May 102011

Access to services such as schools, public transport or the internet are better in cities than in rural areas (localities in Mexico with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants). However some rural areas have far better access than others. Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of inhabitants of a rural locality is directly related to its access to services.

The 2010 census indicates that 26.0 million Mexicans (about 23.2% of the population) live in rural areas. A total of 9.0 million live in Mexico’s 5,921 large rural communities (those with 1000–2499 inhabitants) compared to 11.3 million living in the 22,852 mid-sized rural localities (250–999 people) and 5.7 million in the 159,820 small rural settlements (fewer than 250 residents). The average population in the last group is only 36 inhabitants indicating that many Mexicans live in very tiny communities.

The percentage of communities with access to a health center or clinic is 74.9% for the large rural areas, 50.7% for the mid-sized, and only 37.9% for the small rural areas. The percentages for access to either a secondary school or telesecundaria (Mexico’s satellite-fed secondary schools, see Geo-Mexico, page 126) also differ with the size of the community: 79.6%, 51.5% and 27.0%, respectively. Though these percentages are far lower than those for larger, urban communities, they have improved very significantly. The census indicates that rural areas are catching up with the rest of Mexico, especially with respect to education, life expectancy and fertility, three very important, inter-related variables.

In turn, this suggests that government programs such as Oportunidades are achieving something positive in some areas beyond poverty reduction.

The network of roads providing access to rural villages has improved significantly. 81.2% of the smallest localities now are connected by road, compared to 96.7% for the mid-sized and 98.3% for the large rural areas. However, these data indicate that almost 31,000 rural Mexican communities are still not accessible by road. Only 63.5% of the small rural villages are served by public transport, compared to 74.6% of the mid-sixed and 89.3% of the large rural localities. A total of almost 107,000 rural communities do not have any public transport and are consequently quite isolated. This isolation is a very serious constraint to their economic opportunities and quality of life. The people who live in communities without access to a paved road are among Mexico’s poorest; fully 88% are classified as “very marginalized” (see Geo-Mexico, page 184).

Internet access is only beginning to penetrate into rural areas. Only 3% of the smallest rural villages have public access to the internet (via school, cybercafé, etc.). About four times as many (11%) of mid-sized rural localities have public internet access. Almost half (45.6%) of the large rural communities have public internet access compared to 74.3% of larger communities between 2500 and 4999 inhabitants. Current trends suggest that by 2020, virtually all Mexicans will have some type of internet access, perhaps by cell phone.

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