Chapter 3. The Central Mexico Earthquake

This chapter provides an account of the damages caused by the earthquake of 19 September 2017 in the State of Morelos, as well as the policy responses delivered so far, in light of the national framework, which has been consolidated from the 1980s onwards. The policy response has been quick and well co-ordinated, and the reconstruction process has been comprehensive. Nonetheless, it offers some indicators for the recovery and reconstruction process, in terms of housing, land tenure and urban planning. The State of Morelos can use this momentum to promote formal property rights, grant safe and adequate housing, and envision the sustainable development of its cities. Lastly, the chapter indicates key elements and instruments of risk governance that could be incorporated by the state with the aim of increasing preparedness and improving response in the event of future disasters, according to international guidelines.


Assessing the impacts and damages of the earthquake

Mexico is reported to be one of the most active tectonic areas in the world. It is placed at the encounter of different fragments of tectonic plates and has deep, layered soils which make for the great amplitude of shakings. It is estimated that 40 small earthquakes occur in Mexico per day. On 7 September 2017, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit the state of Chiapas in the south, the strongest ever recorded in the country (IBD, 2017[16]).

Less than two weeks after, on 19 September 2017, the Central Mexico earthquake hit the states of Morelos and Puebla and the Greater Mexico City area, with a magnitude of 7.1. This earthquake was the deadliest one of the past 32 years in the country, with 369 casualties and more than 6 000 people injured (IBD, 2017[16]). The strong shaking for one minute, combined with the large amplitude of the static stress, caused the collapse of several hundred buildings, as well as road and energy infrastructure over a large area.

The State of Morelos, as one of the epicentres of the 19 September earthquake (S19), was strongly affected by it. State authorities report the following numbers (Morelos, 2017, pp. 85-87[17]):

  • 74 casualties and 1 945 injured people

  • 7 410 homes suffered total damage, and 16 386 suffered partial damage

  • 3 medical centres were totally destroyed (Jojutla, Tlaquiltenango and Yautepec), 9 suffered major damages, and 32 suffered moderate damages, out of a total of 222 units

  • 41 schools must be completely rebuilt

  • 2 municipal markets (Zacatepec and Oaxtepec) were shut down.

Furthermore, historic and cultural buildings such as colonial farms, churches, convents, museums and cultural centres were partially affected and had to be temporarily closed. Sports infrastructure suffered partial damages, too (one water complex, four courts and six sports units). The temporary closures had a negative impact on tourism, which is one of the most important economic activities in the state. Damages to the cultural and historic heritage of Morelos may require specialised reconstruction and restoration, which may be lengthy and costly.

Hydraulic infrastructure including dams, channels, storage tanks, pipelines and treatment plants were affected. These damages impaired water distribution to millions of households in the aftermath of the disasters. 16 stretches of road and 6 urban streets were damaged, and 3 bridges were fractured. Traffic disturbances further complicated the recovery process. The fractured bridge in Jojutla, for instance, complicated the access by rural dwellers to aid centres located in the city.

More than 1 500 schools also suffered partial damage. Luckily enough, at 11 am on that day, Mexico held the public annual drill in remembrance of the earthquake of 19 September 1985, the deadliest one in the history of Mexico. These 2 major earthquakes happened on the same day, separated by 32 years. When the 2017 earthquake hit, only two hours afterwards, most schools were already evacuated or could quickly be so, which greatly contributed to preventing human losses. Still, 86% of schools suffered structural damages (Morelos, 2017[17]), which delayed the return of classes for several weeks.

Regarding economic activity, 22.5% of commercial establishments in Morelos reported having been affected by the earthquake (INEGI, 2017[18]). In addition, 55.2% of commercial establishments in Morelos reported having suspended activities after the earthquake (INEGI, 2017[18]). This means that some establishments closed temporarily because of the general situation despite their infrastructure not having been particularly damaged. In all, the physical damages and the interruption of business bring forth significant economic losses to the private owners and to the State of Morelos as a whole.

Legacy of earthquake response in Mexico

There is no doubt that the S19 earthquake brought major physical and human losses. Still, damages were considerably lower than the ones caused by the 1985 earthquake, in which 10 000 people lost their lives and more than 400 buildings completely collapsed. Even considering that the 1985 earthquake was considerably stronger, of magnitude 8.1, the steps that Mexico has taken to reduce the negative impacts of earthquakes are remarkable. Some of the key changes will be mentioned here.1

In 1986, the National System for Civil Protection was established (SINAPROC). This led to the extensive development of emergency management plans in federal institutions. Critical services and infrastructure operators, key economic sectors, and in fact most of the public administration, as well as a large part of civil society, are prepared to activate an emergency plan in case a disaster occurs. SINAPROC is meant to co-ordinate groups of institutions, with the aim to develop a system of integrated risk management. One of its key challenges is to ensure that the many federal, state and municipal civil protection services function as a flexible whole together with companies, volunteer organisations and research institutes from different sectors (OECD, 2013, p. 16[19]).

An early-warning system called SASMEX, the Seismic Alert System of Mexico, was created in 1991. Today, it counts with 97 sensors and several monitoring stations across the country. Even though the coverage is quite broad, it has room to expand, notably to the south of the country. Sensors identify the intensity and location of earthquakes, and alerts are sent out to warn sub-national governments, schools and emergency organisations. Alerts can also be sent via public radio, television and smartphone apps. Considering that it takes around 60 to 90 seconds for an earthquake to spread from the epicentre, the system allows people to take life-saving measures such as seek cover, to stop an elevator at the nearest floor or to stop factory operation to minimise damage.

Together with the early-warning system, Mexico has developed a culture of preparedness. Every 19 September, the annual drill is carried out, which is furthermore an act of remembrance of the lives lost in the 1985 earthquake. Schools and public institutions have periodic drills and training sessions, too. Engineering schools have specialised courses on earthquake risk, mitigation and preparedness. Agreements have been signed with high education institutions in Japan and the United States, for instance.

In terms of emergency planning, Mexico has several instruments. The Strategy for Preparedness and Response of the Federal Administration for High Magnitude Earthquakes and Tsunami (Plan Sismo) defines public agencies’ responsibilities in the event of a major earthquake. Organised around 3 response areas (operational, logistics and administrative), 14 working groups have been defined with their co-ordinating agencies and their members. This plan represents the first comprehensive emergency plan with clear co-ordination mechanisms and may prove to be a major forward-looking achievement for SINAPROC that could serve as a model in contingency planning for other extreme hazard scenarios (OECD, 2013, p. 22[19]).

Since 1991, Mexico has been developing risk atlases. The National Risk Atlas of Mexico is a portal that contains risk information for the whole country, including earthquake risk, from hazard analysis to vulnerability mapping.2 It includes information on economic and human losses and metadata describing the assets at risk. The development of this innovative tool has stimulated the risk assessment process countrywide, as its objective is to gather all of the risk atlases that are developed at state and municipal levels. The integration of atlases from different levels has not yet reached the point, however, where the local level automatically informs the next level above. The key to attaining this objective is to ensure that all entities providing input, from federal to state and municipal levels, use the same methodology and data standards. This requires multi-disciplinary collaborations among several scientific communities and organisations (OECD, 2013[19]).

In complement of the National Risk Atlas, the System for the Analysis and Visualisation of Risk Scenarios (SAVER) is a tool that civil protection authorities in Mexico use to integrate information from risk scenarios into policy making. SAVER gathers risk maps and geo-referenced vulnerability data on hospitals, schools, public infrastructure and population into one single database. SAVER is the result of a horizontal and vertical effort across organisations throughout the country. Currently, its capacity to create risk scenarios is one of its most important characteristics (OECD, 2013[19]).

Mexico also created the Natural Disasters Fund (FONDEN), in the late 1990s. The FONDEN grants federal resources to states and municipalities in two interrelated spheres. The primary programme is channelled towards reconstruction programmes. It funds the rehabilitation of public infrastructure, housing and of the natural environment, such as forestry and bodies of water. It can comprise reconstruction with higher standards, following the principle of Build Back Better, and the relocation of public buildings and communities to safer zones (IBRD/World Bank, 2012[20]). The second programme, with smaller funds but whose importance has been increasingly recognised, refers to the ex ante management of disasters (IBRD/World Bank, 2012[20]). It includes the financing of resilience plans, risk assessment studies and other anticipatory measures to better understand and prepare for the risk of disasters. Mexico has also signed insurance agreements with the World Bank and issued catastrophe bonds with their assistance.

In 2006, FONDEN issued the world’s first government catastrophe bond, Cat Mex, which provided coverage against earthquakes in three zones of the national territory. The USD 160 million “CAT bond” was part of a USD 450 million catastrophe risk transfer strategy. Under the terms of the CAT bond, a payout is triggered if two conditions are met: i) an official state of emergency or disaster declaration is issued by SEGOB; and ii) an earthquake with a specified magnitude, depth and epicentre within the three pre-defined zones is registered. This CAT bond was renewed in 2010 and expanded into a multi-risk instrument for earthquakes and tropical cyclones (OECD, 2013, p. 25[19]).

Mexico has strengthened building regulations. The 1986 building code is considerably stricter than the 1976 code, and it better addresses the particularities of land developed on top of the buried lake. Since then, building materials and construction techniques have advanced, and engineers and architects are better equipped to consider seismic risk. With the adoption of the 2012 General Law for Civil Protection, which considers risk atlases as the reference for the construction of new buildings, municipal building codes have to adjust in conformity. Developing such instruments requires specific technical knowledge, which is a challenging task for some municipalities (OECD, 2013, p. 109[19]).

There are some other barriers to the application of new building codes. For one, the building stock still has older constructions, and assessing their earthquake-resistance and retrofitting them to comply with the new building codes comes at a high cost. There is no specific funding mechanism to support the retrofitting of private property, nor are tax deductions made available as an incentive for making such capital investments (OECD, 2013, p. 108[19]). In addition, the rules are in many instances simply not followed during construction, especially in informal settlements in peripheral zones (Reinoso et al., 2009[21]). On top of that, law enforcement lags behind what would be deemed necessary. More precisely, state control relies on the technical drawing, but these are often disrespected during construction, and there are not sufficiently independent, expert-led site visits being carried out (Reinoso et al., 2009[21]).

Policy response in Morelos

This evolution of Mexico’s structural response to earthquakes over the past 30 years has had impacts in Morelos. On the one hand, the culture of preparedness and the national early-warning system, integrated into local schools and institutions, can be said to have prevented higher human losses from taking place. Infrastructural damage to buildings and networks was considerably lower than in the 1985 earthquake, which reflects better construction guidelines. On the other hand, the damage was still quite extensive; for instance, 86% of all state schools suffered structural damage. This reflects the limited enforcement of building regulations, the low quality of constructions and the weight of housing informality in Morelos.

Before the reconstruction process is presented, the emergency response deserves some attention. The state co-ordinated rescue actions with municipal civil protection authorities. Risk sites were isolated, the wounded were transferred to hospitals and health centres, and casualties were registered. A Safety Strategy was established, co-ordinated by the Morelos Interinstitutional Group. An Emergency Committee was created, and Emergency Operations Centres were installed in the 33 municipalities. In each municipality, a civil servant from the state government cabinet was appointed as liaison, to co-ordinate the disaster response.

To accommodate those affected by the disaster, 37 shelters were installed in 16 municipalities. A total of 2 649 people stayed overnight in the aftermath of the disaster. As of December 2017, 1 085 people were regulars of the remaining 17 shelters. The shelters counted with medical supervision and epidemiological surveillance. Psychological counselling services were also offered, including ludic activities for the youth. During the emergency, more than 964 tonnes of survival items were distributed, among food, water, blankets and clothes. Tools and materials to build temporary cover were provided. In addition, 24 soup kitchens and 5 collection centres were installed (2 in Cuernavaca and 1 in each of Zacapatec, Jojutla and Cuautla). Private foundations and NGOs contributed to the installation of temporary houses and classrooms.

Concerning the reconstruction process, the State of Morelos has delivered a broad and well-organised response to local needs. The decentralised agency Unidos por Morelos (United for Morelos) was created to co-ordinate the response to the crisis. This agency is responsible for prioritising actions related to reconstruction, co-ordinating efforts across levels of government, managing public funds with transparency and keeping an open communication channel with civil society. The strategy led by Unidos por Morelos consists of direct reconstruction of infrastructure and assistance to housing reconstruction, as well as financial support to entrepreneurs and firms to recover their businesses.

Reconstruction costs are estimated at USD 300 million, which correspond to around 20% of the annual state budget. The majority of costs refer to school and housing reconstruction needs (3 000 and 1 709 respectively). These costs are followed by public building reconstruction (483) and roads (247). The sectors of urban infrastructure, health, sports, hydraulic and cultural heritage also require reconstruction. The costs will be borne by the federal state, via the FONDEN (USD 163 million), and the rest by the State of Morelos. Part of the state budget was reallocated to reconstruction efforts. Municipalities in Morelos were already in a frail fiscal situation, with many of them having required state aid to pay labour debts in 2016. With the emergency needs from the earthquake, the state had to boost the fund to municipalities, according to the Ministry of the Treasury.

The reconstruction process initiated with a diagnostic to assess the damages to the housing stock and public infrastructure. The diagnostic complemented the one carried out by national authorities in charge of the FONDEN. The diagnostic enabled the state authorities to accredit beneficiaries. At that stage, property owners were registered and their property ownership proofs were collected. Here, a problem could arise, given the dimension of housing informality in the state and in Mexico in general. The state accommodated for this situation by allowing residents to prove residence through water, electricity and telephone bills. Alternatively, the testimony of a neighbour could fulfil this need. The state also signed an agreement with notary public offices to provide free deeds for those who own land formally. The flexibility of the state in accommodating these needs has rightfully facilitated the process.

The package of benefits varied with the level of damage estimated, if total or partial. Partial damage entitled beneficiaries to construction materials, given in three scales, according to reconstruction needs, as measured in m². Beneficiaries were responsible for transporting materials from the distribution centre to their houses as well as for the repairs. Total damage qualified beneficiaries for financial assistance. In this, they had two options: receive the amount of USD 6 500 to spend as they wish or sign an agreement with a housing foundation. The value is higher in the latter case, once the foundations top USD 1 600, reaching a total of USD 8 100. Housing foundations were pre-assigned by Unidos por Morelos per municipality, but in municipalities in which more than one foundation is serving, the beneficiary can choose.3

The foundations build 50 m² houses, according to a pre-designed model. Houses have two bedrooms, one living room, one kitchen and one bathroom. The material used is adobloc, a type of clay brick that mimics the colonial architectural style. Beneficiaries only have some flexibility in what regards the façade, to which four options are given. But they can build additions to the houses in the future if wish so. Foundations promised to deliver new houses within 3 weeks of signing the agreement. Together with a new house, the beneficiary will receive the deed for the property. Land titling reduces informality rates and promotes greater tenure security.

Businesses are also receiving financial aid. The State of Morelos received funds from the National Institute of Entrepreneurs of Mexico (INADEM). As of December 2017, 3 359 commercial establishments had received non-repayable grants (Morelos, 2017, p. 96[17]). Other two programmes offered access to finance to 67 companies. In addition, the State of Morelos supports small businesses by acknowledging some of their material needs. More specifically, the state complemented FONDEN funds by covering reconstruction costs to those who owned a business in the ground floor of residential units. This type of mixed-use arrangement, often informal, is nonetheless the main income source for many families and contributes to the diversification of the local economy.

Concerning public infrastructure, the State of Morelos resorts to FONDEN funds, accessed via the Programme of Immediate Support (APIN), but also to its own funds. For instance, cuts in one state ministry funded the reconstruction of 9 cultural heritage sites across the state, among museums, colonial farms and cultural centres. In addition, funds of USD 76.2 million were redistributed from the transportation project Morebus, after the project was cancelled. Funds have been used to repair hydraulic, agricultural, sports, road and educational infrastructure.

Going beyond reconstruction efforts, which are already challenging, the State of Morelos has to envision changes that will have impacts in the long-term. Besides the individual homes and repaired infrastructure, this is about how places can evolve from the disaster into a better, stronger state. To illustrate, territorial development in rural and urban areas can shape how places are structured to cope with disasters, as in the case of Jojutla.

Jojutla was the most strongly affected city by the earthquake in the state. Considering the major reconstruction efforts that would be needed, public authorities seized the crisis as an opportunity to launch a new plan for the urban development of Jojutla. The New Jojutla Plan (Plano Nuevo Jojutla) highlights a vision of the city in alignment with the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda. The goal is to promote a sustainable city on the principles of inclusion, gender equity, efficient use of resources, mitigation of climate change, as well as integral management of disaster risks.

The New Jojutla Plan has two main axes: service infrastructure and landscaping. Service infrastructure comprises the expansion of underground electrical wiring, water network, pluvial drainage and sewage system. The landscaping aspect concerns improving the image of Jojutla by building more and wider sidewalks, including accessibility elements such as ramps and vegetation around main streets and squares. Historical sites such as the municipal palace and the “Las Caritas” house will be restored and preserved. The accessibility aspect is also under consideration. Road connections to other cities in the state are being rebuilt. The bus station, completely destroyed, will be relocated to the edges of the city, in order to reduce the circulation of inter-municipal and inter-state buses in the historic city centre.

In all, Morelos has delivered quick, well-organised and well-structured policy responses. The fact that a single agency (Unidos por Morelos) was created to co-ordinate the state response favoured a more unified and coherent strategy, as well as communication with other stakeholders, including the national government. For better co-ordination, the state also allocated one cabinet staff per municipality as liaison. The state channelled and reallocated funds, having undergone significant budgetary cuts, too. The cancellation of the Morebus project, for instance, accounts for a considerable part of the costs that have to be borne by the state.

The comprehensive reconstruction efforts have therefore diverted significant state resources from previously agreed actions and programmes. With less financial resources, less personnel and an altered course of action, the State of Morelos has understandably invested less in other policy areas that are not directly concerned by reconstruction. In this sense, it is expected that the impacts of the earthquake will be also felt in what regards the progress of the OECD recommendations made in the Territorial Review. This aspect was fully taken into account for the analysis made in Chapter 2.

Transparency and Monitoring

Communicating with citizens and disseminating government decisions in a timely and transparent manner is fundamental to disaster response and recovery processes. The main strategies adopted by the State of Morelos regarding this matter were the publication of online information and the monitoring work done by the commission of evaluation of state policies COEVAL.

The State of Morelos is, as any other state, obliged to publish decisions and other acts in the Official Journal (Tierra y Libertad). The official journal renders acts public, which is a condition for their validity. In this sense, it operates as a mechanism of formal publicity of governmental decisions. That is to say, most citizens do not read the journal on a regular basis; it is a technical, lengthy and difficult document. Bearing that in mind, the state’s proposal to share plans, reports and other information via the Official Journal in order to increase transparency is unlikely to bring positive results. Transparency requires more than the publication of documents, it involves making those documents easily accessible, understandable and shareable. In this sense, the State of Morelos has to move beyond the paradigm of official publication to invest in other means of communication with their citizenry, such as radio, website, social media, local newspapers and television.

The agency Unidos por Morelos publicises information online.4 The website informs the state strategy for reconstruction and its rules of operation. It reports about damages and losses, beneficiaries and materials needed/ordered for reconstruction. The website does not contain sufficient information about the call for tenders to purchase materials and eventual hires by the agency. It covers basic access to information, but more detailed information about budget allocations and status of benefits is not available.

In these cases, the agency encourages citizens to communicate directly with them. They can go to the office of the Secretary for Controllership. They can also file complaints and suggestions to the reporting system Buzón Ciudadano.5 Once a request or complaint is addressed, the state will report back within reasonable time, but the guidelines followed by the state to do so remain unclear.

In 2015, the State of Morelos created the State Commission for Evaluation (COEVAL).6 It is a decentralised body of the Ministry for Social Development, responsible for monitoring and evaluating social policies and programmes developed by the State of Morelos and its 33 municipalities. The Commission has a technical committee, which is composed of a representative of the national commission (CONEVAL), the Executive President of the Citizenship Committee for Social Development, and seven members of civil society specialised and involved in matters of social development. Based on the results of the evaluations, the Commission shall develop recommendations to policy-makers on how to improve their programmes and policies. The Commission can also offer capacitation and training to policy-makers in what regards M&E of social policies.

The COEVAL is involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the strategy Unidos por Morelos, as set in the rules of operation of the decentralised agency. The evaluation process started with an exploratory diagnostic in 5 regions of the state, to collect primary data on socioeconomic status, living conditions before earthquake and level of satisfaction and corruption in the reconstruction process. Two evaluations will follow, one concerning the implementation process, and another one about the results of the strategy. The evaluations will be done through selected indicators, developed by COEVAL according to the methodology proposed by the national agency, CONEVAL.7 The indicators enable an objective assessment of the strategy and facilitate communication and involvement of civil society in the process.

Some indications for the reconstruction process

This section offers some indications for the ongoing reconstruction process carried out by the agency Unidos por Morelos. As already stated, the process is being conducted in a broad, expedite and well-integrated manner. Still, some points deserve further attention. The state has the conditions to make the most out of the crisis and lead a reconstruction process that, more than returning to the previous situation, can generate better infrastructure conditions and improve the quality of life of residents.

The State of Morelos has the opportunity to rethink urban development and planning. As the case of the Plan Nuevo Jojutla shows, reconstructions offer a strategic window of opportunity to improve the urban environment. In Jojutla, water, sewage and pluvial drainage networks will be renovated and expanded. Landscaping projects will include larger sidewalks, new urban furniture and redesigned squares. In this sense, urban plans that better reflect infrastructure needs, make the city more walkable, preserve the historic heritage and promote collective transportation modes and energy-efficient buildings can bring considerable improvements for well-being and sustainability. These changes should be promoted in other municipalities as well. The Secretary for Sustainable Development, who is overseeing the process in Jojutla, could expand its field of action or at least offer its expertise to other municipalities.

The resettlement of those affected by the earthquake ought to remain a priority in spatial plans. That is, plans for urban development cannot reduce the offer of housing or prevent affected people from moving back to their original area of residence, as long as it is reputed safe to live. It is recommended that spatial plans include risk assessment analyses and maps of risk levels by type of hazard. Specific budget allocations should be directed to facilitating building communities within relocation sites, integration with surrounding neighbourhoods, and care for children and elderly’s mental health. It is often the case that such funds are simply not designed to be spent for such purposes.

Given reconstruction needs, some thought should be given to location. It is important that housing projects are well-connected to public transportation networks, with special attention to the needs of the children, women and elderly. Housing development has often been disconnected with public transport in Mexico, which can reduce mobility and accessibility levels, and increase congestion and air pollution (OECD, 2015[22]). In all, the government needs to strike a balance between the imperatives of swift reconstruction, and the opportunities to make urban development more sustainable and inclusive.

Housing reconstruction via private foundations titling can be considered a safe and sound option. It is expected that the 7 410 new houses will be safe and will have clear, formal land rights, as the principle of Build Back Better instructs (UNISDR, 2015[23]). The broad range of foundations involved should guarantee fast construction while maintaining quality. The state should make sure the foundations abide by employment regulations and make use of environmentally sound construction materials. They should monitor if funds are being rightfully spent and if the project timeline is being respected.

Moreover, the agency Unidos por Morelos should closely monitor the technical conformity of constructions. The sub-committee on housing construction already sets up technical aspects and approves construction plans; it should also monitor if these are actually being respected during construction. Monitoring if building regulations are being followed is admittedly one of the central problems concerning urban planning in Mexico (Reinoso et al., 2009[21]). It has been reported that the disconformity between the technical drawing submitted to the public authority and the actual construction often exists and can only be checked by site visits, which are costly and complex to carry out (Reinoso et al., 2009[21]).

As of the site visits in December 2017, housing construction had just started. Displaced people were either living in campsites or with relatives. This situation, even though temporary by nature, should not persist for much longer. Special attention should be paid to the elderly, those with disabilities and children. International recommendations instruct that the most vulnerable groups should be relocated first. The Guidelines for Mainstreaming the Needs of Older Persons in Disaster Situations, for instance, state that the elderly should be given priority in housing programmes (PAHO, 2012[24]). Programmes should assist them in restoring their livelihoods as well (PAHO, 2012[24]). To illustrate, those who live off cash crop gardens, variety shops or informal restaurants would need enough room in new houses to continue doing so.

Another aspect of housing that bears consideration is multifamily housing. Contrarily to FONDEN regulations, state guidelines account for the situation of more than one nuclear family living under the same roof. Nonetheless, it is not clear how this will be operationalised. For instance, it may be the case that each household unit is listed as a separate beneficiary, receiving thus each one a house; or if they have to split the financial assistance, making ends meet to build new houses with that amount.

In the property registry process, the state should beware of pre-existing rights. That is, in order to grant formal ownership rights to beneficiaries, the state should verify who the registered owner of land is, especially if it is private. In any event, it is important that the new title lawfully supersedes any eventual pre-existing title, to avoid future land conflicts. In addition, tenure security of beneficiaries will be higher if they perceive that the land title can subsist against future claims.

Still regarding property registry, the state should promote women’s tenure security. The ownership rights should be jointly attributed to both female and male heads of the household. In case of any impediment in this regard, ownership rights should be preferentially attributed to the female head of the household. Women’s tenure security should be protected regardless of marital status, group membership, ethnicity or race. This recommendation echoes several United Nations international guidelines on housing relocation and restitution (OHCHR, 2007[25]; Rolnik, 2014[26]).8

Those who opt for financial compensation should receive technical assistance to rebuild their homes. The course of self-construction offered by the ICATMOR can complement but not replace this demand. Unidos por Morelos should offer technical assistance for housing construction. This assistance service has to be regular, inexpensive and flexible to accommodate varying needs by residents. Self-construction is often deployed by those with scarce financial means or changing family arrangements – being thus quite common in Mexico, but not only. Self-construction can offer more flexibility to define the house layout, the pace of works and even the materials used. For these reasons, self-construction should be regarded as a valid alternative for reconstruction, as long as technically sound.

Ensuring safety in reconstructing schools, hospitals, fire stations and public buildings must be a priority. In particular, the issue of school reconstruction merits attention, given that 86% of schools suffered partial damage and 36 schools will have to be completely rebuilt. It is true that Mexico has two programmes on school safety against disasters, and that the National Institute of Educational Physical Infrastructure (INIFED) conducts several thousand visits per year to assess the vulnerability of schools (OECD, 2013, p. 20[19]). In addition to following these programmes, it is advisable that Morelos adopts specific guidelines of school reconstruction under a disaster risk management paradigm. The International Finance Corporation of the World Bank developed guidelines in that direction. The guidelines advise about structural and non-structural safety, and contain emergency planning measures, too (IFC, 2010[27]). The checklist for disaster readiness and resilience can be particularly useful (Box 3.1).

Box 3.1. School Disaster Readiness and Resilience Checklist

1. School Disaster Management Committee guides the School Disaster Management Process

  • An existing or special group representative of all parts of the school community is tasked with leading school disaster management efforts on an ongoing basis.

  • School disaster management has the full support of school leadership.

  • School disaster management committee takes lead in ongoing planning for prevention, mitigation, response and recovery.

  • School disaster and emergency management plan is reviewed and updated at least annually.

2. Assessment and Planning for Disaster Mitigation Hazards, vulnerabilities, risks, capacities and resources are researched and assessed.

  • Mitigation measures are identified and prioritised for action.

  • Building evacuation routes and safe assembly areas are identified.

  • Area evacuation and safe havens for family reunification are identified, as needed.

  • Educational continuity plans are in place for recurring hazards and high impact hazards

3. Physical protection measures are taken to protect students and staff

  • School buildings and grounds are maintained for disaster resilience.

  • Fire prevention and fire suppression measures are maintained and checked regularly.

  • Safety measures related to building non-structural elements, furnishings and equipment are taken to protect students and staff from hazards within the building (especially caused by earthquakes, severe weather etc.).

4. School personnel have disaster and emergency response skills and school have emergency provisions

  • School personnel are ready to organise disaster response using a standard emergency management system (e.g. incident command systems).

  • School personnel receive training in a range of response skills including, as necessary: building and area evacuation, first aid, light search and rescue, student supervision, shelter, nutrition and sanitation.

  • School maintains first aid supplies and fire suppression equipment.

  • School maintains emergency water, nutrition and shelter supplies to support staff and students for a minimum of 72 hours.

5. Schools have and practice policies and procedures for disasters and emergencies

  • Policies and standard operating procedures adopted to address all known hazards.

  • Standard operating procedures include: building evacuation and assembly, shelter-in-place, lockdown, and family reunification procedures.

  • School personnel have and practice procedures to ensure safe student reunification with emergency contacts identified in advance by parents or guardians.

  • School drills are held at least twice yearly to practice and improve upon disaster mitigation and preparedness skills and plans.

Source: IFC (2010), Disaster and Emergency Preparedness: Guidance for Schools, World Bank, Washington, DC,

In conclusion, this section presented key indications for how Morelos can move forward, within the existing reconstruction strategy. The focus here was on what is possible to adjust given what is being done. The following section will address actions that the State of Morelos can take in complement of the current strategy. It presents instruments that Morelos could adopt in order to enhance preparedness for the future. These instruments are an indication for action, and as such, they would have to be further adapted to Morelos’ context in order to become operational.

Risk governance: key aspects for Morelos

As abovementioned, this section provides guidance on how Morelos can emerge from the reconstruction and recovery process into a more resilient state. Following previous OECD work on risk governance and in alignment with international frameworks of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and resilience, the section touches upon key institutional aspects that could be further developed by the State of Morelos to increase preparedness and improve response in the event of disasters. It does not offer a single, universal strategy for DRR but indicates pathways for action. These aspects are disaster reduction management planning, emergency planning, risk-based spatial planning, housing informality, financial resilience, data collection, and accountability and transparency in risk governance.

These aspects can be developed throughout the risk governance process. Risk governance is about governing disaster risk, beyond merely reacting to disasters. The main objective of the risk governance process is to create an integrated, multi-risk and participatory strategy to disaster risk. This process, as understood by the OECD (2014[28]),9 includes different steps to understand, prepare for and react to disasters and shocks (Box 3.2). The steps may occur in parallel, not necessarily in a linear fashion. For instance, the adoption of structural protection measures does not always precede knowledge-sharing efforts; they may even occur at the same time. Some plans and policies may need to be reviewed or updated, while other steps have already been implemented. This process also requires a certain way of doing things, such as communication, transparency, accountability, broad consultation with civil society and such, which the third part of this section discusses.

Box 3.2. The risk governance process: Key recommendations

I. Establish and promote a comprehensive, all-hazards and transboundary approach to country risk governance to serve as the foundation for enhancing national resilience and responsiveness.

  1. Develop a national strategy for the governance of critical risks.

  2. Assign leadership at the national level to drive policy implementation, connect policy agendas and align competing priorities across ministries and between central and local governments.

  3. Engage all government actors at national and subnational levels, to co-ordinate a range of stakeholders in inclusive policy-making processes.

  4. Establish partnerships with the private sector to achieve responsiveness and shared responsibilities aligned with the national strategy.

II. Build preparedness through foresight analysis, risk assessments and financing frameworks, to better anticipate complex and wide-ranging impacts.

  1. Develop risk anticipation capacity linked directly to decision making.

  2. Equip departments and agencies with the capacity to anticipate and manage human-induced threats, criminal and terrorist networks.

  3. Monitor and strengthen core risk management capacities.

  4. Plan for contingent liabilities within clear public finance frameworks by enhancing efforts to minimise the impact that critical risks may have on public finances and the fiscal position of a country in order to support greater resilience.

III. Raise awareness of critical risks to mobilise households, businesses and international stakeholders and foster investment in risk prevention and mitigation.

  1. Encourage a whole-of-society approach to risk communication and facilitate transboundary co-operation using risk registries, media and other public communications on critical risks.

  2. Strengthen the mix of structural protection and non-structural measures to reduce critical risks.

  3. Encourage businesses to take steps to ensure business continuity, with a specific focus on critical infrastructure operators.

IV. Develop adaptive capacity in crisis management by co-ordinating resources across government, its agencies and broader networks to support timely decision making, communication and emergency responses.

  1. Establish strategic crisis management capacities to prepare for unknown and unexpected risks that provoke crises.

  2. Strengthen crisis leadership, early detection and sense-making capacity, and conduct exercises to support inter-agency and international co-operation.

  3. Establish the competency and capacities to scale-up emergency response capabilities to contend with crises that result from critical risks.

  4. Build institutional capacity to design and oversee recovery and reconstruction plans.

V. Demonstrate transparency and accountability in risk-related decision making by incorporating good governance practices and continuously learning from experience and science.

  1. Ensure transparency regarding the information used to ensure risk management decisions are better accepted by stakeholders to facilitate policy implementation and limit reputational damage.

  2. Enhance government capacity to make the most of resources dedicated to public safety, national security, preparedness and resilience.

  3. Continuously share knowledge, including lessons learnt from previous events, research and science post-event reviews, to evaluate the effectiveness of prevention and preparedness activities, as well as response and recovery operations.

Source: OECD (2014), Recommendation of the Council on the Governance of Critical Risks,

Planning instruments

The basic planning instruments for DRR and resilience are: territorial risk assessments, risk-based land use plans and emergency response plans (Table 3.1).

Table 3.1. Planning instruments

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is a tool of risk management that informs about previous disaster events and estimates the impacts of future shocks. This detailed record-keeping helps city leaders to identify the risks that the city is most often subject to, at which frequency, in what territories and at what levels of loss. It also aims at better predicting the future, by quantifying the probability and impacts of hazards.

Risk-based land-use planning

Risk-based land-use planning is a non-structural approach that identifies the safest locations and regulations for guiding urban development. Land-use plans influence the location, type, design, quality and timing of development. The plan is a reference for taking decisions about ordinances and permits, as well as allocating finances.

Emergency response plan

Emergency response plans have both operational and logistical components, including procedures for damage and needs assessment after a disaster. An emergency response plan should identify patterns for stakeholder co-ordination, both horizontally with local actors and vertically with regional and national authorities.

Source: Jha, A.K., T.W. Miner and Z. Stanton-Geddes (eds.) (2013), Building Urban Resilience: Principles, Tools, and Practice,

The national government has adopted these planning instruments for disaster risk management and resilience, as exemplified by the Risk Atlas (Atlas del Riesgo), the Plan Sismo, the SASMEX system and the SAVER tool. Most of these instruments can and ought to be replicated at the state and municipal levels. Yet this has proven to be a difficult task: subnational governments often face limited financial and technical capacity to elaborate, adopt and implement such instruments (OECD, 2013[19]).

The early-warning system of Morelos is connected to the national SASMEX system and the SAVER tool, through stations installed in public research centres. Regarding emergency response planning, Morelos has just approved a new Civil Protection Statute. The Statute fosters the culture of preparedness and is aligned with federal legislation in the matter. Morelos needs to continue incorporating strong mitigation and preparedness measures, among which emergency and contingency plans are a crucial step. In that, Morelos can refer to guidelines issued by the national authority of civil protection (SEGOB – National Co-ordination of Civil Protection).10

Territorial risk assessment allows mapping to which risks the territory is subject and to plan accordingly. In Morelos, it was carried out through the Risk Atlas of 2010. Despite being relatively recent, it does not contain important elements such as seismic risk. After the earthquake, the Ministry for Sustainable Development committed publicly to update the Risk Atlas in this direction. The state has urged the 33 municipalities to develop their own risk atlases but there has been little follow-up. The state could provide training for local agents on how to conduct multi-hazard assessments. For financial matters, the state could facilitate access to federal funds, or provide grants for municipalities to carry out such studies. These studies would complement the state’s Risk Atlas, offering a more thorough view of vulnerability in the territory as a whole.

The risk atlases and early-warning tools could have more impact if incorporated into land use planning. The 2012 General Law for Civil Protection requires the development of risk atlases to inform land-use plans (OECD, 2013, p. 96[19]). Mexico’s civil protection laws provide a legal basis to move beyond the traditional focus of emergency preparedness, response and recovery, calling for comprehensive disaster risk reduction and prevention. Implementation of the 2012 General Law on Civil Protection provides an opportunity to strengthen co-operation and better align sub-national programmes with federal policies (OECD, 2013, p. 15[19]). In conclusion, Morelos should align its programmes with the 2012 General Law on Civil Protection, update the Risk Atlas, and incorporate the dimension of risk assessment provided in the Risk Atlas into land use planning documents.

Furthermore, the impacts of the earthquake were strongly felt in the urban infrastructure, revealing structural deficiencies in housing quality, schools and heritage conservation. This signals weaknesses in building codes and their enforcement. In light of this context, the building codes should be reviewed, to reflect the latest technical requirements against earthquakes and other risks. At the same time, this should not mean creating rigid construction patterns that excessively burden constructors. The state could create risk profiles with scales that vary according to the desired configurations and uses for the building. This model could be more flexible and potentially facilitate monitoring.

In addition, assessing seismic risks to existing schools, hospitals and public buildings could be carried out as a pilot programme to demonstrate Morelos’s commitment to long-term resilience. A number of OECD and non-OECD countries have carried out such assessment (Box 3.3). In Japan, the government promotes assessment of earthquake-resistant structure of existing buildings retrofitting the buildings whose earthquake-resistant level is assessed insufficient (OECD, 2015[22]). Such measures were introduced in 1995, after the Kobe Earthquake and gradually elaborated. Most recently, after the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011), assessing and reporting earthquake-resistant structure has become mandatory for certain large-scale buildings (e.g. schools, hospitals).

Box 3.3. Cases of Probabilistic Seismic Risk Assessment

Peru: Understanding seismic risk to schools in Lima

The Ministry of Education, in partnership with the World Bank and GFDRR, is working to mitigate against damage, protect students against the impact of earthquakes, and safeguard educational development. A probabilistic seismic risk assessment was conducted by the World Bank, focusing on 1 969 schools in the Lima Metropolitan Area.

According to the assessment, only 8% of schools complied with seismic resistance design codes, and 64% of schools were highly vulnerable to earthquakes, leaving 600 000 children at risk. Based on these results, the Government has introduced a national school infrastructure plan focused on improving the amenity of school infrastructure and on reducing potential seismic vulnerability for the 252 most vulnerable school facilities, with an estimated USD 17 million investment.

Turkey: Reducing seismic risk to public buildings

Turkey has substantial seismic risk and vulnerable building stock. A seismic risk analysis in 2002 suggested that in earthquakes of magnitude 6.9 to 7.7, some 7%-8% of buildings would be heavily damaged, 87 000 people could be killed, and 135 000 severely injured. Istanbul’s schools, hospitals and other public buildings had a high potential for collapse. The assessment recommended urgent review and retrofits of 635 hospitals and 2 000 schools, and the creation of a disaster management centre and educational programmes to raise awareness.

In 2012 the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the Government of Turkey used these recommendations as a basis for the Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness Project (ISMEP). The project has improved seismic resilience in Istanbul through better emergency preparedness, reduced risk at over 700 public facilities and made improvements in building code enforcement.

Source: UNISDR (2017[29]), National Disaster Risk Assessment: Governance System, Methodologies and Use of Results, available at (Accessed at July 16 2018).

Housing and finance instruments

Informal housing may represent a burden to residents and the state. Residents suffer from unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, tenure insecurity and limited access to credit. Beyond state responsibility for human rights violations, in a very pragmatic sense states lose from informality. For one, tax collection revenues are diminished. States also have more responsibility for and less control of the urban environment. For instance, because most informal houses do not have insurance, in the tragic event of natural disasters the burden lies on the state, not on insurance companies, as it occurs with formal housing. Disaster risk financing and insurance instruments can protect against the financial impacts of natural disasters but do not reduce the amount of damage and loss. For these reasons, promoting resilience in Mexico forcefully means addressing the issue of informality.

Property registry is a necessary aspect of this process, too. First, property registry systems tend to be outdated and incomplete. This reflects poorly for the purposes of adequately assessing the size and needs of the housing market, planning for urban development and collecting taxation. This task is on its own gigantic, but with new land titles being distributed it becomes more urgent. Only by enjoying tenure security residents can access and pay tariffs and taxes for public services and land ownership.

Formal housing would pave the way for increased financial protection. The State of Morelos can tap into risk finance models, as they offer more security to residents while reducing the potential financial burden that the state would have to carry in the event of another disaster. Risk retention, risk financing and risk transfer instruments should be selected to cover disasters of different frequency and severity. Examples of instruments are risk pools, reserve funds, weather derivatives, indemnity-based reinsurance, parametric insurance and catastrophe bonds (Box 3.4). Affordable insurance schemes can too be designed to encourage the adhesion of newly formalised settlements.

Box 3.4. Examples of risk transfer programmes

Turkey: Turkish Catastrophe Insurance Pool (TCIP)

The ever-present threat from widespread earthquake damage led to the creation of TCIP in 1999. TCIP provides earthquake and fire insurance coverage at affordable yet actuarially sound rates for registered urban dwellings, limits the Government's financial exposure to loss, builds long-term catastrophe reserves and encourages risk reduction and mitigation practices in residential construction. During the first five years, the World Bank provided a contingent credit layer that would have provided capital relief should there be a shortfall as a result of claims activity. Reinsurance cover per event is purchased through various layers. Current market penetration is around 34% (approximately 5.6 million policies), with an average premium per policy of EUR 59.

India: Telenor Suraksha Micro-insurance

In September 2015, Telenor India launched Telenor Suraksha, India’s first mass-market life insurance product, in partnership with MicroEnsure, a leading United Kingdom-based microinsurance specialist, and Shriram Life Insurance. Cover is offered via Telenor’s network of 48 million customers, who can sign up when topping up their phones. The electronic registration process is simple and no paper policy document is required. Cover is offered without exclusions and is offered for free for a certain amount of airtime usage as a reward to loyal subscribers. Education on the benefits of insurance is made through marketing materials, text messages (SMS) and a phone menu that provides all the information required. Claims are paid using mobile money. Within 148 days, more than 22 million customers had opted for the programme, with most of these people living in rural areas. Over 95% of customers had never had any form of insurance previously.

Sources: UNISDR (2017[29]), National Disaster Risk Assessment: Governance System, Methodologies and Use of Results, available at (Accessed at July 16 2018).

Risk governance instruments

The risk governance process contains a strong procedural element. As much as planning, housing and finance instruments are important, how to design and implement them is a crucial issue. This involves four main elements: data collection, training and awareness, community participation and transparency and accountability (Table 3.2 and Box 3.5).

Table 3.2. Instruments for better risk governance

Data collection

Promoting data accessibility is an important component of any technical disaster or climate risk project. To ensure sustainability of project results, all data collected and created should be preserved, consolidated and transferred to stakeholders upon project completion in a well-known or standard electronic format.

Training and awareness

Capacity development is the process by which people, organisations and society systematically stimulate and develop their capacities over time to achieve social and economic goals. It involves learning and various types of training, but also continuous efforts to develop institutions, political awareness, financial resources, technology systems and the wider enabling environment.

Community and stakeholder participation

Participation of communities and other stakeholders in urban programming and planning initiatives enhances urban resilience. It is vital to ensure that vulnerable and marginalised populations are full and meaningful participants in all processes. It can also be fostered via multi-sector and multi-level partnerships with government and civil society, including community-based organisations, the private sector and academia.

Source: Jha, A.K., T.W. Miner and Z. Stanton-Geddes (eds.) (2013), Building Urban Resilience: Principles, Tools, and Practice,

In the case of Morelos, the agency responsible for the reconstruction strategy is collecting and systematising data. In addition, this data should be digitalised, publicised in their online portal, and transferred to the state once the mandate of the agency is concluded. The state commission COEVAL can also lead taskforces to collect and consolidate data. Moreover, these two bodies could be responsible for organising training sessions to form local leaders that are informed about disaster recovery strategies and can further replicate this knowledge in their communities. Another important aspect of training is to develop capacities of civil servants to access and update risk atlases, together with other technical documents of disaster risk management planning.

As mentioned above, the state oversees activities of shelters and distribution centres. But the state should also monitor the housing foundations, regarding the efficiency of public spending and the technical quality of constructions. Civil society groups that can support and strengthen the monitoring processes would be welcomed in the future but seem to be absent from the current process. Empowering citizens, especially vulnerable groups, to publicly lead and promote fair and inclusive reconstruction process is fundamental.

Box 3.5. Accountability and transparency is disaster risk governance

Public institutions are accountable for managing and communicating risk. Creating and enforcing the accountability of city and municipal governments to effectively manage and communicate risk can be challenging, in part because it requires a perspective that stretches beyond elected terms. Some decisions and resources also are beyond local control, at regional or national levels, or beyond their jurisdiction. A combination of measures is needed to ensure that local government is accountable for the safety of its citizens, namely:

  • Adoption and enforcement of a legal and institutional framework—including performance goals—for disaster and climate-related risk management, in co-operation with civil society, the private sector, and regional and national governments.

  • Promotion of meaningful participation by community and other interest groups in the design, delivery, and monitoring of disaster and climate-related risk management, including the use of such tools as social audits.

  • Clear delineation of the responsibilities of all levels of government and civil society actors for disaster and climate-related risk management.

Source: Jha, A.K., T.W. Miner and Z. Stanton-Geddes (eds.) (2013), Building Urban Resilience: Principles, Tools, and Practice,


[16] IBD (2017), Recuento de los Daños 7S y 19s: A un Mes de la Tragedia, Instituto Belisario Domínguez, Senado de la República, México.

[20] IBRD/World Bank (2012), Mexico's Natural Disaster Fund – A Review, World Bank, Washington, DC,

[27] IFC (2010), Disaster and Emergency Preparedness: Guidance for Schools, World Bank, Washington, DC,

[18] INEGI (2017), Stadísticas sobre las Afectaciones de los Sismos de Septiembre de 2017 en las Actividades Económicas, INEGI, (accessed on 29 January 2018).

[42] Jha, A., T. Miner and Z. Stanton-Geddes (2013), Building Urban Resilience: Principles, Tools, and Practice, World Bank Publications.

[1] OECD (2017), OECD Territorial Reviews: Morelos, Mexico, OECD Territorial Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[22] OECD (2015), OECD Urban Policy Reviews: Mexico 2015: Transforming Urban Policy and Housing Finance, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[28] OECD (2014), Recommendation of the Council on the Governance of Critical Risks, OECD, Paris, (accessed on 05 February 2018).

[19] OECD (2013), OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies: Mexico 2013: Review of the Mexican National Civil Protection System, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[25] OHCHR (2007), Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons: Implementing the 'Pinheiro Principles',

[24] PAHO (2012), Guidelines for Mainstreaming the Needs of Older Persons in Disaster Situations in the Caribbean, Pan American Health Organisation, Washington, DC,

[21] Reinoso, E. et al. (2009), Ampliación del Estudio sobre la Observancia del Reglamento de Construcciones en las Edificaciones Nuevas del Distrito Federal, UNAM, Mexico DF,

[26] Rolnik, R. (2014), Report of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, and on the Right to Non-discrimination in this Context: Guiding Principles on Security of Tenure for the Urban Poor, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Geneva,

[29] UNISDR (2017), National Disaster Risk Assessment: Governance System, Methodologies, and Use of Results, UN, (accessed on 05 February 2018).

[23] UNISDR (2015), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030,


← 1. To a more complete analysis of the system of civil protection in Mexico, including a more throughout analysis of FONDEN and the 2012 National Law of Civil Protection System, please refer to OECD (2013[19]).

← 2. The National Risk Atlas is available online at

← 3. The foundations are the following: Centro Cooperativo Tapalehui, Fundación Carlos Slim, Fundación Vivienda – Fideicomiso Proviváh, Fundación Azteca, Fundación Ofakim and Fundación ¡Échale! a tu casa.

← 4. Via:

← 5. Via:

← 6. Governor’s decree published in 07/22/15 at the Official Journal of the State, “Tierra y Libertad”, no. 5308.

← 7. Metodología de Marco Lógico para la Construcción de Indicadores de Resultado CONEVAL – CEPAL:

← 8.  The Handbook Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons: Implementing the 'Pinheiro Principles' (OHCHR, 2007[25]) states, in Principle 4.2: “States should ensure that housing, land and property restitution programmes, policies and practices recognise the joint ownership rights of both male and female heads of the household as an explicit component of the restitution process, and that restitution programmes, policies and practices reflect a gender-sensitive approach.” The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, on the Guiding principles on security of tenure for the urban poor (Rolnik, 2014[26]), affirms that: “Both de jure and de facto gender equality are essential to the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. In this regard, States must strengthen and protect women’s security of tenure, regardless of age, marital, civil or social status, and independent of their relationships with male household or community members”.

← 9.  The OECD framework, originally designed for the national level, can be easily adapted to subnational governments.

← 10. The Guía para la elaboración de Programas de Protección Civil y Planes de Contingencias is available at:

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