In September 2017, Mexico dealt with two large-scale earthquakes in less than 15 days. The first, with a magnitude of 8.3 on the Richter scale, struck on September 7th, leaving 100 dead in the southeast of Mexico. The second quake, on September 19th, with a magnitude 7.1, led to 320 fatalities and massive material losses in the nation’s center.
In the face of the disaster, the international community immediately showed its support for Mexico. The Mexican government accepted aid from various countries and from every region of the world in order to assist the population affected by the second earthquake, which shook the states of Guerrero, Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, and Mexico City.
“As Mexicans, we are moved by the countless demonstrations of immediate solidarity from the international community,” said Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray. Highly specialized aid and heavy machinery needed for mounting a quick response was brought in on military and commercial planes from 23 nations around the world.
From the outset of the search-and-rescue operations, Mexico had technical support from the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Their teams are part of the UN's Disaster Assessment and Coordination, which identified the specific assistance that Mexico needed in order to support its search-and-rescue efforts.
The outpouring of support reached Mexico in coordination with its National Civil Defense System and the Mexico City government. The assistance included 500 people and more than 400 tons of humanitarian aid consisting of canned food, water, basic necessities, medical supplies, field tents, electrical plants, machinery, work equipment, and tools.
The presence of friends
“Our friends have made themselves present during hard times, and we have been humbled to see that Mexico has true friends all over the world,” Secretary Videgaray added. “Your help can mean the difference between life and death for many people.”
El Salvador was one of the first countries to arrive in Mexico. A highly trained multidisciplinary team from its Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Group arrived in one of the Salvadoran Air Force’s Douglas C-47 turboprop planes.
“Because we also live in a region that is quite seismically active, the Salvadoran Air Force has ground, air, and naval units permanently ready to provide assistance domestically and internationally,” Salvadoran Air Force General Carlos Jaime Mena Torres, the deputy minister of Defense for El Salvador, told Diálogo. “We are very proud to be the first country to arrive in Mexico in support of this contingency.”
Several other nations have also joined the cause in order to provide the necessary aid. The United States, with the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s USAR team, and Japan, with a brigade made up of various corps, provided support with specialized equipment for collapsed buildings and machinery such as circular saws, high-capacity hydraulic jacks, inflatable devices for lifting debris, and geophones for searching over large swathes of terrain.
Spain showed its solidarity by sending over a Military Emergency Unit contingent. And civil defense members from Israel’s Home Front Command Rescue Unit assisted with the process of reviewing the damage to buildings. This outpouring of support was aided by rescue teams from Colombia, Panama, Honduras, Ecuador, Chile, and Costa Rica, sent to locate people trapped under debris in collapsed buildings.
Canada also sent rescue personnel and 1,500 field tents. In addition, several civilian businesses and associations donated financial resources to support the aid efforts for the states that were most damaged by the earthquake. “With such an outpouring of solidarity, Mexico is grateful to its brothers and sisters around the world, and it reaffirms its conviction that only by working together can we overcome the challenges that face our nation today,” the Secretariat of Foreign Relations reported.
Recognition for Mexico
“This international support is recognition of the way in which Mexico has extended its hand to other nations during natural disasters,” Yadira Gálvez Salvador, a security and defense issues analyst at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM per its Spanish acronym), told Diálogo. “It’s a showing of reciprocity.”
Recently, Mexico assisted the United States with a group of Red Cross volunteers who worked in shelters after Hurricane Harvey passed through. Similarly, 130 rescuers and more than four tons of humanitarian aid and equipment were sent to Ecuador in April 2016, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the central part of that South American country.
Challenges and strengthening
“This aid allows us to measure our personnel’s level of operational readiness,” Gen. Mena remarked. “Also, [it lets us test] the capacity of our aircraft to detect any vulnerability and then go about finding solutions, whether in equipment or in training.”
“This kind of humanitarian aid shows today’s challenges for international and interagency coordination during natural disasters: nations are looking to build a more effective coordination and response capacity during an emergency or a natural disaster, and they’re looking for how to create more efficiency,” Gálvez added. “The aid given to Mexico was managed in an extremely efficient way.”
“The military needs to be better prepared, trained, and equipped in order to react in a positive way and help save lives,” Gen. Mena concluded. “The armed forces must get stronger because natural disasters are a constant throughout the Americas and all over the world.”