Author: Daniel Bandle, CEO AXA Mexico

Earthquakes and the long road of recovery

It is mid-December. The thermometer reads 30 degrees Celsius and a strong wind is blowing in the ‘La Ventosa’ (windy zone) of southern Oaxaca.

Three and a half months after the earthquake of September 7th, we visited Unión Hidalgo, a village severely affected. Most people we met told us that they had been asleep but managed to flee from their houses when the earth moved at 23:45 hrs. They had watched from the safety of the road how buildings shook, tore, and some collapsed. There followed days of heavy rains and hundreds of replicas. Walking through the village today, it seems hard to believe that “only” 8 people died in this community with 13,000 inhabitants. Almost no street corner has survived, every other lot shows either a foundation cleared of rubble or a house waiting for demolition.

Reconstruction is progressing slowly. We were shown around by Alfonso Serrano, Founder of ’Construyendo’ (building) and his team. His NGO aims to rebuild schools and more than 1000 houses in Unión Hidalgo. The locals need to sign a contract and contribute towards the cost with part of their government assigned rebuilding allocation. 

They can choose between two prototype houses designed to meet local needs and resist both, earthquakes and floods, which carry an even higher risk in this area.  Alfonso told me, that it is at least as important to rebuild the people as the buildings. That is why Construyendo also provides psychological and community-building support, for example by installing a water filtering system in the community kitchen run by highly-motivated local women. Having started with three meals a day for up to 150 people, it now serves 50 and hosts various workshops to provide coping strategies. Our soup with pasta, vegetables and meat, accompanied by tortillas, was delicious.

Private insurance cover hardly exists in places as poor as Union Hidalgo. AXA actively supports the work of Construyendo through our Foundation. At the same time, it is our ambition that all rebuilt houses in rural communities will have insurance coverage going forward. We are working towards that with Mexico’s insurance association, AMIS, and the federal authorities.