Aug 032010

The small, oil-rich state of Tabasco, one of Mexico’s wettest states, is regularly subjected to serious flooding. Much of the state is a wide coastal plain of sediments brought by rivers from the mountains of Chiapas and Guatemala. Two major rivers—the Grijalva and the Usumacinta—converge in the Pantanos de Centla wetlands. These rivers have meandering, braided channels and highly variable flows, partly because of hydropower dams far upstream.

The state’s high incidence of floods has been exacerbated by subsidence and deforestation due to oil and gas extraction which has led to excessive silting of river channels. Looking to the future, rising sea levels will only increase this area’s vulnerability to flooding.

The flood of 2007

Several days of heavy rainfall due to a low pressure system led in late October and early November 2007 to massive floods,  called at the time by President Felipe Calderón “one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the country.” About 80% of Tabasco was under water at one point.

Tabasco produces 80% of Mexico’s total cacao and 40% of its bananas; the losses of farm harvests alone were estimated at $480 million. The floods disrupted the lives of more than a million residents, and 20,000 people were forced to seek emergency shelter. The state capital Villahermosa, located near the junction of three branches of the Grijalva River, was particularly badly hit.

It has been claimed that the 2007 floods would have been much less serious if funds allocated for hydrologic infrastructure improvements had not been misappropriated.

2008 Hydrological Plan

A new Tabasco Hydrological Plan was announced in 2008. The $850 million plan should ensure the integrated management of six river basins and major improvements to the systems for storm tracking, weather forecasting and disaster prediction. Several rivers will be dredged and the coast will be reinforced with breakwaters and sea walls.

2009 Flood

Unfortunately, the plan could not be implemented in time to prevent serious damages from the next big Tabasco flood in early November 2009 which inundated the homes of more than 200,000 people.

2010 update on Hydrological Plan

Now, we learn from The OOSKA News Weekly Water Report for Latin America and the Caribbean (28 July 2010)  that state politicians are considering a lawsuit against the National Water Authority for failure to competently oversee all the various contracts involved in the 2008 Hydrological Plan. A local newspaper in Tabasco state reports that 10 companies failed to deliver the dredging and flood protection works they had been contracted to do, and so far, the National Water Commission has failed to collect fines of about 770,000 dollars for non-compliance, as stipulated in their contracts. The original contracts were valued at 6.7 million dollars, and were apparently paid in advance. All work was scheduled to have been completed by March of 2009.

Federal politicians are now claiming that the National Water Authority’s failures led directly to further serious flood damage in late 2009, which would have been avoided if the work had been completed on time.

According to a Mexico City daily, Tabasco’s 2008 Hydrological Plan is still only approximately 50% complete, as of July 2010.

Rivers, floods and water-related issues are discussed in chapters 6 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…


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