The extremely high hurricane season of 2005 highlighted the vulnerability of coastal communities to extreme weather events. The costliest (Katrina) and the most intense (Wilma) hurricanes were recorded in this season.
Hurricane formation is closely linked to sea surface temperature. Climate models agree that the intensity and frequency of hurricanes will increase over the next few decades as a result of anthropogenic climate change.
This poses important developmental and policy challenges to Mexico.
The economic losses associated with hurricanes are huge, with post-disaster recovery accounting for 30% of the regional economy.
The most affected States in Mexico are Veracruz, Tabasco, Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
The former two are highly dependent on climate-sensitive activities including monocrop agriculture and fishing. Monocrop agriculture is economically and structurally vulnerable to climate extremes. For instance, farmers in Veracruz often define hurricanes as “the worst of enemies”-not only do they destroy farm plots, they also affect the quality of soil. Climate change disasters therefore pose important challenges to rural livelihood security.
In contrast, the State of Quintana Roo-where the world-famous tourist resort Cancun is located-depends on tourism for its economic viability. Hotels are constructed on the shoreline and are hence very vulnerable to the winds that accompany hurricanes. During the 2005 hurricane season, losses of over $100 billion were reported.
Policies: disaster risk reduction as a strategy for climate risk management
The socioeconomic implications of hurricane risk are clear. The policy implications, however, are not so clear.
The Mexican adaptation strategy deals mostly with progressive changes (such as desertification and long-term water scarcity) but ignores climate extremes. This is because of the institutional arrangements: climate change is dealt with by a number of agencies, including the Ministries of Environment and Foreign Affairs, whereas disaster policy is prepared by the Ministry of Civil Protection. Disasters are dealt with on a more ad hoc basis, depending on the nature and scale of the emergency.
Disasters continue to be treated as “unavoidable”, and so policy tends to be reactive rather than responsive. However, as part of the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005), several countries (Mexico included) have moved towards disaster risk reduction. By linking risk reduction to climate change, it is possible to adapt to future climate threats. In Mexico, institutional commitment has been attained (with all major government agencies accepting risk reduction as a fundamental aspect of climate policy), but no comprehensive achievements have yet been attained.
Major obstacles to the successful inclusion of disaster risk reduction into Mexico’s climate change policy include:
- Lack of involvement of business: it is necessary to sensitise the private sector and to highlight the profitability of engagement in risk reduction strategies (for example, through insurance).
- Lack of community participation: it is necessary to integrate vulnerable communities in climate policies so as to give them a sense of ownership with the projects.
- Lack of experience with risk reduction strategies: it is necessary to develop policies and learn from past experiences.
By integrating the political epistemologies of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, it might be possible to adapt the most vulnerable coastal communities in Mexico to extreme weather events.