Progress made in Tabasco’s flood control plan

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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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Oct 132012
 

Several of the 62 indigenous languages currently spoken in Mexico are considered “endangered”, spoken by so few people that they will die out in the next few years. The most extreme example is Ayapaneco, a language believed to be spoken today by only two individuals.

Ayapaneco (also known as Ayapa Zoque, Tabasco Zoque and Zoque-Ayapaneco) is one of several Zoque languages and dialects. The only remaining native speakers live in Ayapa, a village 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Comalcalco, in the state of Tabasco. The native name for the language is Nuumte Oote (True Voice).

The language fell into disuse in the middle of the 20th century. Among the factors involved were the introduction of compulsory schooling in Spanish and the migration of many native speakers to towns and cities where the language was not spoken.

Manuel Segovia (77), one of the last native speakers of Ayapaneco (Credit: Cuartoscuro).

Manuel Segovia (77), one of the last native speakers of Ayapaneco (Credit: Cuartoscuro).

The last two known native speakers of the language are Isidro Velazquez (aged 70) and Manuel Segovia (77). The bad news is that they are apparently reluctant to talk to each other! They also disagree about some of the language’s details. The only one of their relatives attempting to learn the language is Manuel’s son (also named Manuel) who, for the past five years, has studied several hours a day in an attempt to become sufficiently fluent to teach it and keep it alive.

There is some good news. Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist at Indiana University, is trying to complete the first ever dictionary of the language, and two young Mexican film-makers plan to shoot a documentary entitled “Lengua Muerta” (Dead Language) starring the last two native speakers. The film’s director, Denisse Quintero (28), hopes to create an audiovisual memory that will serve future generations, while at the same time increasing awareness among the present generation of the need to preserve the remaining indigenous languages, together with the cultures that they represent. For more about their project (in Spanish), see the documentary-makers’ plea for funding and this Youtube video.

Some estimates put the number of different Indian languages in the 16th century in what became “New Spain” as high as 170. This number had dwindled to about 100 by 1900, and has continued to decline to the present day. The latest estimates are that at least 62 distinct languages (and 100 dialects) are still spoken somewhere in the country. The precise numbers are often debated by linguists, given that the distinction between a dialect and a language is not universally agreed.

Language is an essential part of culture, and every time a native language is lost, Mexico’s rich cultural tapestry loses a few more strands.

Want to learn more?

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