern rim of the highly seismically and volcanically active Ring of Fire, residents of Mexico are highly likely to have their daily lives shaken up (Earthquakes in the Ring of Fire - Places in the News | Library of Congress, 2012). With earthquakes happening almost daily, those living on the Mexican Pacific coast are vulnerable to various natural hazard including earthquake damages, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions (Earthquakes in the Ring of Fire - Places in the News | Library of Congress, 2012). With this in mind, it is important to identify the communities that are most at risk of enduring earthquake impacts including, but not limited to, infrastructure damages, mental trauma, and physical harm. This project aims at addressing the following questions: What are the top most vulnerable municipalities in the Mexican states of Colima, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas? What specific demographics or communities are most vulnerable to earthquake hazards? Have these identified communities been impacted by earthquakes in the past? What are the next steps in understanding how to better help these vulnerable communities?
In September of 2017, the southern states of Mexico were hit with two strong earthquakes. The first earthquake with a magnitude of 8.2 occurred on September 7th in Oaxaca, and another 7.1 magnitude earthquake happened soon after on September 19th on the border of Morelos and Michoacán (Earthquakes in the Ring of Fire - Places in the News | Library of Congress, 2012). Along with infrastructure damages and damages to homes, studies conducted have found that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been observed in people that experienced either of those earthquakes (Zuñiga et al., 2019). The same study found that the demographics that showed higher rates of PTSD after the earthquake were women, those that self-identified as indigenous, and those who had damages to their homes due to the shaking (Zuñiga et al., 2019). More recently, five years after the September 19, 2017 earthquake to the day, another significant earthquake occurred on the border of Michoacán and Colima. No less than an hour after the simulacro nacional (national earthquake safety drill), the people were hit with an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 (MND Staff, 2022). Along with shock to the highly unlikely coincidence of these earthquakes occurring on the same day in 1985, again in 2017, and now 2022, many expressed the high stress and fear they experienced during and after the shaking (Lewis, 2022). Eduardo Mendoza, country director of Direct Relief’s operations in Mexico, an international humanitarian and disaster relief organization, shared, “That’s traumatizing for people to experience over and over again” (Lewis, 2022). The 2017 earthquake exposed the vast inequalities that lie among various demographics in Mexico. In 2017, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico’s two poorest states, suffered the most damages, with over 80,000 houses being damaged (Romero, 2017). With 70% of Oaxaca’s and 77% of Chiapas’ population living in poverty and also serving as the home for a significant number of the country’s Mexican indigenous population, it can be inferred and seen that the damages of the earthquakes are disproportionately felt by poor and indigenous communities in Mexico (Romero, 2017).
When looking at the impacts of earthquakes, it is important to understand what makes certain populations more vulnerable and less able to recover from the effects. As previously mentioned, communities facing poverty are more likely to encounter issues related to home and infrastructure damage, as well as face financial issues when trying to rebuild their homes and buildings and access resources after earthquakes (Vulnerability, n.d.). Other factors that contribute to vulnerability are social, such as gender, disability, age, and social status (Vulnerability, n.d.). To elaborate, those with disabilities and/ or elders may face issues with mobility, poor access to health care and information, or struggle with communication, making them more likely to experience harm during shaking and less likely to recover afterwards. Taking this all into consideration, in addition to the observed impacts seen in 2017 among indigenous communities facing poverty and the mental health effects among women, indigenous people, and those who experienced home damages, the question that arises is whether or not improvements have been made since then. Only five years later, the last year has already seen various degrees of earthquakes along the western Mexican coast, and it is imperative that vulnerable communities are identified and paid special attention to.
Split up according to state, this figure shows the concentration of individuals without stable access to health services. As shown in the figure, Michoacán has the highest percentage, followed by Chiapas and Oaxaca. Both Chiapas and Oaxaca have one of the highest indigenous populations and are very volcanically active. This raises concern for recovery after earthquakes, especially for marginalized communities such as those with high indigenous populations.