Mexico Earthquake – A reminder of the Past

7.4 quake shakes out a memory of 1985 in Mexico City

Mexico was shaken again Tuesday by earthquakes. This time the news was considerably better than it was in 1985, following a similar event.

The 2012 quake still ruined buildings and caused suffering, but the news reports are much more encouraging. Something has changed in Mexico’s construction security between 1985 and today.

I have an idea what happened, but unfortunately I can’t prove it – completely.
The concrete supply chain links groups in developing nationsI took some time to review a report concerning the rebuilding efforts following the 85′ quake. The paper was posted as a strategy assessment document in the World Bank’s Disaster Risk Management section.

As I read the report I was struck by the hidden story that I found between the lines. It is a story of collaboration – The efforts of a chain of disparate, yet intertwined interests who joined together to supply Mexico with better disaster preparedness. The end result of this collaboration played out as a success story this past Tuesday.

But first the history from the 8.0 quake of 85′ (from the report): The catastrophe took more than 5,000 lives, caused 16,000 injuries, and damaged or destroyed 12,700 buildings—65 percent of them residential. The housing of about 180,000 families was damaged and 50,000 people had to be temporarily rehoused. Also affected were 340 office buildings in which 145,000 government workers were employed, plus 1,200 small industrial workshops, 1,700 hotel rooms, 1,200 schools, and 2,000 hospital beds.” In 1985 dollars, the estimated loss was over $4 billion.

The report then discusses the problems of Poorly built tenements housing…” and the need for a  decentralization of the Construction Department.” They mentioned the need to implement revised building codes, zoning, and regulatory measures to reduce the city’s vulnerability to earthquakes.”

As I read I realized that the players of a working construction system began to emerge and coalesce in an effort to reduce the earthquake risk that might someday return to Mexico. Disaster risk reduction was being linked to the quality of the supply system, that was also linked with governmental oversight, that was then linked to the desires of the public for safer structures in which to live.

This effort contributed to finishing 45,100 dwellings and 3,600 commercial structures faster than they thought possible. It was one of the largest reconstruction programs since the recovery from World War II.

This collaboration  proved that earthquake survivors could renovate a major city when both the human and financial resources were mobilized in a chain of cooperation. Federal and city development agencies contributed to the reconstruction effort and provided ways that the earthquake victims could expedite decisions and participate in the construction.

Now here is the best lesson from this massive effort: “A total of 1,240 private companies participated in the program—738 building contractors, 64 professional firms of supervisors, 184 suppliers, and 258 firms preparing studies and projects. From October 1985 to December 1987, more than 175,000 jobs were created—including 1,200 for the coordinating agency itself and many more in construction and services.”

The 2012 Mexico quake should remind us that working construction supply chains can reduce the risk of life and treasure, when they become a focus of attention.  Mexico has thousands of small enterprises involved in the concrete supply chain, with thousands of employees. Not only are the structures safer, but economic opportunities have expanded. What is even greater is that they know how to fix what is broken, so the damage from Tuesday’s quake will be repaired even faster and better than before.

I hope that others might join us in reading between this lines of disaster risk reports and help other developing nations realize the value of good supply chains in construction.

Bruce Christensen is the author at CementTrust


About cementtrust

I am a director with Cement Trust and passionate about improving cement-based production in the poorest nations of the world.
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