DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Covid-19 in Central America
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have left no region of the world unscathed. Central America and Mexico have certainly felt the wrath of this virus. Recent outbreaks in the region threaten to compound upon other humanitarian struggles. The U.S. has recognized this challenge and taken action to provide aid, despite facing its own issues fighting the coronavirus — the difficulties of COVID-19 in Central America and Mexico are vast.

An Issue in Central America & Mexico Before COVID-19

COVID-19 poses a health and economic challenge to Central America and Mexico. Yet, before the pandemic, the region was already suffering from poverty. As such, the pandemic has hit this area particularly hard. Our World in Data projected that the extreme poverty rate was about 8.12% in Guatemala, 14.24% in Honduras, 2.79% in El Salvador and 1.96% in Mexico in 2019. The full economic impacts of COVID-19 are not yet known.

Apart from facing extreme poverty — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico also suffer from high crime rates. In 2017, Guatemala had an intentional homicide rate of about 26.1 per 100,000, Honduras had 41.7, El Salvador had 61.8 and Mexico had 24.8.

Providing sustainable assistance to Central America is particularly important for the national security in the U.S. As of July 2019, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition explained that there is a correlation between children seeking refuge in the U.S. and murders in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Aid to these three countries could reduce poverty and crime. Consequently, the number of people searching for safety in the U.S. may potentially decrease.

The US Steps Up

The U.S. has committed to providing more than $22 million for Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The aid focuses on key areas of need. For example, the U.S. committed $850,000 in Migration and Refugee Assistance funding in Mexico. This includes funding for the dissemination of hygiene products and assistance creating a remote program to register asylum seekers and hold interviews.

The U.S. also committed to providing almost $6.6 million in aid to El Salvador, more than $8.4 million to Guatemala and more than $5.4 million to Honduras. Notably, these aid packages contain International Disaster Assistance for each country. The assistance also focuses on immediate and long-term health needs.

In recent months, the U.S. has also provided other forms of support to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Notable aid includes investments in critical infrastructures, such as energy programs. This is an important step in reducing poverty in the region. However, continued aid and investment are necessary to fight COVID-19 in Central America, save lives, reduce poverty and protect U.S. national security.

Global Help

This aid is a substantial sum targeted in areas that most need money to help fight COVID-19. However, there is more than the U.S. could do to protect global health. Global health spending has remained mostly constant for the past 10 years. Now, the future of U.S. global health aid is at-risk. The federal government’s spending on global health could reduce to its lowest point in 13 years if the proposed budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year receives approval. This could exacerbate outbreaks of other diseases that the U.S. has historically fought against. Without aid from the U.S., other nations such as China will have to step in as a global leader during this crisis.

Kayleigh Crabb
Photo: Pixabay

Child Poverty in Mexico
Right now, over a quarter of Mexican children live in poverty. Many of these children lack the basic necessities for success, such as education, food and housing. As a result, the cycle of poverty continues. Mexico possesses a two-sided economy in which one side thrives with a growing GDP, while the other is overwhelmingly impoverished. This socioeconomic disparity results in devastating consequences for Mexico’s most vulnerable demographic- its children. Here are three important ways to help alleviate child poverty in Mexico.

3 Ways to Help Alleviate Child Poverty in Mexico

  1. Improve Education Quality: The dedication to education in Mexico is staggeringly low. As of right now, only 0.8% of Mexico’s GDP is dedicated to early childhood social investments. This percentage is lower than every other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country other than Turkey. With nearly 5,000 Mexican children dropping out of school every day, the need for education reform is growing increasingly stronger. Only 62% of Mexican children reach high school and a mere 38% of Mexican adults between 25 and 64 have completed an upper secondary education. This is a startling statistic in comparison to the OECD average of 74% of adults between 25 and 64 having completed secondary education. Education directly links to poverty reduction; organizations such as Enseña Por México recognize the serious disadvantages that children in Mexico face as a result of their lack of effective schooling. Enseña Por México, a counterpart of the U.S. organization Teach for America, aims to expand educational opportunities in Mexico. Its methodology includes one-on-one teaching from education professionals in the hopes of bolstering academic, professional and social development. While the organization has been running for the past six years, it has served over 60,000 students.
  2. Ensure Food Security: While rates of malnutrition in Mexico have dropped within recent years, the prime issue of food insecurity still prevails. Nationally, 13% of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition. This percentage primarily comes from rural southern Mexico, where food insecurity is a prevalent issue. Food insecurity results from problems with availability, accessibility and consumption. The number of malnourished children in Mexico is not a result of the country’s lack of national food production; rather, it is a product of Mexico’s poor families lacking basic access to food. However, some are making efforts to help these underprivileged children and their families. Organizations such as the Southern Baja Food Security Alliance (SBFSA) are working to provide healthy food programs in rural areas of Mexico. The organization works in collaboration with community stakeholders to help institute education programs that teach citizens how to grow and harvest healthy foods. These programs reach into the particularly rural areas of Southern Mexico that suffer from food insecurity the most severely. These communities desperately need sustainable solutions to alleviate hunger in their communities and ensure proper nutrition for their children.
  3. Remove Children from Dangerous Situations: Homelessness is a frequent consequence of child poverty in Mexico. “Street children” is a term that people often use to describe this group between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. Mexico City has 1,900,000  underprivileged and street children; nearly 240,000 of these are children who have experienced abandonment. Housing instability results in a heightened number of at-risk youths. Stunted development physically, psychologically and behaviorally all inextricably link to homelessness. These inhibited developments lead to children falling victim to issues like substance abuse, depression and mental health problems. The reasons why many children are homeless in Mexico are that they have learning disabilities, come from situations of domestic violence or have familial estrangements. Tragically, it is not uncommon to see homeless children as young as 5 years old attempting to sell trinkets on the streets of larger cities such as Mexico City or Puebla. Certain organizations have been working to take these homeless children out of their dangerous living situations. Mexico Child Link Trust, for example, works toward helping abandoned children with learning disabilities in Mexico. The organization provides housing for abandoned and orphaned children with learning disabilities, many of whom are prior street children. With over 20 years of success, the Mexico Child Link Trust has helped numerous children gain sustainable housing. Meanwhile, Street Soccer Mexico A.C. uses soccer as a tool to help homeless and disadvantaged children transform their perspectives and attitudes. The organization receives aid from national and civic institutions to organize soccer training and tournaments for its members. Since its opening 6 years ago, Street Soccer Mexico A.C. has expanded its program to reach every state of Mexico.

Child poverty in Mexico is flourishing as a substantial portion of the Mexican population lives below the poverty line. A lack of education, food insecurity and homelessness plague many of their lives. While organizations work toward aiding these vulnerable individuals, an abundance of work still needs to occur to help the impoverished children of Mexico.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Pixabay

Elderly Poverty in Mexico
In today’s society, people sometimes see the elderly as excess baggage rather than actual human beings. A place where this unfortunate reality is present is in Mexico, where 7.8% of the population is over the age of 65. Within this percentage, 41.1% live in poverty, 34.6 in moderate poverty and 6.6% ($1.90 a day) live in extreme poverty. Here is some information about elderly poverty in Mexico.

Poverty and Mental Health

About 29.2% of all elderly people live alone or with their spouses, be that in a small house or on the streets. The government covers only 46% (which only consists of the formal economy) of the elderly; the other 54% must struggle on their own. With no welfare, retirement plan and aid from the government, over 32,000,000 have no choice but to work past their prime. It is not uncommon for these elders to experience abuse, or for customers, employers or employees to take advantage of them. Due to this, many elderly are vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression, stress and loneliness that come from poverty. The day-to-day struggle to scrape up money and food for themselves and their families is at times a burden too heavy to bear. Results from an analysis of suicide rates in Mexico go as follows; from January 2014 to December 2015, 990 residents died from suicide, with 78.28% being males and 21.72% being females. The highest death rates amongst males were 20-24 and 75-79. For females, the highest mortality rate was from 15-19 years old.

Of course, there are ways both the elderly and their families can do to improve mental health. For the elderly that live with families, positive family dynamics (conversations, actions of kindness and a feeling of contribution) can greatly aid their mental health. For many seniors, nothing compares to the support from family. Another type of support is social support, which is support that comes from outside immediate family. This commonly comes in the form of encouragement from community members, co-workers and strangers.

Solutions

One reason elderly poverty in Mexico persists is that only 46% of them (within the Formal economy) have access to assistance programs. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to state that Mexico does nothing to help its elderly. INAPAM (Instituto Nacional para las Personas Adultos Mayores) is a popular program that allows any Mexican resident (over the age of 60) to acquire worthwhile discounts (10%-50%) on a wide range of goods and services such as food, medicine, transportation, clothing and recreational activities. Mexicans can apply easily if they have the necessary requirements. One specific requirement states that the person in question must present a form to confirm their address. Many elderly have no official home, so that fact can immediately disqualify them from applying.

Aztin is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing needs such as education, nutrition, water and health. Since 1977, Aztin has worked closely with families trapped in poverty in the village of Tlamacazapa, Guerrero, Mexico, providing programs that vary from helping with dental hygiene, providing aid to those with special needs and implementing sanitation programs. Locals run Aztin with the idea of social participation in the hope that a sense of personal empowerment will begin with an inner spark of possibility and continue to grow.

Informal Workers and Poverty

For formal workers (workers officially hired, have a set salary, receive health benefits and work benefits), taking a day off is an option. However, 60% of Mexico’s workforce is informal and within this percentage there are 32,000,000 elderly that work informally, thus eliminating any chance of receiving the benefits listed above. It is not uncommon to find a woman well past her 80s working 60-hour shifts in a supermarket without it officially hiring her. As a result, her only way to earn money is from the tips from her customers. For informal workers old and young, this is the lifestyle that poverty has burdened them with. Some may have money, but it is often not enough to call savings. At most, the money may last a week, but after that, these individuals may not have any choice but to work. Necessity and poverty corners the elderly.

A popular program that helps the informal population is called Seguro Popular. This program is an income-based health-insurance program that is available to all non-salaried people who cannot access social security due to not having employment under the government. This includes independent workers (freelancers), people with disabilities and the elderly who do not participate in the labor force. This program provides financial assistance to over 50,000,000 Mexicans and is slowly improving access to health care, especially for the poor.

The Mexican government and its people are diligently working to find ways to provide for their elderly population. Through the continued work of Aztin and the Mexican government, elderly poverty in Mexico should reduce.

– Aaron Samperio
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in MexicoIn the past five decades, healthcare in Mexico has demonstrated significant improvement. The country has a highly effective vaccination program, which often covers over 95% of the population. This program played a significant role in lowering Mexico’s child mortality rate. Mexican life expectancy rose from 42 years to 73 from the 1940s to the 2000s. Despite this progress, Mexico’s fragmented healthcare structure persists and reflects the country’s rampant economic inequality. Socioeconomic status often determines access to quality Mexican healthcare. Therefore, the system often neglects the health of lower social classes.

The Mexican Healthcare System

Healthcare in Mexico consists of three separate structures:

Public healthcare: It is provided by a number of different bureaucratic bodies to help cover medical expenses for employees and their families, or formerly employed workers and their families. Employers, employee taxes and government contributions finance this system.

Private health insurance: It is paid for almost completely out-of-pocket by less than two million Mexican citizens.

Medical services: The Ministry of Health and NGOs provide these to cover Mexico’s uninsured population.

Since its creation in 1943, the healthcare system in Mexico has not changed significantly.

Problems with the Mexican Healthcare System

One of the biggest issues with the healthcare system in Mexico is its financing. Citizens directly pay more than 50% of the total health spending. A study estimates that over two million households commit over a third of their income to medical costs every year. This system, along with limited access to social security institutions, furthers economic gaps within the Mexican population. Rather than expanding the system to create a universal healthcare provider, “parallel social security institutions” exist to cover different types of workers, such as federal employees and military personnel. Thus an already disjointed system is further fragmented into independent arrangements that are not consistent in their financing and services.

Many people fail to qualify for insurance in such a disconnected system. Therefore, the Ministry of Health has become an increasingly important healthcare provider. Consequently, rampant inequalities in terms of both access to and quality of medical services persist within healthcare in Mexico. Wealthier economic classes have access to “excellent specialty-trained physicians and high-technology tertiary-care medical centers” comparable to those in the United States. The poorest societal classes often resort to unregulated and often unqualified private physicians.

This equity problem has a tangible impact on the overall health of the population. For example, the infant mortality rate in poor neighborhoods is almost 100 babies (per thousand live births) more than that in rich neighborhoods. The maternal mortality rate in certain indigenous communities is almost three per thousand live births, while the national rate is less than one. Less than 10% of women from low-income households deliver their babies in hospitals, compared to more than 80% of women in higher-income households.

The Mexican healthcare system calls for major changes. In the meantime, however, nonprofits are helping the Ministry of Health deliver medical services to the uninsured population.

International Community Foundation

The International Community Foundation (ICF) is a California-based nonprofit organization that works to inspire and direct American donations to Northwest Mexico. ICF “seeks to increase health, education and environmental grantmaking to local organizations in Northwest Mexico, with the goal of strengthening civil society and promoting sustainable communities”. ICF maintains relationships with Mexican nonprofits and community leaders to create a direct connection between donors and the causes they’re invested in. This allows the nonprofit to identify determinants of health, support interventions that confront Mexican public health problems and provide medical services to those excluded from the healthcare system. In 2018 alone, ICF directed over one million dollars towards humanitarian services in Mexico, with an emphasis on healthcare.

Despite having improved over the last five decades, healthcare in Mexico does not sufficiently cover its population. Fortunately, nonprofits like ICF work to fill in the gaps in the system.

Margherita Bassi

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in MexicoMexico struggles with multiple food-related health issues that range from malnutrition to obesity. Many families do not have access to the proper nutrients that their bodies need. However, this is not because of a lack of resources but rather because they cannot afford the food that is available. Approximately 7% of Mexico’s population survives on less than $2 a day, making it difficult to afford nutritious food. This makes hunger in Mexico a huge problem for the country since many simply cannot afford to meet their basic needs.

National Crusade Against Hunger

In January 2013, President Peña Nieto created the National Crusade Against Hunger (CNCH). President Nieto designed the program to not only fight poverty and hunger in Mexico but completely eradicate it. He centered the program around five main objectives. The five objectives were to achieve zero hunger through adequate food provisions, improve child nutrition rates, increase monetary income and food production for rural farmers, minimize food loss during transportation and promote internal community awareness. The CNCH allowed Mexicans in local communities to choose what objectives they wanted to focus on. The hope was for the program to address the diverse needs of varying regions.

The Struggle Remains

Unfortunately, Mexico continues to struggle with poverty and hunger. Of the 126 million inhabitants, over 20 million Mexican citizens still do not have access to food. Two years after the CNCH began, Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy observed that CNCH made no substantial progress towards the five listed goals. Additionally, the Federal Auditor’s Office found that the program only covered approximately 60% of the population. Moreover, those that the program did cover failed to report adequate data on the aid received. After advising that the program be shut down in 2018, the Federal Auditor’s Office labeled CNCH a failure.

Other Solutions

What has been done to improve poverty rates and hunger in Mexico since then? The Hunger Project (THP) has been a long-time supporter of the cause, having worked with the people of Mexico for over 30 years. By providing training, education and monetary support, THP aims to teach communities how to take care of themselves long-term.

In addition, food banks in the Mexican cities of Monterrey and Torreon also received grants from The Global FoodBanking Network in 2017. With this money, the Monterrey Food Bank was able to afford new equipment to store, process and sort fresh produce. Similarly, the Torreon Food Bank was able to purchase a large refrigerated truck, allowing for the transportation and protection of perishable food. Both food banks have since partnered with several companies and universities in order to help expand programs in order to assist more people.

The failure of a program such as CNCH can be disheartening. Even so, there are still many people and organizations that are actively working to make a difference. Hunger in Mexico is still a large problem but Mexico has immense potential to improve the situation. With the help of foreign aid, NGOs and a commitment from the Mexican government, hunger in Mexico can be alleviated.

Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: Flickr

RSPORoundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and similar organizations are trying to change the palm oil industry. Palm oil is edible vegetable oil. It is widely used in many commercial food products. From chocolate to butter, it reaches the top of the ingredient list in almost 50% of packaged food labels globally. When considering its mass production and wide range of use, it is easy to see the importance of the movement calling for action and reform. RSPO raises this question: what is so bad about it?

RSPO’s Initiative

The palm oil industry is large in size. As a result, it does not have many regulations. The side effects that come with this are significant. They include improper and unethical farming, unequal pay for workers and unsafe working conditions. The most predominant consequence is deforestation.

By recognizing these malpractices and their impact on the employees and environment, RSPO sought a new and progressive technique. After being formally established in April 2004, the RSPO introduced its Principles and Criteria (P&C) for the production of sustainable palm oil. To account for unique national laws and the complexity of the palm oil supply chain, the P&C undergoes revision every five years and varies internationally. However, the fundamental elements remain the same.

Additionally, the P&C prioritizes deforestation prevention. This means that companies are unable to clear or cultivate in substantially forested areas containing valuable biodiversity or fragile ecosystems. In addition, the requirements also highlight the fair treatment of workers, abiding with international labor rights standards. They also decreased the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. If these main guidelines, along with the others stated on the P&C, are successfully implemented and reviewed, palm oil producers are certified by the RSPO.

RSPO’s Theory of Change

By providing specific guidelines to guarantee sustainability certification, RSPO is mobilizing its main vision: to make sustainable palm oil the norm. Its Theory of Change protocol outlines the procedures in place to attain this goal. The roadmap analyzes the effectiveness of its outputs on three main areas: prosperity, the planet and the people.

Furthermore, one main effort which benefits the people is an increase in smallholder participation and overall mobilization of growers. This in turn leads to improved risk management and safer work practices. These smallholders are small-scale farmers with low hectarage and family-run labor. RSPO certification of smallholders improves their management practices, quality of fruit and yield and access to markets.

Progress Made in Mexico

Overall, the long-term progression on the Theory of Change roadmap suggests that farmers will experience more sustainable and financially stable lifestyles. This past year, Oleopalma became the first RSPO-certified company in Mexico. Since small-scale farmers account for 90% of Mexico’s palm oil farmers, this achievement will reflect widely in the prosperity of the people. After Columbia, Mexico is the largest consumer of palm oil in Latin America. This reaffirms the key benefits coming forward from this transformation. It is also the largest sourcing market for PepsiCo’s palm oil supply. This correlation suggests not only a drastic improvement in the lives of workers but eventually the environment and economy as well.

Samantha Acevedo-Hernandez
Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in Mexico City
Mexico City, built on a lake, gets more rain than London. Yet, the city is facing a severe water shortage due to mismanagement and the massive growth of the city over the last half-century. Founded by the Aztecs in Lake Texcoco nearly 700 years ago, the city is nestled in a valley, making it especially prone to flooding. In ancient times, people got their freshwater from the surrounding water sources, but they drained them over time as the population increased. In the last 50 years, the city’s population has ballooned to more than 20 million people, exacerbating the crisis. Luckily, an NGO has emerged to provide clean water in Mexico City.

The Situation

Today more than 30% of the water in Mexico City is from far-off lakes and rivers, while the rest comes from an aquifer beneath the city. As people bring water up from the underground aquifer, a new problem arises: the city is sinking. The city has added steps to popular monuments because the bases are now so much higher than the ground around them. Some parts of the city are sinking by more than a foot per year. Many of the pipes that supply the city’s water are over 60 years old and are prone to leaking, with the sinking land making it more difficult to fix them. One government study estimated that Mexico City loses up to 40% of its drinking water to leaks, further draining the aquifer without any benefit to citizens.

While the Mexican government spends billions of dollars trying to manage the city’s water woes, poor residents suffer. Many must depend on unreliable water trucks that bring non-potable water, leaving residents to buy more expensive bottled water or soda for drinking. Trucked water is still valuable for washing dishes and running toilets, but the unreliability of delivery means that one resident in each household typically must always remain at their residence – causing economic losses among the poor.

A Practical Solution

In this precarious and damaging situation, the nonprofit Isla Urbana has found a solution to provide clean water in Mexico City – mass rainwater collection. Isla Urbana installs rainwater collection systems at households in impoverished parts of the city that do not connect to the city water system. A 100 square meter roof is capable of producing up to 100,000 liters of water each year at no cost to residents. The nonprofit describes four key benefits of this system:

  1. It reduces the flooding that plagues Mexico City by preventing water from going into storm drains.
  2. It decreases energy use in the form of pumping water or trucking water into homes.
  3. It provides water independence for families.
  4. It allows aquifers and rivers to heal and grow as people rely on them less for water resources.

Isla Urbana’s system consists of a gutter on the roof, a pipe to drain the water into a simple filtration system, a chlorinated basin underground and a pipe to bring water up after any remaining particles have fallen to the bottom of the basin. The system can connect water directly to a house’s plumbing system. The initial system does not produce potable water, but it is affordable enough that people can add to filtration systems, reducing the need to buy expensive bottled water. The government also does not charge people for the use of rainwater, freeing up income that citizens would have used to connect to the city water network or to pay for trucked water.

Making Progress

To date, Isla Urbana has installed over 20,000 systems, providing over 120,000 people with access to clean water in Mexico City. Currently, these systems collect over 800 million liters of water each year, the equivalent of over 80,000 water truck deliveries. With the help of funding from aid groups and the Mexican government, Isla Urbana plans to install 100,000 of its systems in Mexico City in the coming years. In the fight against extreme poverty, Isla Urbana is filling a crucial role in providing clean and safe drinking water to those in poverty or at a disadvantage.

– Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

tourism and COVID-19COVID-19 has caused major disruptions for travel on a global scale. The tourism industry has already experienced a loss of over $300 billion in the first five months of 2020, and that number is projected to increase to as much as $1.2 trillion due to the pandemic. Additionally, 100 to 120 million jobs associated with tourism are at risk. Tourism and COVID-19 have struggled to co-exist amidst the turmoil of 2020, especially in three major tourist countries. However, organizations are working to protect the future of the travel industry.

Global Tourism and COVID-19

Tourism is considered the third-largest export sector. It is an essential component of the global economy, comprising 10.4% of total economic activity in 2018. Some countries rely on tourism for 20% or more of their total GDP. Many countries rely on capital from tourists, ranging from small, low-income island countries to larger, high-income countries. However, according to a U.N. policy brief, there will be an estimated 58-78% decrease in tourists in 2020 compared to 2019. Three countries that have been especially affected by COVID-19 and tourism are Spain, Thailand and Mexico.

  1. Spain: Spain experienced the second-largest overall economic loss in tourism due to the pandemic, behind the United States. The country lost $9.7 million in revenue due to travel restrictions and decreased tourism. Because Spain is a high-income country and has various other contributors to its economy, it is expected to recover with greater resilience than similarly impacted, lower-income countries.
  2. Mexico: In 2018, Mexico gained a total of 7.15% of its GDP from tourism. However, Mexico’s income from tourism in April 2020 was a mere 6.3%. Additionally, the tourism sector accounts for approximately 11 million jobs in Mexico alone, many of which are now at risk.
  3. Thailand: Thailand has lost nearly $7.8 million due to travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The country has taken these limitations seriously in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this action has come at the cost of earning a ranking as one of the countries hit hardest by economic losses associated with tourism. The tourism sector is responsible for about 10% of the country’s total GDP.

Government Response to Tourism and COVID-19

Although COVID-19 has introduced an unprecedented economic strain on a global scale, governments are working to help countries recover. Spain released an aid package allocating €400 million to the transport and tourism sectors, €14 million to boost the local economy and €3.8 million for public health. Mexico’s government is distributing 2 million small loans of 25 thousand pesos (about $1000) to small businesses. Lastly, Thailand has approved three tourism packages to assist the local economy and small businesses.

NGO Policy Response to Tourism and COVID-19

With government and NGO action, experts predict that the travel sector will return to 2019 economic levels by around 2023. Many organizations are stepping in with policy solutions, providing hope for the industry’s revival. The U.N. World Tourism Organization released the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package, highlighting three main policy areas: “Managing the crisis and mitigating the impact,” “providing stimulus and accelerating recovery” and “preparing for tomorrow.” Similarly, the International Labour Organization released a policy framework with four main pillars to protect workers, stimulate the economy, introduce employment retention strategies and encourage solutions-based social dialogue.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provides “Travel in the New Normal,” a series of six policy areas. These include helping businesses to implement “touchless” solutions, sanitation supplies, health screenings and other protective measures to prevent COVID-19. The OECD states that domestic travel will be vital for the recovery of tourist nations, contributing to 75% of the tourism economy in OECD member countries.

These efforts, along with other policy strategies, are vital to the recovery of the tourism industry. They will be particularly important for small- and medium-sized enterprises, industry-employed women and the working class as a whole. These policies will also further U.N. Sustainable Development Goals like No Poverty, Reduced Inequality, Partnership, Sustainable Cities & Communities and Decent Work & Economic Growth.

The tourism sector has suffered major losses in response to COVID-19, with a significant amount of revenue and jobs lost or at severe risk. Countries of all regions and income levels have been affected by the pandemic, including Spain, Mexico and Thailand. However, these setbacks provide unique opportunities to both transform the tourism industry and promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Communities in Mexico
The Mexican government’s abandonment and abuse of Indigenous communities in Mexico are historical, stretching back to the country’s colonial past. In the present day, governmental neglect is largely to blame for a host of social inequities suffered by Indigenous communities in Mexico, including lack of access to hospitals and quality health care in general. Accustomed to being outliers in a system originally designed to benefit elites, Indigenous Mexicans in one region of Mexico have taken matters into their own hands.

In the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, a network of villages called the Pueblos Mancomunados lies nestled in the Sierra Norte mountains, and is made up of eight villages which maintain their distinctions while honoring their collective identity as well. Prior to COVID-19, this network of villages had for over 20 years had an agreement amongst themselves to welcome outside tourists into their insular community to observe not only the striking natural environment but also traditions of agriculture, gastronomy, weaving, education and sacred healing.

Where Abandonment is Historical, Prevention is Key

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Claudia Schurr, owner of the ecotourism company Tierraventura, said that the tourism sector in these villages and in the region has been completely shut down since mid-March 2020 to prevent infections. Through the company, which is based in Oaxaca City, Schurr has developed close personal ties to the Pueblos Mancomunados, where, prior to COVID-19, she regularly ran tours with her husband, Yves. She said, “Most of the Indigenous communities have closed to outsiders, even people from the village who live in the city of Oaxaca. Only the village authorities are allowed to leave the community in order to buy supplies.”

Tourism in Mexico

While tourists have still been able to fly into and travel around Mexico in 2020, Indigenous communities in Mexico such as the Pueblos Mancomunados have said “no,” preferring instead to block entrances to their towns and return to their ‘milpa’ fields, where harvests have been abundant due to plentiful rains. Schurr said in an interview, “The interesting thing for me is to observe how people are handling the crisis… nobody is complaining.” Focusing on subsistence and environmental justice rather than business and profits has so far insulated the Zapotec villages from a crisis that continues to ravage the world outside. There have been only a few cases of COVID-19 in these Zapotec communities, according to Schurr. Santos Reyes Yucuná, an Indigenous Mixtec village also in Oaxaca state, remained COVID-free until July 17th, long after Mexico saw its first case in the capital city.

Other Indigenous communities in Mexico are reacting similarly, partially due to a lack of resources to fight the virus. Pavel Guzmán, an activist in the Indigenous Purepecha community of Michoacán state, said in April 2020 “If an infection arrives in the Indigenous communities, then there’s no … medical institution that can contain the problem because the clinics don’t even have basic supplies… These are historical problems, and now… they’ve become more critical.” According to Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), though 21.5% of Mexicans identify as Indigenous, only 1.5% of public hospitals are located in Indigenous regions.

Community and Autonomy

But these Indigenous communities in Mexico are not merely reacting to the virus. The Zapotec communities—pandemic or not—tend to live in a way that is synonymous with their ancestral traditions of community and autonomy. Zapotec children learn early on the importance of cooperation in the community via the “tequio,” or group that cooperates to accomplish needed work in the community. Rather than one person in the community mending a fence, for example, a group of people may work on it together to make the process quick and easy. This cooperation is also visible in the model of group consensus that runs the villages.

They even made the decision to allow tourists into their villages for ecotourism in a collective process. The community is as self-sustaining as it was before the arrival of the Spanish. And while COVID-19 sent the outside world scrambling to adjust life to a crisis, Zapotec society already had the mechanism in place to take refuge.

What Indigenous Communities in Mexico Can Teach the World

While it remains true that infections or governmental neglect during an economic fallout could adversely affect these communities, the Zapotec remain uniquely sustained by their core ideals. As a result, they are in a good position to beat the virus.

The Zapotec have another tradition called “guelaguetza,” which is a tradition of mutually exchanging gifts and even favors. Schurr, not having run tours for her business since March, says that times are hard. Without an income, her family now finds itself in the position of surviving without much income. However, she has stayed in touch with the Zapotec mountain communities: “I have more the feeling that they support us now, emotionally and sending us vegetables, potatoes, flowers.”

“We always talk about creating a global community, which is a beautiful idea,” Schurr said. “…[T]his includes also [taking] responsibility for each other when times are not so great.”

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr