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Progress made in Tabasco’s flood control plan

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Progress made in Tabasco’s flood control plan
Jul 012013

The El Macayo dam on the border of Tabasco and Chiapas states in southern Mexico was officially inaugurated last month. The 90-million-dollar dam, which has been under construction for a decade, is designed to regulate flow along the River Grijalva (aka Mexcalapa and Carrizal) that flows through the city of Villahermosa in Tabasco.

Presa El Macayo (Chiapas/Tabasco)

Presa El Macayo (Chiapas/Tabasco)

The city and surrounding settlements have suffered severe flooding many times in recent years, and the El Macayo dam should bring some much-needed relief to around 700,000 people who live in the areas of greatest risk..

Villahermosa floods 2007

A flooded district of Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state in 2007. Photo: AFP

Why does the state of Tabasco have a high risk of floods?

The Grijalva–Usumacinta river system is one of the world’s largest in terms of volume. It is easily the river system with the greatest flow in Mexico. It is essentially a double river, with two branches of similar length which both start in Guatemala. Each branch flows about 750 km (465 mi) through Chiapas before they unite in Tabasco about 25 km from the Gulf of Mexico. Each of the two branches has a flow of about 14% of Mexico’s total. The flow of the combined Grijalva–Usumacinta River is about twice that of the Missouri River in the USA.

The state of Tabasco itself receives an average rainfall three times higher than Mexico’s national average rainfall, and accounts for 38% of the country’s freshwater.

Given these conditions, it is not surprising that the state of Tabasco is one of the most vulnerable states for flooding in Mexico. The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has estimated that the state suffered around $4.5 billion in losses from flooding between 2007 and 2011.

Integrated Hydrology Plan

The dam is only one small component in an Integrated Hydrology Plan that is has been designed by the National Water Commission, Conagua. The agency has been assigned more than $110 million this year to complete existing hydrology-related infrastructure projects and update flood protection plans. The previous government spent $640 million to begin a flood management program for the state; this included building flood prevention infrastructure, dredging the major rivers and constructing flood-alleviation channels.

Arturo Núñez, governor of Tabasco state, says that the state’s flood management program should include the relocation of residents currently living in the most vulnerable areas, as well as reforestation of the drainage basins, continued regular dredging of the main rivers, and a reorganization of irrigation systems.

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Disparities in wealth in Mexico: trends include a growing middle class as well as more millionaires

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Disparities in wealth in Mexico: trends include a growing middle class as well as more millionaires
Jun 242013

Two recent studies shed an interesting light on the distribution of wealth in Mexico. The first, carried out by the the National Statistics Agency (INEGI) is that agency’s first ever analysis of Mexico’s social classes. The study found that 12.3 million homes and 44 million people (39% of the total population) were “middle class” in 2010, up from 35% in 2000. In urban areas, 47% of the population was middle class, compared to just 26% in rural areas. Middle class homes had at least one computer, spent about 115 dollars [1,470 pesos] a month on eating and drinking outside the home, had at least one resident with a credit card and one with formal employment. In most cases, the head of household had gained a tertiary qualification. The same report found that almost 60% of Mexico’s population matched the criteria for “lower class”, while only 1.7% of the population could be best described as “upper class”.

However, a second study, by consultancy WealthInsight (“Mexico Wealth Book: Trends in Millionaire Wealth“) provides compelling evidence that the number of wealthy and super-wealthy individuals in Mexico has risen sharply. From 2007 to 2012, during the administration of President Felipe Calderón, the number of millionaires in Mexico rose by 32%, whereas the global average for the same period (which included economic recession in the USA and Europe) declined by 0.3%.

WealthInsight found that in 2012 Mexico had 145,000 individuals with a “High Net Worth” (defined as over a million dollars in assets besides their principal residence). Together these high net worth individuals hold a fortune of $736 billion, equivalent to 43% of Mexico ‘s total individual wealth. This number is well above the worldwide average of 29%, indicating that Mexico has a relatively uneven distribution of wealth. What’s more, WealthInsight expects the trend to continue and predicts that by 2017, the number of millionaires in Mexico will grow a further 47% to reach 213,000.

Included in the figure for millionaires are 2,540 multimillionaires (with individual net assets of $30 million or more), 2272 “affluent millionaires”(net assets between $30
million and $100 million) and 252 “centimillionaires” (net assets between $100 million and $1 billion). Mexico also has 16 billionaires, a number expected to rise to 21 by 2017. Grouped together, these ultra high net worth individuals are worth $364 billion in total combined wealth. By 2017 the total wealth of multimillionaires is projected to increase by 44% to reach $525 billion. The report predicts that the total wealth of Mexican billionaires will grow by 26% to reach $241 billion by the end of 2017.

The Mexican city with most multimillionaires is Mexico City; 43% of them make their home there.

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What are the 10 main pressures threatening the Primavera Forest in Jalisco?

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Jun 222013

A 1988 Management plan for the Primavera Forest (Plan de Manejo Bosque La Primavera), published by the University of Guadalajara, included a detailed list of the then-existing pressures on the forest.

Sadly, not much has changed since then, and almost all the sources of pressure mentioned in that study still apply today.

The Primavera Forest. Credit: Semarnat, 2003

The Primavera Forest. Credit: Semarnat, 2003

The management plan argues that the key areas (see map) where careful management is essential include:

  • Cerro San Miguel and Cerro Las Planillas, the highest elevations in the area
  • The environs of the tourist spa of Río Caliente (this spa is now closed)
  • Mesa de Nejahuete, in the center of the volcanic caldera, and
  • Mesa del León, considered an important habitat, primarily for fauna

The plan identifies the following sources of concern (note that this list is in no particular order, and certainly not in order of highest pressure to lowest):

1. Tourism. Poorly planned recreation areas, such as autodromes and spas. Issues resulting from this source of concern include pollution, waste disposal, soil erosion, landscape degradation, habitat change, reduced fauna and, switching to a human focus, delinquency. Motorcycles and trail bikes are a particular problem because of the associated noise pollution, annoyance and risk to other visitors, habitat destruction, the displacement of fauna and often lead to accelerated soil erosion.

2. Ejidos. Any expansion of neighboring ejidos means more homes, deforestation and landscape alteration.

3. Quarrying. The quarrying of local rocks such as pumice or river deposits, as well as a number of abandoned quarries can result in habitat destruction, erosion, forest degradation, accelerated mass movements (landslides, rockfalls), posing a risk to infrastructure, access routes and the potential pollution of ground water.

4. Hunting. Hunters leave spent cartridges that can pollute the soil, as well as wounded and abandoned animals. Larger fauna have become progressively more scarce. In addition, the presence of individuals carrying firearms poses a security threat.

5. Cultivation and Overgrazing. Increased cultivation (primarily for sugar cane, corn and beans) has gradually nibbled away at the edges of the forest, with the clearance method of slash and burn being a particular problem since it greatly raises the risk of wildfires, soil degradation and deforestation. As the number of access routes increases, it is easier for local farmers to graze livestock in the forest, reducing the health of the  grassland, and leading to a relative abundance of unwanted plants and weeds, accelerated soil erosion and the possible contamination of water sources.

6. Deforestation. Deforestation is also a pressure on the forest, in which the cutting of woodland for fuel (including bonfires) and for firebreaks, leads to changes in habitat and soil use, with the secondary effects of increased erosion, reduced ground water recharge and varying degrees of secondary forest succession.

7. Geothermal Power. The potential development of some areas for geothermal power by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has already involved the opening of access routes and would lead to noise contamination (with adverse effects on fauna) and possible pollution of ground water, air and soil, as well as deforested hillsides. The loss of vegetation cover would trigger accelerated erosion, and habitat destruction, further reducing water quality. Access routes attract other “users” such as those seeking to quarry local rocks or clear land for farming.

8. Settlements. Settlements and subdivisions have also encroached on the forest. Some are irregular/illegal settlements, but others are private homes and clubs. Regardless of economic level, these settlements result in a decrease in vegetation and the elimination of the soil’s litter layer, leading to soil compaction, lowered infiltration rates, and nutrient-depleted soils, as well as increased pollution and the gradual elimination of native fauna

9 Wildfires. Wildfires, such as that in 2012, destroy vegetation and cause a general degradation of the woodland. They can result in the accelerated degradation of soil, water and vegetation, leading to significant changes to soil structure, as well as increased runoff and reduced groundwater recharge.

10. Inadequate regulations. The problems faced by the Primavera Forest are compounded because the relevant local authorities have shown little interest in ensuring adequate regulations, supervision and enforcement.

Many of these ten major pressures are closely interrelated. Despite the good intentions back in 1988, it is clear now, with the benefit of hindsight, that the 1988 management plan did not achieve very much. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, and as the Primavera Forest gains international status as a possible Geo-Park, a more comprehensive and effective management plan can be devised and implemented.

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Mexico and the Happy Planet Index

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico and the Happy Planet Index
Jun 202013

Chapter 30 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico includes a look at the Happy Planet Index (HPI). The HPI is a compound index that combines three measures:

  • life expectancy
  • life satisfaction
  • ecological footprint

In essence, the HPI shows how successfully people are achieving the good life without having to consume a disproportionate share of the Earth’s resources. The unbridled global pursuit of economic growth over the past fifty years has left more than a billion people in dire poverty. Far from bringing economic stability, it has encouraged the rampant abuse of resources while increasing the very real risks of unpredictable global climate change.

The HPI attempts to quantify an alternative vision of progress where people strive for happy and healthy lives alongside ecological efficiency in how they use resources. A high HPI score is only possible if a country is close to meeting the targets for all three components.

Environmental Sustainability Index and Happy Planet Index for selected countries. (Geo-Mexico. Figure 30.4) All rights reserved.

Environmental Sustainability Index and Happy Planet Index for selected countries. (Geo-Mexico. Figure 30.4) All rights reserved.

HPI scores (see graph) paint a very different picture to that suggested by either the ecological footprint or the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI). While happy and healthy lives often go hand in hand, many countries with high values for those components (such as the USA and Canada) have disappointingly high ecological footprints, and end up with low HPI scores. The lowest HPI scores of all are found in sub-Saharan Africa where several countries do badly on all three components.

At the other end of the scale, nine of the top ten HPI scores are for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where relatively high life expectancy and high personal lifestyle satisfaction is combined with modest footprints. Mexico ranks 22nd of the 151 countries studied, behind Argentina and Guatemala but well ahead of the UK, Canada and the USA.

Life expectancy

The life expectancy figure for each country was taken from the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report and reflects the number of years an infant born in that country could expect to live if prevailing patterns of age-specific mortality rates at the time of birth in the country stay the same throughout the infant’s life.

Mexico’s life expectancy is 77.0 and ranks #36 among the 151 countries analyzed. This is below the USA, which has a life expectancy of 78.4, but higher than Malaysia, which has a life expectancy of 74.2.

Life satisfaction

The data for life satisfaction (experienced well-being) draws on responses to the ladder of life question in the Gallup World Poll, which was asked to samples of around 1000 individuals aged 15 or over in each of the countries included in the Happy Planet Index.

Mexico’s experienced well-being score is 6.8 out of a possible 10. This is lower than the average level of experienced well-being in the USA (7.16), but higher than that of Germany (6.72).

Ecological footprint

Ecological Footprint is a metric of human demand on nature, used widely by NGOs, the UN and several national governments. It measures the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns. For a majority of the countries (142 of the 151), Ecological Footprint data were obtained from the 2011 Edition of Global Footprint Network National Footprints Accounts. For the nine other countries, Ecological Footprint figures were estimated using predictive econometric models.

Mexico’s Ecological Footprint is 3.30 global hectares per capita. If everyone in the world had the same Ecological Footprint as the average citizen of Mexico, the world’s Ecological Footprint would be 20% larger and we would need to reduce our Ecological Footprints by around 80% in order to stay within sustainable environmental limits.


In summary, countries often considered to be ‘developed’ are some of the worst-performing in terms of sustainable well-being.

Unfortunately, given that the HPI scores for the world’s three largest countries (China, India, and the USA) all declined between 1990 and 2005, it does not seem that the situation is improving or will improve any time soon. Business as usual is literally costing us the Earth.

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Jun 172013

Today (June 17) is the UN’s “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.”

How does Mexico stand right now in relation to drought? Drought currently affects about 40% of the country (see map). Some parts of northern Mexico have been experiencing a severe drought for almost three years. The worst affected states are Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, together with parts of Querétaro, Aguascalientes, Sinaloa and Sonora.

Areas suffering from short-term and long-term drought, April 2013. Click map to enlarge.

Areas suffering from short-term and long-term drought, April 2013. Click map to enlarge.

Last year’s rains did reduce the area suffering from drought from 55.9% of Mexico to 38.6%, but that figure has risen to well over 40% this year.

In 2012, and earlier this year, many major cities, including Mexico City and Guadalajara, had to enforce water rationing for several months, supplying water to individual households only on certain days each week.

As this year’s rainy season begins in central Mexico, dozens of reservoirs are at critically low levels. Reservoirs in Coahuila average only 10% of their capacity, only slightly better than those in San Luis Potosí (12%). Even the populous state of Jalisco faces problems; its reservoirs are at 27% of capacity.

Things are unlikely to improve any time soon since the current long range forecast for this rainy season is for 30% less precipitation than the long term average.

The drought has already caused significant losses to farmers. Livestock owners in northern Mexico have culled herds and are having to buy in supplies of water to top up their private wells. Rainfall so far in 2013 has been well below long-term averages in central and northern Mexico, which may limit the region’s productivity of rain-fed agriculture (mostly wheat, corn, sorghum and other fodder crops).

Authorities at the three levels of government (federal, state and municipal) in many regions are calling for urgent concerted action to help farmers as well as to ensure supplies of drinking water to towns, cities and rural communities.

In Tamaulipas, at least 60 rural communities are confronting a critical water shortage. Farming representatives argue that while the National Water Commission (Conagua) has guaranteed water supply for urban areas, many rural areas remain vulnerable, and lack both potable water and food support on account of harvest failures due to lack of rain. In Tamaulipas alone, drought has affected 22,000 hectares and killed 800 head of livestock in the past year.

In Nuevo León, citrus farmers fear that their harvest, which begins in October will be 40-50% lower than usual. The state government is supporting a 35-million-dollar support program for farmers which includes supplying water by truck, rehabilitating deep wells and offering subsidies for water that farmers buy direct from private suppliers. The spring harvest in Nuevo León was lost completely, and a “severe drought emergency” has been declared in at least 14 municiapliites (Allende, Cadereyta, Dr. Arroyo, General Terán, Higueras, Juárez, Lampazos, Rayones, Sabinas Hidalgo, Santa Catarina, Villaldama, Hidalgo, García and Mina) allowing them access to federal aid.

Besides loss of livestock and crops, the prolonged drought in Mexico is having many other effects, which include:

Migration – In Durango state, more than 1500 Mennonites have left their homes due to the drought, according to Mennonite leader Enrique Peter Klassen, with some of the migrants headed for neighboring state of Chihuahua and others emigrating to Canada.

Wildfires – The first four months of 2013 was the third worst season for forest fires (more than 7000 were reported) in recent history, after 1996 and 2011. According to the National Forestry Commission (Conafor), wildfires ravaged 170,000 hectares, mostly grassland and wooded pastureland, in the first four months of this year. The states which suffered most were Oaxaca (21,000 ha), Baja California Sur (16,000), Guerrero (13,857) and Jalisco (13,697).

Lake Chapala – In the past two years, the level of Mexico’s largest natural lake, Lake Chapala, has once again fallen to crisis levels. (The lake has a long history of fluctuations in level, discussed in detail in our Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico). The lake currently holds 2.84 million cubic meters of water, about 36% of its capacity. Its level has fallen 1.43 meters since last year’s rainy season, the lake’s most dramatic decline for 20 years. The rainy seasons in 2011 and 2012 raised the lake level by only 24 cm and 50 cm respectively, so unless this year’s rains are exceptionally heavy, the lake will continue to drop.

Previous posts related to drought:

Early maps of Mexico

 Books and resources  Comments Off on Early maps of Mexico
Jun 152013

If you find maps, especially old maps, as fascinating as I do, you’ll enjoy reading the chapter on “Mesoamerican Cartography” (link is to pdf file) in the University of Chicago’s History of Cartography. In this wide-ranging chapter, author Dr. Barbara Mundy explores many aspects of Mesoamerican Cartography, from the different styles and materials used to the subtle changes that followed the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century.

The chapter has numerous illustrations of early maps, as well as an interesting diagram showing some of the regional and ethnic differences in the pictographs used to depict common geographic features such as hills, fields, sources of water and stones.

This image shows a page from the Codex Mendoza depicting the Aztec capital Tenochititlan.

Codex Mendoza

Codex Mendoza

The map, thought to have been painted in 1541, shows the founding of Tenochtitlan (by the Mexica) in 1325 (this date is shown by a symbol for a house crowned by two dots in the upper left hand corner). The glyphs around the edge of the map show the passage of time. The central illustration shows Tenochtitlan, dominated by a blue X, marking the four canals that divided the city both geographically and socially. Around the four quadrants sit the ten original founders of the city. Their leader, Tenoch, is seen immediately left of center. The hieroglyphic place-name for Tenochititlan, in the middle of the page, at the juncture of the canals, is a stone with a cactus growing out of it. (Description based on caption in History of Cartography).

On top of the cactus sits a bird of prey (popularly thought to be an eagle, but more probably a Crested Cara-Cara), the sign that the Mexica believed would tell them where to found their new city.

“Mesoamerican Cartography” is chapter 5 of Volume Two, Book Three (“Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies”) of the History of Cartography. The first volume of the History of Cartography was published in 1987 and the three books that constitute Volume Two appeared over the following eleven years. The University of Chicago Press website has links to a series of pdf files for the first three volumes of the History of Cartography (each chapter is a separate pdf).

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Mexico and the Environmental Sustainability Index

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico and the Environmental Sustainability Index
Jun 132013

Environmental sustainability is a highly politicized term which almost all nations now eagerly claim as one of their goals. How true are these claims? The Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) combines five major components (see diagram) which include 76 separate measurements in all. It assesses how close countries are to environmental sustainability. The ESI includes the ecological footprint but also looks at levels of pollution, susceptibility to environmental disruptions, the effectiveness of environmental policies and each country’s contribution to global stewardship.

Comparison of ESI components for Mexico, USA and Canada. (Geo-Mexico. Figure 30.5) All rights reserved.

Comparison of ESI components for Mexico, USA and Canada. (Geo-Mexico. Figure 30.5) All rights reserved.

The countries with the highest ESI scores are predominantly resource-rich nations with low population densities, such as Finland, Norway and Sweden. Some small wealthy states such as Switzerland also make the top ten. In general, densely populated countries such as India and Bangladesh do not score as well.

Mexico’s low ranking in the pilot 2000 ESI table led to Mexico’s Environment Secretariat (SEMARNAT) exploring ways to ensure that international organizations such as the World Bank and World Resources Institute had faster access to updated data from Mexico. Government policy was modified to embrace the use of quantitative environmental data relating to sustainability.

In terms of global stewardship, Mexico and the USA are closer to the target for environmental sustainability than Canada (see diagram). For reducing environmental stresses, Mexico and Canada are ahead of the USA. However, for the other three components, Mexico lags well behind both its North American partners.

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How was the Primavera Forest caldera in Jalisco formed?

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Jun 102013

In a previous post, we described the considerable geotourism potential of the Primavera Forest near Guadalajara:

In this post, we take a closer look at how this unusual area was formed.

Stages 1 and 2 (see diagram):

140,000 BP. The magma chamber beneath the surface began to fill with magma (molten rock underground) and grow in size.

By about 120,000 BP, several lava flows and domes had formed, made primarily of rhyolite, a silica-rich (“acid”) igneous rock. After each eruption, the magma level underground would subside for a period of time before pressure built up again towards the next eruption.

Formation of a caldera

Fig. 4 of Bullard (1962) “Volcanoes in history, in theory, in eruption”. Based on van Bemmelen (1929) and Williams (1941)

Stages 3 and 4

So much pressure had built up by about 95,000 BP that there was a huge explosion, sending 20 cubic kilometers (4.8 cubic miles) of rock and ashes high into the sky. The explosion covered 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) with volcanic materials, known today as the Tala tuff (tuff is the geological term for consolidated ash). This massive explosion caused the upper part of the magma chamber to collapse, leaving a caldera that was 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) wide. The Tala tuff includes large quantities of pumice, a light and porous volcanic rock formed when a gas-rich froth of glassy lava solidifies rapidly.

This caldera filled with water, creating a lake.

Stage 5

This stage began shortly afterwards when a series of ring domes were erupted around the edge of the caldera as the magma deep below the surface started to push upwards again, eventually forming small islands in the lake. These eruptions formed more pumice, blocks of which would break off and start to float across the lake as they gradually sank to the lake floor.

A further series of eruptions in about 75,000 BP led to a second series of ring domes. A combination of tectonic uplift and sedimentation had filled the lake in by about this time.

More volcanic domes have been created at approximately 30,000 year intervals since, in about 60,000 BP and about 30,000 BP; these domes were almost all on the southern and eastern margins of the caldera, and include the lava domes of El Colli and El Tajo on the outskirts of Guadalajara.

Many geologists appear quietly confident that lava and ash eruptions in La Primavera are a thing of the past. They consider that the Primavera Forest’s fumaroles, hot river and hot waterfall represent the last vestiges of vulcanism and are no cause for alarm. On the other hand, others, including Gail Mahood who has studied this area far more than most, warn that hazard monitoring is justified in the case of La Primavera given its proximity to a major city and bearing in mind that any future eruption would be likely to occur on the southern and/or eastern side of the caldera.

The La Primavera Forest is only one of several calderas in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis.

If you prefer a short 9 minute video animation of how the area was formed, try this excellent YouTube video: “The Exciting Geology of Bosque La Primavera“, produced by geologist Barbara Dye during her stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mexico.


  • Mahood G. A. 1980. Geological evolution of a Pleistocene rhyolitic center – Sierra La Primavera, Jalisco, Mexico. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 8: 199-230.
  • Mahood, G.A. 1981. A summary of the geology and petrology of the Sierra La Primavera, Jalisco, Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume 86.
  • Dye, Barbara. 2013. “La Apasionante Geología del Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna La Primavera”.

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Jun 082013

This 30 minute video (narrated in Spanish with English subtitles) looks at the vexed situation of Mexican workers that have been deported from the USA back into Mexico. About 200 migrants are deported daily. Almost all are male,. Many of them have lived for several years in the USA prior to deportation, and some have wives and families still living north of the border.

About 45% of all migrants from Mexico to the USA crossed the border between Tijuana and California. Since 1994 (Operation Gatekeeper) crossing the border has been made progressively more difficult. The border is now heavily protected with border guards given access to technology such as night-vision telescopes and a network of seismic monitors (to detect the minor ground movements that signal people walking or running through the desert). As the US economy ran into problems a few years ago, the flow of migrants north slowed down, even as authorities in the US launched more raids against undocumented workers, leading to an increase in the number of workers deported.

In the video, a range of stakeholders are given the chance to explain how they see the problems faced by deportees. A social anthropologist provides some background and academic insights; activists explain their position and how they seek to help deportees; several individual deportees share their experiences and invite us into their “homes”, precarious one-room shacks, some built partially underground, hobbit-like, in “El Bordo”, a section of the canalized channel of the Tijuana River that runs alongside the international border.

The garbage-strewn El Bordo has sometimes housed as many as 4,000 deportees. Mexican authorities are anxious to clean the area up and periodically bulldoze any shacks they find.

These personal stories of workers from interior states such as Puebla are harrowing. Many still seek “the dream” and openly admit they do not want to return to their families as a “defeated person”.

While parts of this video might have benefited from tighter editing, the accounts are thought-provoking and the video is an outstanding resource to use with classes considering the longer-term impacts of international migration.

There seems little doubt that a majority of the “residents” of El Bordo has a serious drug problem, and the video includes interviews about this issue with municipal police, deportees and aid workers, who discuss the problems and suggest some possible solutions, but ultimately, the city and state authorities have some tough decisions to make if they are to resolve this serious, and growing, humanitarian problem.

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Mexico the fourth most obese country in the world

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexico the fourth most obese country in the world
Jun 062013

Earlier this week, the headline “Ocupa México primer lugar mundial en obesidad; supera a EU” (Mexico in first place for obesity; more obese than the USA)  grabbed my attention. The headline appeared in the Mexican magazine Proceso, normally a stickler for getting its facts straight.

Last time we checked (October 2012)–Obesity in Mexico compared to other countries: bigger is not better–Mexico was in fourth place in the obesity league table, behind Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the USA. [Note that our ranking excludes several very small countries with higher rates of obesity, such as Nauru (71.1%), Cook Islands (64.1%), Marshall Islands (46.5%), Kiribati (45.8%) and St.Kitts-Nevis (40.9%).]

The Proceso article was based on the latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report entitled “The State of Food and Agriculture: Food Systems for a Better Nutrition

On reading the report, it turned out that Proceso had made an unaccustomed error. Mexico is not the most obese country in the world, but remains in fourth place, behind Saudi Arabia, Egypt and South Africa. Mexico has overtaken the USA but has itself been overtaken by South Africa. Normally, any time Mexico beats the USA, whatever the sport or event, it calls for a good old-fashioned celebration with some shots of tequila, but on this occasion, it raises some serious concerns about Mexico’s nutrition and health care strategies.

Obesity in adults is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30, where BMI is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2). Mexico’s rate (for adults), as quoted in the FAO report, had risen to 32.8% of the adult population, almost one in three. By way of comparison, the equivalent figures were 35.2% for Saudi Arabia and 34.6% for Egypt, while the USA rate fell slightly to 31.8%.

The FAO estimates that 12.5% of the world’s population (868 million people) are undernourished in terms of energy intake, yet these figures represent only a fraction of the global burden of malnutrition (over- and under-nutrition). An estimated 26% of the world’s children (under 5 years of age) are stunted, 2 billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies and 1.4 billion people are overweight, of whom 500 million are obese.

Most countries are burdened by multiple types of malnutrition, which may coexist within the same country, household or individual.

The social cost of malnutrition, measured by the “disability-adjusted life years” (DALY) lost to child and maternal malnutrition and to overweight and obesity, is very high. Beyond the social cost, the cost to the global economy caused by malnutrition, as a result of lost productivity and direct health care costs, could account for as much as 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to US$3.5 trillion per year or US$500 per person.

The FAO stresses that, “The way we grow, raise, process, transport and distribute food influences what we eat,” and adds that improved food systems can make food more affordable, diverse and nutritious.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including using appropriate agricultural policies, investment and research to increase productivity; cutting food losses and waste, which currently amount to one third of the food produced for human consumption every year; and helping consumers make good dietary choices for better nutrition through education, information and other actions.

Among other recommendations is to make food systems more responsive to the needs of mothers and young children. FAO notes that malnutrition during the critical ‘first 1,000 days’ from conception can cause lasting damage to women’s health and life-long physical and cognitive impairment in children.

The agency cites several projects that have proved successful in raising nutrition levels such as the promotion of home gardens in West Africa; encouragement of mixed vegetable and animal farming systems together with income-generating activities in some Asian countries; and public-private partnerships to enrich products like yoghurt or cooking oil with nutrients.

Other figures for Mexico from the report:

  • 29.4% of children under five have anemia
  • 26.8% of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency
  •  8.5% of children under five have an iodine deficiency

Note: This post includes some paragraphs from the related FAO press release. Click here for the full text of the report (pdf file).

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