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LatAm in Focus: Keeping Mexico City from the Brink of Disaster

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City's Zócalo. (Image: Carin Zissis)

October 06, 2016

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Mexico City is prone to its fair share of hazards. From earthquakes to floods, from traffic to air pollution, how does a metropolitan area that 20 million people call home not only respond to disasters but prepare itself to mitigate risks? One way is by working toward becoming more resilient. In September, the mayor’s office, in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities, unveiled a strategy with that goal in mind. 

"[Mexico City is] a very good multiple-risk laboratory for resilience. We have, I think, all types of risks apart from tsunamis.

The city’s Chief Resilience Officer Dr. Arnoldo Matus Kramer spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis in the Mexican capital about what exactly resiliency means, comparing the concept to a sponge that bounces back after its been squeezed. In the case of a city, it means building capacity to survive and evolve through risks and disasters, whether current or down the road. And while it can be easy to explain to Mexico City residents why public transit needs to be rethought—since they spend upwards of two hours a day stuck in traffic, Matus Kramer says it’s the long-term problems that present a bigger challenge.

He gives the example of water: some 40 percent of the city’s water gets lost due to leaks in the distribution system. That means access to potable water could be halved in the next 30 to 40 years, and solutions—as well as expanding the public’s understanding—need to get underway now. At the same time, the capital often floods, or faces problems because it was actually built on water. “Many [city residents] are not sensitized around the issue that this used to be a lake and many of our risks are related to that past,” says Matus Kramer, who outlines how a coalition involving the government, private sector, NGOs, and universities can help implement the difficult but necessary resiliency plan.