Pressure Cooker in Mexico City
By Lucy K Buck, on 5 July 2018
On the 14th May 2018 I found myself in a room in the beautiful Palacio de Mineria in Meixco City. Me and 34 other young researchers from various different disciplines were there to be part of the first 24-hour Pressure Cooker, organised by the Water Youth Network as part of the Understanding Risk Conference. We were to be split into groups to work on case studies looking at either hazards either in Izapalapa, Meixco City or Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan. The aim was to develop a risk communication strategy for hazards, such as flooding, subsidence and fracturing, that these areas suffer from.
And this is where it became clear why we were in Mexico. Mexico suffers from geological (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, subsidence, fracturing and landslides), hydrological (flooding and drought), meteorological (hurricanes) and anthropological (over fishing, pollution, over exploitation of resources, over population) hazards. In fact, the area that my group was given, Izapalapa, suffers from both extreme flooding and water shortages, and often people’s houses are flooded but they have no drinking water. Of course many of these are interconnected, compounding the problem (shortage of drinking water -> over extraction of ground water -> subsidence -> flooding).
With a population of roughly 1.8 million Iztapalapa is the most populous and fastest growing district of Mexico City. It is also the poorest with most of the population living in substandard conditions, often without running water and electricity. However, the area has a very strong sense of community and a high literacy rate, only 4% of the population over the age of six is illiterate. This is a community that is very well aware of the problems the district faces but has very little knowledge about how they can have a meaningful impact in reducing these risks.
We had 24 hours to come up with a viable communication plan to help reduce the vulnerability and increase the resilience of this community. With support from experts in communication, urban planning and relevant hazards, as well as representatives from the local Government. As well as the different specialities represented by our team (my team included a geophysicist, an urban planning, a psychologist and more!) we had the best chance to come up with a meaningful solution.
We decided the best strategy was to engage kids, getting them involved and helping solve the problem themselves.
We discovered that Mexico City had run a test pilot scheme where people would use a rain catcher to provide grey water for the house, reducing pressure on aquifers and the leaking water infrastructure and in the long term reduce subsidence and flooding risk. We decided to extend this to children. Teaching them how to make their own water catchers, which also lets them to contribute to the household and cut bills. Along with this we introduced our ‘Water Ambassador’ group where we would teach children about the importance of water conservation, this came with a badge once you built your own water catcher and helped conserve water in your home, and the ‘Guardians of the Drain’ which also came with a badge and organised teams of older children/teens to clean waste from the drainage systems to help stop flash flooding from these systems overflowing (this would obviously come with safety lessons).
After 24 hours straight of hard work, feeling very tired but gratified, we presented out communication plan to the rest of the participants as well as various experts and local representatives.
The vulnerability of Iztapalapa was highlighted the next day when, on a fieldtrip to the district, a 5.1 earthquake hit the city. Demonstrating how resilience methods can work, the early warning system had meant many homes had been evacuated and no damage or injuries occurred.
However, the most lasting and important outcome of this challenge were the connections and friendships that we all built during the exercise. These relationships are the best foundation on which to develop disaster risk reduction.
A massive thanks to the Water Youth Network and NERC, without whom this experience would not have been possible. Can’t wait for next time!