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Rural Risk Reduction

Akemi Sato

Of the settlements affected by September earthquakes, 96% are rancherías — small rural settlements that lack local government, usually located in contested geographies, and highly vulnerable due to extreme poverty. Rancherías are highly prone to natural disasters — not only earthquakes but also extreme-weather hazards that are worsening due to climate change.

To address this challenge, I studied post-earthquake house reconstruction programs in Mexico at national, state, community and household levels and visited three rancherías — La Nopalera in Yautepec, Morelos; Acatzingo de la Piedra in Tenancingo, Estado de Mexico; and San Juan Tlacotompa in Ecatzingo, Estado de México.

Research permitted discovering that reconstruction is being led by external agents such as government, NGOs and universities. All of which fail to understand rural needs, consequently imposing urban housing solutions on a rural setting, thereby creating financial, structural and health risks. At the same time, capacity building training is concentrated on these external, urban-oriented agents and far from rural knowledge domains, which remains in rancherías without acquiring  technical capacity. To address this asymmetric relationship, this project proposes the creation of a university network for Rural Risk Reduction (R-R-R), so as to decentralize the technical capacity, currently working in rancherías but still concentrated in Mexican cities, while integrating local knowledge regarding rural-specific needs.

The responsibilities of the R-R-R will be:

  1. Teach hazard-specific technical courses as part of the Academic curricula.
  2. Implement Rural Studios for both academic and professional projects, to develop rural-specific solutions for imaginative and practical risk reduction.
  3. Feed and coordinate an online platform for knowledge exchange and transparency, which will inform both reconstruction and social programs with rural-specific needs and disaster risk-reduction.
  4. Create and sustain a trust to gain economic independence from the central government.