Oaxaca’s Indigenous Populations
In Mexico on May 30, 2022, Hurricane Agatha, with a Category 2 rating and winds recorded at 105 mph, made landfall in the southern state of Oaxaca. It is the most intense hurricane to make landfall on Mexico’s pacific coast during the month of May since the National Hurricane Center began keeping records in 1949. Oaxaca’s extreme poverty rates further exacerbated the hurricane’s devastation. The state is consistently among the three poorest states in Mexico with a poverty rate of approximately 66.4% as of 2018. All three of the poorest states are located in the southern part of the country, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations are also located.

Hurricane Agatha’s Initial Damage

The rising level of rivers and flooding swept away roadways and homes in the area. As of the morning of June 1, the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat, stated that preliminary deaths were estimated to be 11 while 33 were presumed missing. Murat has since announced on June 2 that those numbers have decreased as findings determined that nine died while another four were missing. He explained the decline was due to relief efforts re-gaining contact with the more remote areas. Murat stated the majority of the deaths were due to landslides or sudden flooding and took place primarily in the very remote towns of the mountains. Towns like these are often home to Mexico’s indigenous populations, which are amongst the poorest people in the area leaving them even more vulnerable. The governor also stated that landslides destroyed or covered certain roadways and bridges, making entry into the area more difficult. This is especially true for remote towns with already poor infrastructure.

Poverty in Oaxaca

In Mexico, those wishing to identify the most impoverished use a system of measuring poverty called multidimensional poverty. This is a method of taking into account not only income but also social deprivations such as lack of schooling and unsafe housing when assessing poverty. However, in terms of income alone, many consider Mexicans poor when they make less than 3,898 pesos ($187) per month in urban areas and 2,762 pesos ($133) in rural areas.

Southern Mexico has some of the poorest regions in the country with several municipalities having poverty rates of over 98%. As previously mentioned, the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations are also located in its southern states, with Oaxaca having the highest indigenous population of any state in Mexico. As of 2010, 33.8 % of Oaxaca’s population spoke at least one indigenous language.

The poorest municipality in all of Mexico, San Simón Zahuatlán is also located in the state of Oaxaca with a staggering poverty rate of 99.6%, according to Mexico News Daily. Approximately 99.3% of this municipality’s population is indigenous as of 2020. A report in 2019 conducted by the United Nations went as far as to deem human development within this municipality as comparable to the war-torn country of Yemen, according to Mexico News Daily. This brings attention to the fact that indigenous communities are amongst the poorest groups in Mexico, and in the case of hurricane Agatha by far the most significantly impacted.

Looking Ahead

The Mexican government will now have a large project on its hands to help those displaced by the violent weather. The local government was proactive in opening 200 storm shelters to help house up to 26,800 people potentially displaced. Hotels also opened their doors to help house tourists not prepared for the hurricane. It could prove beneficial for the government to direct the majority of future relief efforts towards bettering the area’s infrastructure, especially amongst Mexico’s indigenous populations who arguably need it most but for now, southern Mexico is focussing on its recovery.

– Devin Welsh
Photo: Flickr