Helping Mexican villagers face disaster and climate risks

Villagers in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula are moving a fallen tree trunk as part of their efforts to clear debris from the forests following hurricane Wilma and, thereby, preserve the forests by preventing forest fires.
Yucatan Pensinsula communities are learning to preserve forests and prevent forest fires after Hurricane Wilma. Photo: UNDP

Marivel is a 38-year-old fisherwoman of Mayan descent whose fishing boat was one of 350 vessels in the town of Solferino, Mexico destroyed by Hurricane Wilma.

Hurricane Wilma tore across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in 2005, claiming thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest and damaging many commercial fishing vessels. As a result, fishing capacity in the Peninsula was reduced by half, threatening livelihoods in a region where almost 60 percent of inhabitants rely on fisheries to make a living.

Highlights

  • Southeast Mexico is one of the world's five regions most exposed to tropical storms.
  • A UNDP-supported community project has helped as many as 900,000 in people Yum Balam prepare for future natural disasters.
  • The percentage of the population evacuated before hurricanes increased from below 50 percent to 97 percent between 2005 and 2007.

Tourism, agriculture, and livestock businesses also suffered losses.

In the five years since hurricane, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)—together with the multilateral Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas—has helped community members like Marivel to restart and diversify their livelihoods, as well as to plan for future hurricanes and related disasters.

In Yum Balam, a forested area adjacent to Solferino where post-disaster fires destroyed thousands of trees, some 85 grants helped residents set up eco-tourism and diving tours, as well as launch a line of beauty products made from local forestland plants.

Moreover, an innovative community project has helped to reduce carbon emissions from forest fires by educating locals about post-disaster forest fire prevention. Through teaching local residents to construct firewalls and collect downed trees, which they can use as fuel, the project has helped to increase the community's awareness of forest fire risks and strengthen its commitment to forest conservation.

To date, these government and community efforts to manage the risk of forest fires have proven successful and there have been no significant fires in the Yum Balam reserve or its surroundings.

Other measures taken include introducing climate risk analysis and creating evacuation procedures. As a result, the percentage of the population evacuated before hurricanes increased from below 50 percent to 97 percent between 2005 and 2007.

The approach has been replicated in other communities across the Yucatán Peninsula and in the other Mexican states, including Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Puebla. Six other Latin American countries are planning to launch similar projects in vulnerable areas.

Such expansion will help more people like Marivel, who enjoys both new income opportunities and a new sense of security in the face of disasters.