There are few countries in the world resilient enough to respond to a hurricane and the strongest earthquake in a century, accompanied by a tsunami threat, all within hours of each other. Such was the challenge that confronted Mexico last week.
Officials at Mexico’s National Civil Protection System, created after the 1985 earthquake that claimed over 10,000 lives, kept a watchful eye on Hurricane Katia, one of three hurricanes newly emerged from the Atlantic, when the country was hit by an 8.1 earthquake which triggered 3-metre waves along parts of the Pacific coastline.
Tragically, some 90 people lost their lives in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, and many have been made homeless. But the numbers of affected could have been higher if not for the continuous improvement of Mexico’s early warning systems and disaster risk management for all natural hazards, which has been ongoing for over three decades.
The 8.1 earthquake rippled across Mexico City for a full minute before subsiding, but the “alerta sismica” (seismic alert) gave residents a vital 86 seconds to find safety before it struck. Two years ago this month saw the activation of a new Seismic Warning System operated through 8,200 loudspeakers, to familiarize residents of Mexico City with the sound of alerts that give them up to 50 seconds’ notice of earthquakes. The alerts are also sent to mobile phones and other devices.
Political commitment is key to reducing disaster losses and addressing the underlying drivers of disaster risk, whether that means reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring resilient infrastructure and strong building codes, protecting ecosystems or paying special attention to the needs of impoverished and vulnerable communities.
[Excerpts of PreventionWeb article by Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction]